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Across the Pond | Nov/Dec 2015

Use Social Media to Help Others See More Clearly

An authentic tone of voice can make high-quality information stand out.

Years ago, I welcomed social media as the coming of the ultimate democracy. Everyone now had a voice, and everyone could be equally important. Social media would give power to the people.

Of late, it is exactly this aspect of social media that is troubling me. This ultimate democracy turned out to be much like the democracy we already knew. Everybody has a voice, indeed. But the voice that speaks truth is not necessarily the one that is heard. On top of that, the proliferation of social media has complicated things. Voices and opinions come to us now in such abundance that it gets harder every day to separate the sense from the nonsense.

Even before the rise of social media, doctors were often confronted with patients who had Googled their health issues before seeking professional counsel and who arrived in the office loaded with misinformation. Doctors and medical boards responded to patients’ (sometimes misguided) searches by setting up health information websites with factual, physician-approved articles. In Belgium, we have sites such as gezondheidenwetenschap.be, gezondheid.be, and passionsanté.be that users know will dispense reliable information. Similarly, the Dutch can search thuisarts.nl for reliable information. I am confident similar initiatives exist in most European countries.

At a Glance

• Make the information you post on social media stand out by holding onto your own voice; make your posts genuine.
• Part of a practitioner’s duty in managing social media is to provide patients with quality health information.


As wonderful and necessary as these platforms are, I am not sure that they address the information situation today. The idea of an informative website is that people who search for information will find it. In this era of social media, however, we continually receive information without looking for it.

All kinds of small messages are hidden in every day’s tweets, Instagram pictures, and Facebook ads. Even if we do not actually read all of these messages, they may nest in our brains as the beginnings of an idea or conviction. Many of these ideas are about what is or is not healthy for us. These messages tell us to eat carbohydrates or to avoid them at all cost. They persuade us to opt for lenses or choose glasses instead. They suggest that anorexia is not necessarily a bad thing. They convince us that opticians can perform eye examinations.

The stream of messages goes on and on. Our mobile phones and devices ensure that we are never cut off from them. As a result, we have the idea that we are well informed, when actually we have hardly any real information at all.


One law of communication is that it is effective only when we use the same channel as our audience. We have to accept that a growing number of people rely on social media for news and knowledge. The decision is already made by them—our consumers—and we have to join them. What we need to do now is to be clever about our message and the tone we use delivering it. This tone of voice is increasingly important because it can make our message stand out or cause it to blend in and be lost.

Have you noticed how all social media news and messages are starting to sound the same? How it gets more difficult to separate actual news from commercials? How everything sounds like a copywriter wrote it? That is probably because a copywriter has written it. Alternatively, by using a different tone, doctors have an opportunity to stand out from the crowd and get actual quality health information across to their audiences.


The key to standing out is authenticity. Authenticity requires physicians and their practices to be both real and professional at the same time. First, your social media communication must reflect your personality in order to be perceived as genuine. This makes your message stand out from those of the copywriters. Second, your communication must reflect professionalism.

How do you make this happen? Here are a few clues:

• Learn from marketers, do not become one;
• Educate yourself on social media tools and channels;
• Share information you know to be true;
• Share links from physician-approved websites;
• Use your personal profile alongside your practice profile;
• Share pictures and information about you and your staff on your practice profile; and
• When you outsource social media messaging, keep close contact with the consultant to ensure any communication reflects your own voice.

The bottom line is: Do not sound like a professional copywriter. Make your high-quality health information stand out on social media by holding on to your own voice. Make it easier for nonmedical individuals like me to distinguish truth from bull.

Marketing your private practice through social media has become a necessity, but your true goals and duties as an eye doctor remain unchanged. Your duty is to help others to see. We need quality health information. Manage your social media so that you help us to see it. n

Geert Nijst
• Communication Strategist, Finger Talks
• Financial disclosure: None