There are 31 million Facebook users in the UK and 60 per cent of the population has a Facebook account. Whilst the most popular age group is 25-34 year-olds, Facebook still provides an excellent platform to communicate with an extensive group of patients.
The Benefits of Facebook for Patients and Practices
For GP practices, Facebook offers an effective and practical way to engage and communicate with both existing and potential patients. It can also prove advantageous in attracting talented people into the practice and, amongst other social platforms, is an initiative that isÂ often incorporated into recruitment strategies.
Say you are launching a new clinic or you want to push a health campaign or let patients know about a change in opening hours. Facebook is the ideal platform to instantly feed this information through to the very people who will benefit from the updates. Patients will appreciate the fact that their practice is taking time to keep them up to date, and could well benefit from timely and seasonal reminders, such as flu jab clinics.
The Importance of Commitment for GP Practices Using Facebook
Unfortunately Facebook does not run itself. If you are considering using it as a communication channel for your GP practice, you are going to need a level of commitment to keep it going, and to manageÂ interactions with patients. Unanswered posts and pages that haven't been updated for long periods of time will only serve to put patients off, which of course is the opposite to the desired effect.
The good news is that it is relatively straightforward to set up a Facebook page, and if you have some willing parties within the practice who are keen to help keep it up to date, then it is a simple task to give them access to do so via their own personal Facebook profiles. With your budding social media team in place, and a policy set down so everyone is aware of how things are to run, you could soon be talking directly with your patients across a channel with which they are familiar and comfortable.
Ready to get started? Follow this guide!
Getting Started: Setting up a GP Practice Facebook Page
The practice page should be a 'business page'. Don't make the mistake of setting up the page on a personal profile: these are not designed to be used for organisations and people are not able to follow them. Additionally you will not be afforded the opportunity to view valuable insights about who is visiting your page and which types of posts are proving most popular.
Here's how to set up a Facebook business page (you will find it easier to follow these steps on a PC rather than using the Facebook app on a mobile device):
1. Log in to your personal Facebook profile
2. In the blue bar at the top of the page, click the black arrow far right
3. Select CREATE PAGE
4. Â Select LOCAL BUSINESS OR PLACEÂ
5. Choose a category: Medical and Health
6. Enter the name of your practice plus the address and telephone number
7. Click GET STARTED
After a few seconds your page will be created and you are ready to start personalising it.
8. Â You will see a step by step guide to getting the key elements of your page set up:
- Add a cover photoÂ - this will appear in the large grey area at the top. The ideal picture to use is either an outside or inside picture of your practice premises, or a team photo of the practice staff. Take care not to use images that show patients as you would need their permission to use them. Also ensure you gain the permission of any staff featured in your image. Finally, ensure the picture is of a high quality, preferably professionally taken to create the very best possible impression for your practice.
- Add a profile pictureÂ - this will appear in the smaller black box to the left of the grey box. This would usually be the practice logo.
- Add a short descriptionÂ - this is important as it will give visitors a quick snapshot of what you offer, plus it will form the text that appears in the search engine results. Keep it brief and informative. Use about 300 characters including spaces for this, but get your key messages into the first 150 as this is where it will cut off in the search engine description.
- Create a username for your pageÂ - this is what people will type in to find your page, and what will appear in the link to your page. When you first set the page up, the name will be followed by a long line of numbers. By changing the page name you can choose exactly what you'd like to use. You should choose your practice name as closely as allowed, although you should bear in mind that the name you wish to use may already be taken. If this is the case, try adding your location or something else relevant onto the end of the practice name.
9. Â At the end of these four tips you will see a link to 'See all Page tips'. Follow this link for guidance in setting up the rest of your page. You will also receive a welcome email from Facebook which will set out even more tips.
Add your Website address to Facebook
Once you have finished setting up the basics (see above)Â you will need to add your Website address to your Facebook page.
- Assuming you are in your 'business page', click AboutÂ under your profile picture to enter editing mode.
- Within the section, 'Additional Contact Info' click +Enter Website
- Enter your surgery website address and click SAVE. Â
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Managing Your GP Practice Facebook Page
To access your GP practice Facebook page, login to your personal profile and either type the name of the page into the Search Facebook bar top left, or click the arrow top right and choose your page.
To allow other members of the practice staff to post as well as you, follow these steps:
1. Â Ensure the member of staff has an active personal Facebook profile and has liked the practice page.
2. Â Click SETTINGS top right in the white bar
3. Â Click PAGE ROLES
4. Â Choose ASSIGN A NEW PAGE ROLE
5. Â Start typing in the field the Facebook user name of the colleague you wish to assign a page admin role to. Their name and profile image should appear - select it.
6. Â Assign a role - 'Admin' should be sufficient and will allow the member of staff to post to the page, respond to and delete comments, view insights and a few other functions. By clicking each role, you will be able to see what that person would be allowed to do.
7. Â Click ADD, and you're done. Now that member of staff will be able to access the page from their personal profile in the same way you did.
Facebook Page Settings
Under SETTINGS (top right), you will find a list of options. Run through these and carefully check which are suitable for your practice. Some of the most important for a GP practice are as follows:
Visitor postsÂ - you can turn off the ability for visitors, i.e. patients, to post to the page, or you can allow them to post but you have the opportunity to review those posts before they are published. For GP practices it is recommended that this is switched off as it is likely to become difficult to manage and of course you want tight control over the content that appears on your page. Visitors will still be able to comment on posts made by the practice, but they will not be able to add their own posts.
Reviews - if you are happy for visitors to leave a review of your Facebook page then leave this switched on. However if you would prefer not to allow such ratings, switch it off. Do bear in mind that some patients may view an inability to review the page as a lack of interest in their opinion.
Age restrictionsÂ - if you are happy that your content is suitable for patients of all ages then you can leave the page as visible to all ages. However if you wish you can change this to 13+, 17+, 18+, 19+ or 21+.
Profanity Filter - set this to strong so that Facebook knows to block any words that are offensive.
Always be mindful of patient and practice confidentiality when choosing your page settings.
Posting to your GP Practice Facebook Page
To post an update to your page, click in the area that says WRITE SOMETHING
Ensure you are posting as the practice rather than as yourself. To do this, make sure you can see the practice logo or whatever you chose as your profile picture to the right of the content area. If not, click the arrow next to the image that you do see, and choose the practice page from the drop down.
Type your post. If you wish, you can add a link to your practice website or to another online resource that you feel your patients would find helpful. Obviously be mindful of the type of content you are sharing and whether it is suitable for your patients and the age range you have chosen your page to be visible to. You can also add photos or video to your post but remember that permission must be gained to use any photos or videos featuring staff or patients.
Publish - SCHEDULE - Backdate - Draft
Once you are finished, you can either click PUBLISH for your post to be visible straight away or, using the arrow to the right, choose SCHEDULE and then pick a date for your post to go live. Scheduling is useful if you only have a set amount of time to devote to managing your Facebook page and wish to create a batch of posts in one go, and then have them go live at intervals over the coming days or weeks. Scheduling is also useful for setting up posts that are applicable in the future, such as new clinic openings.
You can also backdate posts and save them as drafts for later use, or for someone else to review and approve before going live.
What to Post to your GP Practice Facebook Page
- Set a policy
- Take care with confidentiality
- Check tone of voice
- Be helpful
It is important to take great care and consideration over what goes on your Facebook page. A policy should be set out in writing as to what is and what is not acceptable and this should be shared with everyone who is responsible for posting to the page.
Anything that could potentially cause offence, that may not be suitable for certain age ranges or that would breach confidentiality policies in any way must of course be avoided.
Care must also be taken over the tone of voice used. This should be consistent and must be the voice of the practice, rather than the member of staff posting. It should reflect the practice values, so for example it may be professional yet friendly, clear yet approachable, etc. It goes without saying that attention must be paid to ensuring spelling and grammar are exemplary so that the professional reputation of the practice is maintained.
All in all, anything that could prove useful to patients would make a good post. So for example:
General information about the practice: opening times, patient participation group meetings and feedback, available clinics, CQC scores, etc.
Staff news: any new staff members, staff leaving or retiring, staff involvement in charity or community ventures, staff profiles - don't forget, get permission to feature staff.
Practice news: changes to opening hours, new clinics, charity or community events, seasonal updates (e.g. flu jab clinic, travel clinic), support of public health campaigns, etc.
Community news: anything that is going on in the local community such as fetes, artisan markets, craft fairs, festivals, new local shops or services, etc. that could be of interest to patients. It doesn't necessarily have to involve the practice, just be relevant to local people.
Responding to Comments
Be sure to exercise the same caution and follow the same policy and procedure when responding to comments left on posts by patients as you would when publishing your own posts. Remember, you are posting as the practice, so 'chatting' openly with patients on the page without any sense of formality is a no-go. Always address whoever has posted by their name with a good morning or afternoon before responding to their comment, and never disclose any confidential information or enter into any sort of discussion that is in any way personal. Should a patient post a comment of this nature, for example asking what their test results mean or what certain symptoms may denote, comment politely asking them to contact the practice by telephone or in person to further discuss.
When to Post to your GP Practice Facebook Page
Around 2 to 3 posts per week is a reasonable level to aim to maintain, however it is recommended for users to post between 2 to 3 per day. Never post out of surgery hours, as you will set a precedent: social media users tend to expect instant responses. Just one response out of hours will have all the followers expecting a 24/7 service.
Set a policy for response times, and communicate that policy to your followers.
Ensure you have a robust complaints procedure for your practice and that it is suitably promoted, otherwise you may find that patients use your Facebook page as an open forum to air any grievances.
Building your GP Practice Facebook Community
Once you have your page set up, you will of course be aiming to gain a fairly good following. After all, what is a platform without an audience? Here are some ideas to help you build your community:
- Invite your personal Facebook friends to like the page. You will see prompts on your page allowing you to do this easily.
- Promote the page in your own personal posts and share the posts you have made as the practice so that your friend network can see them. In turn they may share the posts, and so your audience widens.
- Promote the page from your website and using in-practice posters. Add the Facebook icon to your literature so that patients know they can find you there. Let them know the benefits of following the page, i.e. being able to keep up to date with the latest practice news, etc.
- Find relevant pages and comment on them and share them as the practice. This should fire up a sharing network where everyone helps each other. Things like local community events are the ideal sort of thing to share - again think 'helpful'Â and make sure anything you comment on or share is relevant to the practice and its patients.
Facebook is an excellent platform to engage and communicate with GP practice patients. Hopefully this guide has proved helpful and you feel ready to get your page set up. Remember: confidentiality, consideration and commitment are the most important three C's - and good luck with your page!Â