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Social media 101 for pharmacists

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Two in three Canadians use social media and over one in three Canadians will not go a single day without checking their social media feed, according to a recent report by the Media Technology Monitor.

 

By Michael Boivin BSc. Phm.

Photography by Brandon Gray

“Social media is being adopted by the general public at a rapid rate,” explains Kelly Grindrod (@kgrindrod), pharmacist, digital tech guru, and assistant director at the University of Waterloo School of Pharmacy. “Social media is a reflection of how humans tend to communicate. We get our news from other people, they provide some content and share their opinion. Social media expands on this idea by developing a massive network of people in your community, country and around the world.”

Although patients have quickly adopted social media, healthcare professionals have been much more hesitant to join the SM world.

“Part of the problem,” says Kelly, “originated with our colleges and associations, which provided guidelines specifically on avoiding social media. Fortunately, they have shifted from this position of fear and are starting to see the value of having more qualified healthcare professionals sharing their thoughts and knowledge online.”

Kelly and pharmacist Carlene Oleksyn (@colekpharm) from Meridian Pharmacy in Stony Plain, Alta. are actively engaged in using social media as a way to ‘crowd-source’ knowledge. “As a pharmacist, there are many times we have to make clinical decisions and might not have all the answers we need. I have found through my network of online professionals, I know that even if I am alone in my pharmacy, I have a group of colleagues from all over the world I can trust to get the information to me when I need it,” Carlene explains.

Kelly also uses social media as a place to share information. “When you develop a network of people, you can float ideas, discuss new research, and they can provide you with information that you may not have access to through traditional channels.”

Pharmacist Scott Gavura (@PharmacistScott) from Toronto has been using social media effectively for years and blogs regularly at sciencebasedpharmacy.wordpress.com. “I think that pharmacists should share their knowledge. There is so much misinformation out there, and through the work I do I hope to translate reputable information to help patients in Canada and around the world. It is such an excellent venue to start this discussion.”

The most popular social media platforms for pharmacists are the basics — Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn – but don’t rule out such other popular social media platforms as Google+, Instagram and Pinterest. Remember, each social media platform is used for a slightly different purpose, but the primary goal for all is the sharing and exchange of ideas.

How can community pharmacists use social media? 

“It is a tool we can use to engage new segments of our population who may be less familiar with our services and offerings,” says pharmacist Sean Simpson. “We are currently using it to promote general wellness, as well as additional services that we offer, especially our weight management program. I’d like to think that by maintaining a presence on social media, we can stay top of mind with people in our broader community so they will think of us when the need arises.”

Nancy Amos (@ApothecaCanada) from Apotheca pharmacy in Toronto actively engages her community through social media. “We use social media for connecting with our community and clients in the form of relevant tips and health content, new products we are carrying, contests, and capturing in-the-moment opportunities such as our in-store events,” she says. “The overall response has been terrific. We are able to provide ongoing dialogue and access to our team if our clients have immediate needs. We hope we provide added value to our followers and online community, and in some ways we see this through our 500+ Twitter followers or our 200+ Likes on Facebook.”

As pharmacists continue to look for new ways to reach the community as well as their colleagues, social media will play an ever-increasing role. Are you ready?

Tips for gearing up your social media

Social media can seem overwhelming at first to pharmacists considering new ways of reaching out. These tips will help:

  1. Start by watching. Each social media platform has slightly different rules, conventions and audiences. Start by just connecting and following people you respect and see what they are sharing. By taking some time to learn, you won’t become overwhelmed and you will see how to “get social”.
  2. Use your real name. Many pharmacists on social media are anonymous and use SM as a platform to complain about their profession, patients and physicians in their community. People expect pharmacists to be professional. By using your real name, you are likelier to be more careful before sending out an inappropriate message. Remember to be polite and engage thoughtfully.
  3. Be patient. It takes some time to develop a voice and gain followers through social media. Through time and sharing relevant and excellent information you will see your success in SM grow.
  4. Know your audience. If your Twitter account is followed by other healthcare professionals, they may not be interested in a new service at your pharmacy, where a patient-focused Facebook page might be a more appropriate outlet for that type of information.