Massachusetts Medical Society: How to Skillfully Navigate Social Media: DOs and DON’Ts for Physicians

How to Skillfully Navigate Social Media: DOs and DON’Ts for Physicians

Dr. Cynthia S. Peng
Dr. Cynthia S. Peng

In this age of the High Renaissance of social media, some physicians are experienced hands at social media, while newcomers continue to join in. Many of us on the MMS Committee on Communications fall into the first category. As such, we are happy to share some tips on how to engage most effectively as a medical professional.

Our tips are meant to be transdiagnostic across social media platforms. Needless to say, they do not constitute genre-defining professional advice. But what we’ve learned from our own involvement, observation, successes, and occasional gaffes may be useful to any physician.

DO distinguish between personal accounts and professional-facing accounts. For example, an Instagram account can be on private mode, or a public-facing account with possibly credentials listed. Then pause to ask yourself why you are disseminating this information. Is it to showcase a fall trip to Aunt Mabel’s orchards with a few blurry photographs of the kids? Post that in a personal account, and preferably with a private setting (for the sake of those showcased). But if it is a close-up of your Granny Smiths with general advice for healthy eating, then adding your professional title or endorsement may be beneficial for achieving your goals of patient-education and thoughtful leadership.

DON’T take photos or videos on the job. It almost goes without saying. Yet we still have medical professionals making TikToks of themselves in contrite, performative agony in response to actual clinical events.

DO bring levity and humor! Consider the genre-defining videos of Dr. Glaucomflecken, which make some people laugh (and others cringe) through his comedic takes on the absurdity of the shared medical trainee experience.

DON’T disparage any other medical profession publicly, ever.

DO robustly promote the accomplishments of colleagues. Those who want to see you win will help you win. Retweet colleagues’ publications and announce their virtual talks — you will be helping them reach a wider audience than internal listservs.

DON’T enter into paid partnerships without considerable thought about what it means to yoke your public image to an entity’s brand. If you made the decision to partner, be sure to fully disclose it to the audience. Social media is public, and public perception is jury and judge. You don’t want the appearance of “being in the pocket” of any entity. Is “swipe up to save 20 percent with code DOCTOR” for a medical product (as we see with so many InstaDoc promotions) worth the marriage of your public image to their brand?

DO retweet the most salient points at conferences. As we all know, too many opportunities abound at some conferences, so physicians who must miss a specific session may appreciate the takeaways. Plus, it’s a fun way to engage both the speaker and audience.

DO use your voice as a force for positive change, advocacy, and education. It doesn’t have to be all serious; please do have fun!

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