In my conversations with other mental health professionals, there seems to be a consistent ambivalence regarding the amount of time and effort they’d like to invest in an online professional presence. To be sure, there are several who are increasingly embracing it, but the more common response has been some sort of equivocation. Personally, I am excited about the opportunities offered by the Internet and a vocal advocate of its potential value for both clients and clinicians. Of course, this is not a naïve embrace of all things online-related; I recognize the risks for identity theft, online bullying, and (uninformed) attacks on one’s reputation [ Which, of course, will be the topic of another article! 🙂 ]. With that in mind, below are five ways I believe an online presence can help you professionally.
While networking continues to be an important strategy for increasing one’s visibility in the community and growing one’s practice, potential clients are increasingly using the Internet to find different services—including therapy. However, the probability of a potential client seeing you is complicated by the means by which clients search for mental health providers. For example, some people use popular search engines, which may mean that one may best be found by having one’s own website or signing up for professional directories, such as Psychology Today or Good Therapy. Others with more of a niche practice may even consider increasing their visibility on websites and online communities for that particular area. Recent trends have also demonstrated how a growing portion of the population, especially younger individuals, uses social media and apps, instead of search engines, to search for services. To be seen online, clinicians needsto be mindful about practicing the right strategy and finding the proper online avenue that fits their clinical practice.
Targeted Marketing Avenues.
One advantage of the Internet is the ease and affordability it allows for a much more targeted approach to the marketing of one’s services. As already implied above, this can be as simple as joining and being actively involved in online communities composed of your target audience or client population. Also noted above, the avenue by which one chooses to market oneself (e.g., Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.) can sometimes provide a de facto focus. Of course, having a more targeted campaign allows one to be more creative in selecting the best way to reach out. Furthermore, different Internet platforms provide different opportunities for increased engagement with potential clients. For example, Facebook allows people to get directions, call your phone number, and link to a sign-up page through its Action Button system. Finally, an online presence allows for more detailed feedback. Through analytics, you can find out who goes to your website or social media page, what times of the day you get more engagement for your posts, and a host of other information that can help refine your marketing outreach.
Expand Your Professional Network.
Having an online presence also facilitates the expansion of one’s own professional network. While by no means a replacement for establishing one’s personal referral network, it continues to be quite common for email listservs to function as referral systems. Of course, as consistent with our gregarious species, the Internet is also comprised of professional message boards discussing topics ranging from the latest clinical findings to current events to the latest local gossip. Perhaps what I’ve found most helpful is that online, as with technological developments before it, has lowered the barrier for connecting with others. Nowadays, one can just send an email or send a message via Facebook or LinkedIn to try and connect with someone. It minimizes the need (albeit not the value) for personal introductions and geographical proximity to form connections with other professionals.
Raise Your Credibility.
It’s no longer uncommon to hear potential clients express how much clinicians having their own websites (and the quality of said website) raises the clinicians’ credibility and the potential clients’ willingness to schedule an appointment. Beyond this, the Internet offers a slew of options by which one can establish one’s credibility and expertise. The oldies-but-goodies approach has been publishing blogs and (self-) publishing e-books. These have become common avenues for professionals to try and differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack by posting their own unique thoughts and perspectives. As a caveat, some organizations and corporations, especially in the engineering field, also publish white papers to establish their credibility and expertise. With the social Internet, credibility seems to have become closely tied with engagement. By this, I mean posting various relevant content on the right medium to get the most responses possible (i.e., follower, likes, sign-ups, etc.). We may be slowly seeing the day where Yelp-like reviews of clinicians will factor strongly in people’s decisions regarding whom to contact for therapy.
Present New Online Opportunities.
I must admit, when I thought of this fifth entry, it seemed like a cop-out. Like I couldn’t think of a fifth item and decided to go with this generic reason. But really, this expresses more my belief that we have yet to scratch the surface of how valuable an online presence can be to a clinician. From Internet 1.0 to Internet 2.0 to the app economy to the current post-app world, we are continually finding new ways to utilize the Internet. As of this writing, there is much brouhaha over the resurgence of Virtual Reality (VR) and the growth of Artificial Intelligence bots. It will be interesting to see how these technological developments, grounded on the platform of the Internet, will open up new opportunities for clinicians to connect with clients and other professionals. The price of entry, of course, is that one is actively present online.
Are you someone who has grown your own online presence? What has been your experience about its pitfalls and benefits? Do you still have reservations about how much of an online presence you want to establish? Sound off in the comments, and let’s get a conversation going.