The success, or failure of managing social media is predicated on one factor:  communication skills.

Engaging in social media can be manna from heaven for business growth and profile building – or a futile and risky dance with the digital devil. 

Simply put, social media is a medium for communication, just like television, radio, magazines, newspapers, newsletters, a sandwich board, email, a blog or the humble telephone. 

Communicating via these channels was traditionally undertaken by professionals with experience in the disciplines of advertising, marketing and public relations.


However, social media has no barrier-to-entry and anyone can send out mass communications via the likes of Facebook and Twitter. This creates a host of pitfalls, especially for professionals who are using the platforms to market their business and build a profile.

We have recently worked on three cases that highlight the risks for medical practitioners if they fail to work out a proper social media strategy.

General practitioner case studies


  1. We were called in to develop a social media strategy for a clinic that had fallen foul of the RACGP’s social media guidelines and ran the risk of being reported.

The GP’s social media pages were full of unbefitting content, such as pictures of expensive wine, fast cars, glamorous holidays as well as patient testimonials.

Neither the GP or the practice manager thought there was anything inappropriate with what the clinic was posting on social media, initially. Afterall, it was reflective of ‘lifestyle’ and social media and this was all about lifestyle, right?

However, lifestyle has different connotations and degrees. Doctors need to be cautious about what is shared publicly with existing or potential patients, as well as  regulatory bodies, media and competitors.

Portraying lifestyle is fine: lean towards activities like bushwalking or travel to education and medical conferences.

The first activity we undertook was to remove all the damaging and controversial posts and then developed a strategy with milestones and measurables that complied with the guidelines.

Advice: Read the RACGP’s social media guidelines before you start.



  1. A GP started receiving increasingly negative comments on social media and we were called in to mange the issue before it turned into a crisis.

The clinician was a Facebook enthisiast with a strong social following. So much so, that patients were communicating and making appointments via Facebook’s direct messenger. 

The merry band of social followers weren’t tying up office resources with phone calls so the clinic’s team thought this was a plus.  

But patients weren’t responded to in a timely manner. Requests and changes to appointments were missed, some queries were of a medical nature and sometimes went unacknowledged.

Patients who started off as positive supporters, soon became disgruntled when they didn’t hear back promptly or an update was not communicated and patients unleashed online. 

To manage this, firstly we responded to each patient’s query, then turned off Facebook messenger and the negativity soon abated.

Advice: Remeber social media is interactive and real-time, clinicians or their social media managers need to keep up thier end of the conversation in a timely manner. 

  1. A PR campaign saw this doctor attract lots of postive media attention in the press and on radio, however, with that came increased online scrutiny.

The doctor had a commanding and authoritive tone and held some controversial opinions.

This worked well in a professional sense but that style of communication backfired online. It just inflamed the trolls and they posted in forums over which he had no control.

We showed the doctor different styles of communication that were more engaging and less enraging that could be used across a variety of online situtations.

This doctor soon saw success on social media when he changed the tone of the conversation to be more upbeat and friendly, and he understood how to diffuse nay-sayers.

Advice: Think carefully about the way you present yourself online as the medium lacks the non-verbal cues of face-to-face communication such as voice, tone, body language or an existing relationship.


Risk management

The most common risk management strategy is the head-in-the-sand approach. But this is the worst thing to do.

Here are 10 steps GPs should take when an online emergency occurs.

  1. Practice authenticity: Very few people are natural and authentic communicators in the digital environment. It’s a technique that must be practiced, learned and honed.
  2. Prevent an issue from becoming a crisis: Don’t let an issue get out of hand. It’s win it or kill it in the first hour, so be on top of your media.
  3. Manage the monster before it manages you: It’s easy to go down the rabbit hole of technology. Ensure you know the basics and keep adding to your knowledge, test your theories. The answers are all online.   
  4. Avoid toxic language: This is where you unwittingly post something that backfires on you. Review what you write from the worst case scenario angle. Would you be happy if the authorities or you mum read it?
  5. Control and command: Once you’ve got a strategy stay on course. Ensure you’re hitting the milestones, always measure and don’t be swayed by the next bright and shiny trend.
  6. Learn to say sorry: Mistakes happen online, like in real life, it’s part of authenticity. Own it and make amends. Everyone loves a trier.
  7. Test platforms: Decide on a test platform, say Instagram, which is largely about the visual, and start to post and build followers. Make sure you know how to delete a post quickly.
  8. Blog for benefits: Blogging is great for SEO, with the opportunity for longer-form writing and excerpts to be shared across the platforms.
  9. Consider the options: Either upskill and Do it Yourself (DIY), find someone to do it with you (DIWY) or hire an agency to do it for you (DIFY). No matter which approach you take, even if it’s totally hands off, a basic understanding is required to measure, monitor and calculate the value of the investment.
  10. Understand the security settings: Private versus Public versus Secret posts and do trial runs of managing negative or potentially defamatory comments.

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How to manage the social-media monster - Heusler Public Relations