Commentary

Check-ins For Check-ups: How To Corner The Local Market With Foursquare

I was reading an article the other day that talked about how difficult it is for people to find a new doctor when they move to a new town and don't know anyone who can help refer one. That got me thinking about ... French toast. Specifically, it got me thinking about the amazing breakfast place I found through the location-based social networking application Foursquare while on a recent trip.

Foursquare is an Internet service that enables people to publicly declare where they are (for example, a restaurant, park, grocery store, auto body shop, etc.) and share information about that place, potentially connecting with other people with similar interests.

One of the main reasons it's gaining so much buzz is because those who "check in" to places can instantly share these updates on Twitter and Facebook. This, in turn, means literally millions of people are receiving these updates. The latest numbers, extrapolated by Mashable, show that the service is approaching one million check-ins per day.

While finding a great breakfast place is obviously not the same thing as choosing a health care provider, there are some lessons and approaches that private practice doctors can apply to a space that is (so far) largely dominated by restaurants.

After creating an account for yourself and installing Foursquare on your preferred mobile device, you need to establish yourself as the owner of your business on the service. Foursquare publishes a guide for doing that here.

Next, it's time to cultivate your practice's presence on the service. There are two ways to leave information about a business on a listing in Foursquare: tags and tips. Think of tags as similar to keywords, and tips as similar to notes.

Create tags that describe your practice. Do you have special experience with certain conditions? With pediatrics? Do you speak multiple languages? Do you have that rare commodity, parking in a dense urban area? If so, tag it!

After you've added some tags, it's time to add some tips. Think of these as "mini-reviews" that people can leave on your page. Chances are, people won't be as likely to leave tips on a doctor's page as they might on a bar or restaurant's page. This just means that you have a better chance of dominating the information that does appear on your page.

As a doctor, when encountering something called "tips" the first thought might be to write health tips for patients. However, there's so much more you can do. For instance, make a quick video of yourself, introducing you to potential patients. Flip Cams are perfect for this type of video. Post it to YouTube, and link it in a tip. YouTube has spent a lot of energy to make its videos playable from a large number of mobile devices. This makes it a great Foursquare companion.

In addition, you could leave helpful tips that include (if applicable) how many paces it is from the nearest bus stop or train station, as well as which lines run near you.

Now that you have your presence the way you'd like it, it's time to start connecting with others.

Search all of the businesses within a mile or two of your practice, and make friend connections with people who have checked into those businesses. In my own experience and in conversations with others, people seem more likely to reciprocate connections through Foursquare than they would through LinkedIn, Facebook, or even Twitter.

Finally, be sure to check in to your practice regularly. This can literally take as little as five seconds. Many of the people who have connected with you will choose to receive alerts when you check into a location or venue, which keeps your practice on their radar.

Services like Foursquare are still in their infancy. However, maintaining a presence on these new social platforms can provide a powerful, if subtle, marketing message: You're the type of doctor who "gets it," who is open to new approaches and who will be among the first to know about new treatments and new technologies. It's hard to think of a better message to convey about your practice.

3 comments about "Check-ins For Check-ups: How To Corner The Local Market With Foursquare".
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  1. Edward Feather from Partners+simons, June 4, 2010 at 11:54 a.m.

    Great article. I completely agree with the ideas here. I do think it is going to take most doctors (and a lot of other business types) to adopt something like Foursquare, but it really does make sense to use it and embrace it as part of the marketing mix.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, June 4, 2010 at 12:51 p.m.

    The problem is finding a GP doctor who takes new patients. Most doctors are not expanding their practice and there are not enough new GP's to cover the population. As for as an inexperienced doctor, hook up with another practice. I would not want to put my life into someone's hands who does not have that experience with another doctor or hospital. You think I would trust my life with someone who plays twit and needs patients? Whew hoo hoo. Good doctors are not shared with the open public; only special people can share (my) doctors' time. I did find a great dentist via a very (surprisingly) intelligent and well done individual direct mail piece. He told me it worked so well he does not have time to do it again.

  3. Amanda O'Neal, June 15, 2010 at 11:07 a.m.

    Great article. I never would have thought to tell my clients to join a service like Foursquare, but the author made a great point that they are on it whether they want to be or not. Definitely an area that we'll pay attention to.

    And to Paula, yes, I couldn't agree more that I don't want my doctor to be twittering all day. :) That's a bad sign. However, many doctors hire folks to do it for them. And I'm good with that.

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