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|Extending The Conversation|
Extending The Conversation
How to use social media to enhance your practice
by Marina London
Overall, therapists don't need to worry about turning into techno-geeks wearing thumb splints from compulsive overuse of hand-held Internet devices: in general, the cyber-world isn't really our thing. Still, even as late-starters with the new communication technologies, most clinicians are now comfortable enough with computers and the Internet to type up session notes on their desktops or laptops, do e-mail, read online media, consult Google, and use billing and scheduling software. Many even have their own websites, or at least think they really should. They may even know about "optimizing" their websites and are quite proud of themselves for it. How much farther can they go?
A lot farther, as it turns out. We're in the throes of yet another tech revolution, opening up a vast, new world of interactive "social media" outlets—the most dominant of which are blogging, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. And whether you know it or not, you definitely want to be part of this.
Even though the concept of Web 2.0 (aka "social media") wasn't even coined until 2004, the growth in popularity of these platforms has been staggering. There are more than 200 million blogs. More than 30 billion YouTube videos are viewed every month. Twitter passed the 20-billion-Tweets mark on July 31, 2010. If Facebook were a country, it would be the fourth largest in the world!
Social media outlets don't just passively present a message to people who may stumble upon it in the course of a web search. These dynamic new platforms allow us to meet and engage with thousands of people, build ongoing relationships, regularly share fresh thoughts and ideas, and directly communicate who we are and what we're about, in a fluid way, as no other technical medium can, barring direct, face-to-face interactions.
Not only that, but because of the way the content of these media gets picked up by different sites and spreads with a kind of self-generating force, any message is exposed to an exponentially larger number of people—many of whom will have found us because they're already interested in what we have to offer. Social media are all about interaction and "virally" spreading the word. Did you post an interesting video about EMDR on your website? Hundreds of people will forward it to their colleagues or friends. Did you tweet about an opening in your practice? Dozens will retweet it to interested parties. Did you write an inspiring blog post about a challenging client? Watch it get passed around via e-mail over and over again. In short, rather than trying to attract people via an online billboard, you can get them to come to you. Besides, working these outlets will direct more traffic to your website.
It's true that most of us still feel unskilled when it comes to plunging into this technosocial universe. What follows is a short tutorial on the what, how, when, where, and why of the new media.
Blogs and Blogging
A blog (short for "weblog") is a specialized website that consists of (usually) weekly posts of no more than three paragraphs or so. Blogging software, which is free and readily available through blogger.com or wordpress.com, is easily mastered by even the most technically disinclined.
At its most basic, a blog is either linked to your website or hosted on it. In either case, it's a way of calling attention to the website itself and immediately increasing traffic. People will visit your blog from a variety of sources. Technorati.com is an online directory of all of the blogs in the United States, and you can get your blog listed there. Google will index your blog and list your posts when someone searches a topic you've written about. You can link your blog to any other social media channel you already use, whether it's Twitter, Facebook, or, of course, your website. For added effectiveness, you'll need to publicize its existence by listing it on your business card, in your e-mail signature, and anywhere else you can think of.
Your blog is a way you can engage readers in repeated and ongoing conversations that allow them to get a real sense of your individual personality, presence, special expertise, interests, and skills. Furthermore, the longer you blog, the likelier you are to establish a reputation for creating and distributing unique content—answers to questions, solutions to problems, your own idiosyncratic take on diverse subjects—that people can't get elsewhere.