You are still providing unmatched patient service, and your existing patients seem to love you. However, your practice is struggling. Finally, you learn from one of your existing patients that your practice has scathing reviews posted online. This is when you realize that your online reputation is showing an unpleasant face of the reality that is killing your practice. Unfortunately, this scenario is true for hundreds of practices across the country.
Online reviews = Online reputation
What potential and existing patients say about your practice online is the most important reflection of your brand’s quality, trustworthiness and expertise. It does not matter if you are a new practice or an established one. Most of your patients are likely to trust online reviews when considering your practice.
As a healthcare marketer, your priority should be to establish and maintain a 5-star online reputation for your practice. This is because the rest of your marketing activities, such as search engine optimization, social media marketing, pay-per-click campaigns, email marketing or traditional forms of marketing will eventually lead patients to the Internet to learn more about your brand and offerings. Once a patient starts searching online for your practice, your poor reputation will drive him or her away.
Most practices fail to realize that patients are looking for information that will make them feel confident that they are making an informed decision. Today, patients feel confident when they read positive online reviews of your practice.
Worst Online Reputation Mistakes
In today’s digital age, even the smallest mistake can reach millions of people in a matter of seconds. Now, more than ever, patient perceptions are driven by what is read and seen online.
You are what the searchers read about you on the Internet. Word-of-mouth has been replaced by online searches. Gaining control over online reputation is even more critical for small and local practices because small practices often have a limited online presence, less online content and fewer products. As a result, even the most minor mistakes can balloon into catastrophic mistakes.
While small and local practices are the ones that need online reputation management the most, they are the ones that neglect the process and make mistakes that damage their credibility as well as growth prospects. When managing your practice’s online reputation, be sure to avoid common errors that could do severe damage to your practice.
Take the first step to protect your online reputation and request your Online Reputation Assessment.
- Ignoring patient reviews: One of the benefits of having a robust online presence for your practice is that it gives you the opportunity to build and nurture relationships with your patients. However, when your patients take the time to post feedback about your practice, whether good or bad, be sure to respond. If you make no effort to interact with your patients, they will lose trust in your practice and your reputation will suffer.
- Responding poorly to criticism: There are many reasons why patients post scathing online reviews. Some of those may be trolls, and some may be published by your competitors. However, most of the negative comments are posted by real patients having legitimate reasons. While you are tempted to go head-to-head with an angry patient, always remember that thousands of existing and potential patients will see your response. No matter how justified your facts are, coming off as defensive will only damage your reputation. The best approach is to calm down before responding online. Listen carefully to the patient, apologize and explain what steps you are taking to resolve the issue.
- Paying patients for posting reviews: Paying your patients to write positive online reviews for your practice is not just unethical, it is also illegal. According to the FTC Endorsement Guidelines, if you are compensating a reviewer for posting encouraging reviews about your practice and services, he or she must disclose it in the review. The compensation may include cash, gift coupons, exclusive discounts or free services in exchange for favorable reviews. Since 2012, Yelp has started removing practices that they catch buying reviews. The practice of buying reviews can give the most devastating blow to your online reputation.
- Posting fake reviews: If you are having trouble establishing or improving your online reputation, it may be tempting to post not-so-good online reviews about your competitors. However, most third-party review sites give practices the option of flagging comments that they feel inappropriate. This means your fake review would probably vanish as soon as you are done posting it. Even worse, this unethical tactic can come back to bite your reputation.
- Not monitoring social media accounts: Your patients will never leave reviews and comments about your practice on just one site. In fact, existing and potential patients talk about your practice all across the Internet, from review sites to social media pages. Therefore, it is critical to monitor all the online places where you have an online presence for reviews, social mentions or feedback about your practice. Check your social media profiles at least once a day to make sure you are not missing any critical comments. In addition, keep track of your reviews on local listings and third-party review sites such as Google+ and Yelp.
Building a robust online reputation for your practice is a slow and continuous process. Do not fall prey to any shortcuts or quick fixes, as these will inevitably backfire and damage your online reputation and relationship with your patients.
Tips to Protect Your Online Reputation
Regardless of the size and location of your practice, reputation management should always be your priority. The fact is, every practice experiences conflict with patients at some point. However, when a dissatisfied patient decides to make his opinion public on third-party sites like HealthGrades, it can be damaging to your practice. Unfortunately, it is impossible to please every patient. However, it is possible to maintain a positive reputation even when a dissatisfied patient is posting bad comments about your practice, just by keeping the following points in mind:
- Do not ignore bad reviews: We all make mistakes, but sometimes a patient may get so annoyed that he or she might post a scathing review online. This review, if ignored, can result in a significant loss of new patients and practice reputation. If you are at fault, it is best to contact the reviewer and resolve the complaint as professionally as possible. Often such patients, after their issues are addressed, not only return to you for future services but also recommend your practice to their family and friends.
- Be polite, but professional: At times, we all tend to let our emotions overpower our thoughts. However, as a practice owner, you should act professionally. When you come across a negative review or patient complaint, look at it from the patient’s perspective, and think through the strategy of addressing and resolving the complaint.
- Post informative content: Posting useful and fresh content is one of the best ways to establish your practice as a trusted brand in your industry. Always use a friendly and conversational tone when replying to patient comments instead of jargon. Sharing useful insights about your products and employees can humanize your brand and allow you to relate to your patients.
- Interact with patients on social networks: Being active on social networks is an effective way to establish and improve your online reputation. Social networks such as Facebook and Twitter attract millions of users every day. Posting useful content in the form of news clips and blogs on these social networks can help you reach out to wider audiences.
- Track online conversations: Even if you are not posting much content about your practice or products, others are. It is critical to know what visitors are saying about your brand and how they perceive it. For instance, people could be posting rude comments about your offerings on social networks or popular review sites. If you were not aware of this, you would never realize how critical the problem is and how much it is harming your reputation.
At a time when tweets and online reviews are all way too familiar, your online reputation is more vulnerable than ever. Many online reputation threats are beyond the control of the practices they impact. A negative online review or a scathing tweet is bad enough for a large healthcare facility, but for a small practice it can be fatal.
When it comes to online reputation management, awareness is power. Even if your reputation is not what you would want it to be, it is a good idea to be aware of where you are instead of ignoring the ground realities. Staying on top of your condition can help identify and address any potential problems before they spin out of control.
Establishing trust with your patients will not only help your reputation but could make the difference between your success and failure. Delivering on your promise is essential, but in today’s digital culture, a gap between promise and delivery can be fatal to your reputation. Taking steps to predict potential threats to your reputation will demonstrate that your practice is honest and worthy of your patients’ time and money.