Even if some physicians themselves are not online, their names, comments on their style of practice, and complaints or compliments about them probably are.
All of the online content devoted to a particular physician could negatively impact his or her reputation, and subsequently his or her business, if steps aren't taken to manage that content and -- when necessary -- defend it. This is often referred to as online reputation management.
Online reputation management has become big business, as evidenced by the number of radio and online ads offering to help physicians. But physicians can manage their own reputations, help build positive ones, and prevent negative content from turning into a crisis that needs to be dealt with professionally.
As quickly as online content can spread, especially in the age of social media, experts say online reputation management should be a key component to any business plan.
"The best defense in these cases is good offense," said Scott Sobel, president of Media and Communications Strategy, a Washington-based public relations firm specializing in crisis management.
Christian Olsen, vice president of Levick Strategic Communication's digital and social media practice, said social media has changed the dynamics of reputation management, because in addition to physicians communicating with their patients, their patients are now communicating with one another on social media websites.
For most physicians, there are five simple steps they can take to manage and maintain a good reputation online. For others, managing their online reputations may require more time and expertise than they have available.
One: Google yourself
Olsen said many make the mistake of thinking that because they don't have a website or are not involved in social media they are not online. "It just means your voice is not being heard in a conversation about you," he said.
The first step in managing a reputation is knowing what there is to manage. Reputation management experts recommend that physicians conduct Google searches on themselves at least once a month, preferably more often. Things can spread quickly online, so seeing what content is there on a regular basis will help doctors stay ahead of a potential crisis. It's also a good way to see what positive things are being said about you, which you may be able to build on.
Steven Wyer, managing director of Reputation Advocate Inc. and author of the book Violated Online, said physicians should set up alerts on Google and Yahoo. These alerts work by registering keywords, such as a name, that the search engines will use to comb the Internet looking for any new mention of those keywords on blogs, websites, online forums and other sites. When it finds a new mention, it will send an email detailing where the keywords were mentioned, what was said and a link to the website.
The mistake many physicians make, however, is to not include all reasonable variations of their name in an alert, Wyer said. For example, John Smith, MD, could have several variations, including Dr. John Smith, Dr. John C. Smith, Dr. John Smith, MD, etc. Alerts for a handful of those variations should be set up.
Two: Correct mistakes and false information
The easiest places to start are websites that show up high in Google searches. Those sites are likely to be physician finder or rating sites or health plan physician finders. The sites often include wrong or outdated contact information and incomplete biographical and educational history.
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