Fired up about Facebook -- or fired?

June 14, 2010
Dr. Rhonda Savage talks about the good, the bad, and the ugly of social media in the workplace.

The good, the bad, and the ugly of social media in the workplace

By Rhonda R. Savage, DDS

The bad: A recent study of companies of at least 1,000 employees found that 8% of their employees have actually been dismissed for their behavior on sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. That’s double from last year! Dental practices have also fired employees for sharing sensitive details about the practice and patients. In addition, team members have been sanctioned and fired for making unprofessional remarks about their doctor.

The good: Many employees have found their jobs via social media and many bosses have complimented employees for their social media activities.

On a blog written recently by Rachael:

“I don’t post anything about my office or boss on Facebook. For the most part, I like my job and boss, but we all have ‘those days.’ Any issues he and I have are discussed amongst ourselves. I know when he is upset with me, and he knows when I’m upset with him. I do have a few parts of my page blocked from my boss, but I’m aware that someone can make a screenshot and send it to him whether or not he is my FB friend. I do worry whether or not posting what I think of Saint Paul the Apostle or other sensitive topics can get me into trouble. I’m not sure where the line between personal and professional ends anymore.”

The ugly:
Realize that even if you use Facebook privacy settings, you may not avoid disaster. Remember in high school doing things you thought your parents would never find out about and yet somehow they always found out? The same is true of social media. Sometimes in the workplace, your coworkers are friends, but they might be “in-between” friends. An example: People have been caught lying about “sick” days on Facebook and have been fired for it, so think long and hard about what you post on Facebook!

Despite the bad and the ugly, Facebook participation can be an asset to the practice. How do we use this opportunity to promote the practice, yet ask team members to be cautious in their postings? What should the doctor and office manager post? The guidelines listed below must apply to every member of the dental team, including the doctor. Because of the potential downsides, many dental offices shy away from any form of social media and Internet visibility such as a Web site. Lack of visibility on the Web can be detrimental to a practice.

One use of Facebook is to let patients and potential patients know something about you personally. Patients come to you for a relationship. They assume you know how to do the dentistry. A relationship means that we share something of ourselves. One way your Facebook can help connect you to people is with a link from your Web site. If you don’t have a Web site in this day and age, you date your practice. Patients will look for your presence on the Web with a Web site that says you’re current and up to date.

Facebook can be a tremendous networking tool. Business pages on Facebook can elevate your Web site status through Search Engine Optimization. In addition, if you have a Facebook business page link on the opening page of your Web site, potential patients will feel that they know you and your office before coming in for their new-patient experience. I know of dental practices that have gained new patients simply because of their business Facebook page! Think of Facebook as a bit like a cocktail party, where people circulate and share snippets of conversation.

As great as Facebook can be, however, it can be just as damaging. It is not polite to badmouth anybody — the boss, coworker, whoever — in such a public way on a public forum. For this reason, I believe dental practices need a code of ethics that applies to everyone in the practice. There are two factors at work here: employers need to more closely monitor social media sites, and employees need to use common sense when posting about their work life. Employees need to be careful about sharing sensitive information, as well as making foolish remarks about their employer. This begs the question, “How much is too much? What can I say and what should I never say?”

Many times, postings are made during an emotional moment and may not be well thought out. Another problem is that some people don’t have proper speaking or conduct skills. They may not have developed professional or social graces. While employees need to be motivated to develop these skills, it’s the employer’s responsibility to set the tone of the practice. The doctor needs to set the vision and goals for the office regarding social media, and with the help of the team develop a mission-driven ethical use policy. Develop a written protocol in the practice as a team and talk about what is appropriate to post.

Consider the following parameters as openings for the discussion:

  1. HIPAA privacy considerations for patient records.
  2. Office policy that forbids insulting patients.
  3. Office policy about speaking ill about the dental practice on social networks.
  4. Social media posting etiquette: Be nice. Keep it clean. Develop verbal cue cards on what to say and not to say. Have clearly developed expectations that apply to all team members.
  5. Consider leveraging your office’s Facebook profile to start positive conversations about employees and services.
  6. With your patients’ permission, elevate their businesses and activities.
  7. If you have a personal page and a business page, consider your policy regarding patients who want to become your personal friends. One dentist lost a family of patients who asked to be his personal friend and he said no.
  8. Write a page in your office policy manual regarding Facebook and social media posting. In today’s world, your office policy manual should contain your guidelines regarding cell phone use during patient time, Internet use during business hours, hair color, body piercings, and tattoos. For a list of necessary topics in a current office policy manual, e-mail me at [email protected].

Social media is not a fad. It’s here to stay. Yet most dentists don’t have the time or energy to use social media to build their practices. Business page content will need to be updated frequently and consistently to ensure the Wall tab stays fresh. You can decrease the time investment by using Ping.FM to update simultaneously to Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

The Best: You will bring in the type of patients who need the services that you offer in your practice.

Where do you find the time to post and update? Ask one of your tech-savvy employees to help. I recommend you engage employees “where they’re at.” Build and tap into their strengths and social media expertise. Carve out one to two hours per week to dedicate to marketing on the Web. On your business page, you can include before-and-after photos as well as a video clip that introduces the doctor and another video tour of the practice. Keep videos brief. Be sure to obtain written permission to post photos, “rave reviews,” and patient business information.

With a clearly established policy, Facebook and social media can be a great asset! The world is changing; are you changing with it?

Author bio
Rhonda Savage, DDS, has been in private practice for 16 years and is the CEO for Linda L. Miles and Associates, an internationally known practice-management and consulting business. A noted speaker, Dr. Savage lectures on practice management, esthetic dentistry, women’s health issues, periodontal disease, communication/marketing, and zoo dentistry. Contact her at [email protected].