Websites & Social Media. in the Professional Environment. A practical guide to navigating the world of social media

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1 Websites & Social Media in the Professional A practical guide to navigating the world of social media

2 istockphoto.com/andrearoad Introduction Your Online Presence An online presence is essential for almost any business, whether it is a name and contact details in an online directory, a website, or through social media. The prevalence of social media as a communication tool in modern society has increased transparency and the way organisations communicate with key stakeholders. Websites have become one of the most popular and cost effective functional forms of advertising and the way you present your business online has never been more important. It is crucial for registered health professionals to understand the benefits and be aware of the limitations of engaging in online activities, particularly social media. On top of current regulatory standards, there are further ethical considerations that health professionals must be prepared to address. Effective use of any or all of these mediums can assist in growing your business, enabling communication between staff and employees, patients, professionals and peak bodies. However it is important to be aware of the regulations and ethical considerations that pertain to your online activities, as a breach could have consequences for you or your practice. Please note this document is not an exhaustive representation of all legal and ethical issues that pertain to website and social media use for health practitioners (dentists). Full research and investigation should be conducted to ensure any website or social media use complies with Australian National Legislation, legislation in your State or Territory and AHPRA Codes and Guidelines. Websites and Social Media in the Professional Environment is designed to assist you in responsibly engaging in online activities whilst ensuring that you are able to realise the full potential of this emerging form of communication. Common Online Media Websites Facebook LinkedIn Twitter E-communications (e-newsletters, bulletins etc.) Blogs Copyright Australian Dental Association Inc

3 istockphoto.com/franckreporter Why have a social media presence? In a rapidly evolving world, the way in which business is being conducted is changing. The use of social media has allowed business to engage customers (patients) in an ongoing personal dialogue at little to no cost. There are some obvious benefits to social media profiles, each of which must be individually considered to ensure compliance with legislation and ethical standards whilst having an advantageous effect on your business. So why have an online presence? Maintain personal relationships; Expose your business to a wider audience (Facebook advertising, Google Places etc); Best practice sharing and to keep in touch with the dental profession globally; and Connect with other professionals or facilitate business dealings, partnerships etc. Copyright Australian Dental Association Inc

4 What are the primary sources of social media for business? Facebook Facebook has over 750 million active users globally with 50% of users logging in on any given day. A total of 700 billion minutes per month is spent on Facebook. People interact with 900 million objects (pages, groups, events, community pages), with an average user connected to 80 of these objects. A Facebook account is free to use and offers targeted advertising packages to businesses. There is enormous potential for businesses to interact with existing and potential clients through photos, videos, status updates, and links giving your business an identity in the online arena. Twitter Twitter has over 200 million users which account for 155 million tweets every day. Twitter allows you to form relationships with your followers by broadcasting tweets of 140 characters or less with the capability of communicating links, images, videos and updates any time from almost anywhere. Twitter should be considered a global information tool, whereby the user sifts through information via user or topic that they consider relevant. Whilst Twitter is commonly known for its celebrity following, it is used by businesses to actively engage followers to answer questions, provide information or support, share links and remain in touch with existing customers. LinkedIn Often cited as Facebook for professionals, LinkedIn has over 60 million members including executives from most major organisations. LinkedIn is a social network for professionals who are looking to promote both themselves and their companies. LinkedIn offers an opportunity to generate new leads you can find, be introduced to, and collaborate with qualified professionals who can help you accomplish your goals and grow your business. LinkedIn also provides the opportunity to participate in group discussions with other professionals in your industry or start your own topic, re-engage with classmates or colleagues, or search for professional employment. Blogs A Blog (Website Log) is a series of posts or items displayed on a website containing information, links, videos and images pertaining to a particular topic or series of topics. It could also be described as an online journal for individuals or businesses. There are several advantages to having a blog, including the ability to keep clients informed about your business and what you have to offer, share knowledge both internally and externally, receive feedback and stay in tune with current (industry) events, and build a profile for your business. Blogs also assist in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), which is the algorithm used by search engines such as Google and Yahoo to rank websites. The more frequently your website is updated with quality information, the higher up in ranking your website will appear, likely attracting more visitors. Blogs are certainly not relevant for all business and in the healthcare profession you must consider who your audience is and what they are interested in. You must also ensure that what you wish to write about complies with guidelines set out by AHPRA and Australian E-Newsletters If executed well, there are a variety of benefits of the creation and distribution of an e-newsletter; reputation enhancement, online presence and corporate identity whilst informing patients of new events and products you endorse in a cost effective way. It is imperative that any electronic communication sent complies with the Spam Act 2003, as actions not in accordance with the act are considered a violation of national law and could result in fines or other disciplinary action. Copyright Australian Dental Association Inc

5 istockphoto.com/izusek Responsible Use of Social Media There are useful ways in which a health practitioner can actively use social media: Posting new studies or survey results that apply to the practitioner s specialisation; Posting news from professional membership bodies (such as the ADA, AHPRA, FDI); Announcing new business hours, place of practice changes, contact details; Circulating links to fact sheets produced by professional bodies or industry; Displaying information about your qualifications (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook); Promoting events or community activities; and Providing general oral health tips but be careful not to give personal advice. Regularly checking and updating your social media accounts with any or all of the suggestions above can actively engage potential and existing patients, keep you up to date with the evolving needs of consumers, assist in promoting your website, energise your brand and promote you as an individual as well as an organisation. Some examples of what to avoid when using social media: Providing expert dental advice (diagnoses, treatment plans or recommendations); Posting pictures of procedures, case studies, patients or sensitive material without explicit consent; Posting links to contentious research or issues without verifiable proof of claims; Discussing patients Adding or accepting patients as Friends (be careful with mediums such as Blogs and Twitter where you have limited control over people who follow you); Using testimonials or purported testimonials in any capacity on any medium. As a general rule of thumb, if you are asking yourself whether something is appropriate to post, then do not post it. The potential ramifications of posting something you shouldn t far outweigh the potential benefit of posting something that members of the public, professional bodies, government or other stakeholders may have an issue with. Anything you post should be supported by credible sources, particularly if the issue is a source of contention. There are certain issues and information that should not be displayed by any health practitioner to ensure compliance with legislation and fullfillment of the ethical considerations necessary in conducting best practice social media. Copyright Australian Dental Association Inc

6 istockphoto.com/robas Social Media Etiquette Listening and spectating is one of the best ways to introduce yourself to social media. Consider undertaking a spectator period to review social media use by other professionals and organisations. Read and understand the terms and conditions and privacy policy of the social media mediums in which you are engaging. Create a different profile or account for your personal and business connections. This is a much safer way to maintain your professional online identity. Be aware that either profile can still be sought out so consider privacy settings for your personal accounts. Regularly monitor your profile. You should check your profile at least once a day to ensure nothing untoward has been posted and so you are able to respond quickly to any inquiries. Social media can require a significant time commitment, so make certain you are able to commit to regular updates, posts, reviews and amendments. Offer information of value: don t talk just about yourself and your company, refer to news and current events that impact upon the viewers of your social media activities. Don t approach people you don t know and attempt to sell them your products or services. You will quickly lose credibility as an individual and organisation. Have interesting and relevant content, and the friends/followers/viewers will come to you. Pick a username that represents you and your company well. It is difficult to find a unique username, but be careful not to be misconstrued as a different organisation in another country. Do your research before selecting a username. It s important to realise that anything you put online may at some stage be read by anyone, whether you delete that information or not. Don t post anything you wouldn t want patients, suppliers, co-workers, peers or other organisations to read either now or in the future. Before accepting friend requests from individuals or other organisations, research their online profile to make sure you are happy with the choice. Be aware that with some social media platforms such as Twitter and blogs, it can be difficult to manage who is viewing your content. It s important to realise that anything you put online may at some stage be read by anyone, whether you delete that information or not. Compose your posts, updates or tweets in a word processing program such as MS Word so you can check grammar and spelling before you send them. To retain credibility, make sure you maintain professionalism in everything you do across all social media. Always remember to log out of your session on publiclyshared computers. You wouldn t want a stranger accessing any of your accounts. Copyright Australian Dental Association Inc

7 istockphoto.com/pearleye Staff and Social Media If employees or colleagues have access to computers and/or smartphones, it is likely that they are engaging in social media for personal use. As an employer it is prudent to have a social media agreement in place to ensure that productivity at the workplace is not hindered by social media use, and that employees are responsibly using social media by avoiding commenting on your practice, patients or peers in a negative fashion. There are countless examples of employees posting status updates or creating groups that exhibit their employers or workplace in a negative light. These often result in disciplinary action or termination in extreme cases. It is your responsibility to ensure staff are aware of the responsibility they have in maintaining patient confidentiality and professional standards. Requesting staff sign a document outlining what constitutes responsible social media use is a preferred method to inform staff of the consequences any untoward actions or comments regarding you, your patients, your practice and your colleagues. Alternatively, have a verbal conversation with staff or block the use of social media websites from the workplace. The question of whether social media use at work benefits or hinders productivity is often discussed by academics, economists and business owners, and the extent to which you monitor its use is at your discretion. It is unwise to ignore the fact that the majority of staff will be engaging in some form of social media activity, therefore consider how it is currently impacting upon your business and what the potential benefits and hazards could be. Copyright Australian Dental Association Inc

8 What do I have to avoid and how do I avoid it? The online space is still relatively new in comparison to traditional marketing activities. For this reason, legislation is continually being updated and it is important that as a health practitioner you are aware of the consequences and implications of what is considered illegal or unethical in the online space. Dentists have an ethical and legal responsibility to protect their patients confidentiality and privacy. With the development and widespread use of social media, the separation of professional and personal standards has become less apparent. The guidelines that apply to you in the professional setting also apply to both your professional and personal online presence. A great place to start is with the review of the following: The Privacy Act 1988; Health Practitioner Regulation National Law 2009; Dental Code of conduct for Registered Health Practitioners; Dental Guidelines for Advertising on Regulated Health Services This document outlines primary considerations but should not be perceived as an exhaustive list of considerations when advertising or conducting yourself or your business online. Use of Testimonials Apart from professional standards and codes of conduct that already apply to professionals, there are specific regulatory mechanisms that limit your social media activity in relation to promoting your practice. For example, on AHP it is illegal for a healthcare professional to advertise their services using testimonials or purported testimonials (Section 133(1)(c), Health Practitioner Regulation National Law Act). This would include a patient posting a testimonial based on your services on either your Facebook wall or your practice s Facebook page or for you to post testimonials to your website, Facebook page, Twitter or LinkedIn profile. If you are currently using testimonials to advertise your business, through either Social Media or on your website you are violating AHPRA Codes of Conduct and National Law. You must remove the testimonials immediately to ensure disciplinary action is not taken against you. Content As a health practitioner you are directly responsible for the content that appears on your website and other social media platforms. It is therefore imperative that everything you state is factual and can be proven. If anyone (website or graphic designer) implements content on your behalf, the principle health practitioner is still liable as it is their responsibility to ensure the content being displayed on their behalf is factual. Confidentiality and Privacy You must ensure that the privacy and confidentiality of interactions with your patients is never breached by treating all information regarding patients as confidential. Patients may be discussed in a professional context only if the discussion adheres to privacy and health records legislation. It is best to avoid discussing patients online in any capacity, as the ease by which information can circulate far exceeds that of traditional professional discussion. Express (Written) Consent Health Practitioners should use graphic or visual representations in health service advertising (websites and social media) with extreme caution, including; photographs, images, patients, models, charts, diagrams etc. Posting or displaying images of patients or their mouth can have severe consequences through violation of the Privacy Act and a violation of AHPRA s Advertising Code, which could potentially result in deregistration. It is generally best to avoid posting images on your website or social media profiles of your patients. If you do deem it necessary to include images of a patient you must acquire written consent outlining all potential uses and distribution channels of the image and have it signed by the subject of the image. Additionally, if the image is designed to advertise a service offered (such as teeth whitening) the image must only depict a person who has undergone the treatment being advertised by the health practitioner who is advertising it. Copyright Australian Dental Association Inc

9 istockphoto.com/akinbostanci Discounts and offers AHPRA considers the use of gifts or discounts in advertising as inappropriate due to the potential for such inducements to encourage the unnecessary use of regulated health services. Should a healthcare practitioner insist on advertising a regulated health service, the offer must be truthful with the terms and conditions of the offer clearly outlined. However, in reference to medicines or other therapeutic goods that retain the propensity to be abused; offers, gifts and discounts must not be used in advertisements of any treatment. For more detailed information, view the Therapeutic Goods Advertising Code Advertising a discount or offer that has been allocated a time-limit is a violation of AHPRA s Guidelines of Advertising of Regulated Health Services. Any advertisement of any treatment must be available for as long as the advertisement remains in the marketplace. Spam Unsolicited commercial electronic messages are a violation of the Spam Act 2003 and are illegal. There are five main points outlined by the Spam Act that must be adhered to in electronic communication: 1 Unsolicited commercial electronic messages must not be sent. 2 Any electronic communication must include information about the organisation or individual who approved the sending of the message. 4 address-harvesting software must not be acquired or used. 5 A list of addresses produced by address harvesting software must not be used. This means you must have permission to send group s (to patients, organisations, or any other individual) by either written proof with clearly stated acceptance to receive s from your organisation or via an electronic opt-in system. You must provide your recipients with the opportunity to unsubscribe in every non-individual electronic communication. When gathering addresses, you must not purchase or sell a list in any capacity as this is not recognised as verifiable proof that you have obtained permission to communicate with those on the list. What should you do now? Now is the perfect time to evaluate how you are engaging in social media to ensure you are compliant with National Law, AHPRA Guidelines and Code and make certain you feel that your social media and website activity is ethically sound. Should you identify anything that is in breach remove it immediately and revisit your social media strategy. Employ the suggested methods of responsibly using social media etiquette, and consider how you will treat social media use inside and outside the work environment. 3 A functional unsubscribe facility must be included within each communication. Copyright Australian Dental Association Inc

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