Faris K. Timimi, MD, is no stranger to social media. As medical director for the Mayo Clinic Social Media Network (MCSMN) and a practicing cardiologist in Rochester, Minnesota, Dr Timimi maintains an active social media presence, most recently sharing his thoughts about the Heart Failure Society of American’s annual meeting on the #HFSA2018 hashtag.

Dr Timimi and Lee Aase, communications director of the MCSMN, sat down with Medical Bag to discuss the goals of the MCSMN and role of social media in physician practice.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Medical Bag: Can you talk a little bit about the history of the Mayo Clinic Social Media Network? What was the impetus behind forming the organization?

Lee Aase: The Mayo Clinic…has a physician-administrator partnership. I am the administrative part of that, Dr. Timimi is the physician part. [He] helps us make sure we are aligning with the practice needs and what works in the real world for physicians.

We saw that social media was used as word-of-mouth in the 21st century, so we felt that as professional communicators, we should embrace that as well.

We were one of the early organizations to get into social media. Our leadership saw that we were having trouble with that, and they said we should look in public relations and marketing, and apply those [principles] to teach our physicians and staff what is appropriate and what is not. So we created this Mayo Clinic Social Media Network.

Our goal first is to help our Mayo Clinic staff use these tools, and apply them in their work. Second, we recognize that part of the culture of healthcare is sharing and learning together, and that is what all these scientific academic meetings are about. We wanted to be that for social media in healthcare. As we are developing resources and training materials for best practices, we said, “Let’s create a place where our colleagues around the world can also use this as a resource and can get up to speed more quickly if they are considering engaging.” We can also learn from them. This connects to the Mayo Clinic’s history. Our founders were big believers of face-to-face networking; we just made it digital.

What is the biggest pitfall of physicians who are active on social media? What’s the number 1 thing you recommend physicians not do?

Dr Timimi: I will begin by saying that the most common mistake physicians make is that they do not participate [in social media]. The perceived fear of potential violations online precludes their use of social media as a tool.

The second pitfall is that they do not treat it as the tool that it is. They treat it as a 1-size-fits-all channel. The real value of social media is, first, a way to reach an audience or a particular goal you are trying to achieve, and second, to increase engagement by being social and not seeing this as just another broadcast channel.

For example, tweeting about what my practice can do over and over again, without engaging in real conversation, or picking the wrong tool for the wrong opportunity — [physicians] who don’t understand the right demographic with Facebook vs Pinterest vs Instagram vs Twitter try to make a tool fit for an audience that doesn’t make sense.

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Is there on social media network that you recommend above all else?

Dr Timimi: Part of it is looking at your audience and looking for what’s there. For example, Snapchat wouldn’t really make any sense for senior citizens. I’m not sure if it makes sense in healthcare for anyone, but at any rate, you have to look at the demographics and the nature of the platform, the content of what you are putting out there, and what are the characteristics and how does it fit.

I think that Instagram is great, but 1 of the pitfalls is that you are not allowed to link. You cannot put a link within the post, so because of that, if 1 of your goals it to get people the opportunity to go visit your professional bio and some other landing page, you do not have the ability to direct people there. In terms of engagement, I can see a dermatology practice working really well, although you typically see beautiful pictures on Instagram vs the kinds of things you see in dermatology practice.

What are some of the HIPAA concerns that physicians need to be aware of when using social media?

Dr Timimi: A lot of providers are worried about being contacted by patients through social platforms and [having to] engage in conversation with them and inadvertently sharing privacy information.

I think it gets back to the fundamental rules…we encourage all providers to have guidelines [for all employees], and to train them. As long as these guidelines are put in place, these tools are much less complex than tools that are used on a daily basis in medicine. I think a mistake we see is when providers do not see [social media] as tools, but see them as toys and are not rigorous when approaching them. When a provider has a new technology in practice, they are very rigorous in how they use and incorporate it so that they can train the staff on how to use [the technology] correctly. You need to have the same mindset for social platforms.

Another reason why physicians do not get involved is time. Physicians need to understand that this is not time demanding, and often physicians can automate what they share. You can schedule tweets in 10-minute periods at the beginning of the week and go through medical journals to pick out which articles are the most relevant, then schedule 1 a day for the next 6 days. By doing this, you will have a presence every day and not wake up every morning needing to send out constant tweets, which will make people unfollow you.

Do you find that physicians who are active on social media are experiencing increased burnout linked to the constant engagement?

Dr Timimi: No, for many of our providers, it is something new and out of the ordinary for them. It is something that is artistic and creative to be able to use language in that way. A lot of providers are incredibly busy, but really enjoy the social media space.

If you were guiding a physician who was a social media novice, what would be your top tip for a successful social media strategy?

Dr Timimi: First, [clarify] what the social media guidelines are for their organization. Second, getting trained through a training course and focusing on social platform tools is really critical to reinforce the resources you need to allocate, the listening strategies that are important, and the fact that professionalism is really important for a provider online.

Mr Aase: I want to emphasize that you need to strategically think about what you are trying to accomplish with your involvement. What is your goal? If you do not have that “why” out there, then it’s going to be easy to not be motivated enough to stay with it.

What type of return on investment do you see, financially or socially or through another metric, for physicians who use social media?

Dr Timimi: I think any time you allocate time or resources, there has to be some return on investment. For example, there are services out there that may see a negative physician rating. Those sites will send out emails to the physicians saying “Look at this, look at what people are saying about you online. If you give us $50 a month, we can help manage that.”

If there is a way we can save $600 per year on that service, spending a little time creating a Twitter or LinkedIn account or completing a profile in Doximity can help. The tools that we recommend for physicians are Twitter and LinkedIn, because they are going to allow for reputation management. Twitter is the best for networking, as it allows you to connect with anyone in the world through hashtags.

What is the biggest limitation of social media right now for physicians, and how do you see that being overcome in the next 5 years?

Mr Aase: [A social media presence] is becoming much more expected by patients. It helps humanize the physicians. For example, what you will see on Dr Timimi’s Twitter is a picture of his kids, which makes him more approachable, which is very important for patients.

Dr Timimi: Five years ago, I had to convince providers to use social media. Now, providers come to me asking for ways to be more strategic on social media. I only see this increasing. I see a strategic shift in how providers can use social media for education. It will just be another tool that medical providers will grab from their bag.

Follow Dr Timimi on Twitter @FarrisTimimi. Follow Mr Aase on Twitter @LeeAase. For more information on the MCSMN, including how to become a member or participate in a social media residency, visit socialmedia.mayoclinic.org or follow the organization on Twitter @MayoClinicSMN.