TECH CORNER: September/October 2013

Navigating Popular Social Media Tools

We have written about various social media-related topics several times over the years. We recently looked back to our earlier columns, and wow, has time flown by! One of our earliest articles on the topic was in late 2007, when we wrote about Google collaboration tools (i.e., Google Docs, Google Groups, etc.). Since then, we have covered social media topics from a variety of perspectives, including 10 ways to use Twitter in community pharmacies (ComputerTalk, September/October 2009). One of our primary resources for statistics and demographic data for social media (and other technologies) is the Pew Internet & American Life Project (www.pewinternet.org).

We were recently looking at the latest data from Pew, and it prompted us to write this column. In an August report, Pew indicates that 72% of online adults use social networking sites. Recall that social media tools allow interactive collaboration among users, often providing them the ability to create and share online content. Social networking is simply the term indicating the interaction that occurs via social media tools. The Pew report indicates that the use of social networking sites by those 65 years and older has more than tripled, from 13% in 2009 to 43% now. Where we may have once thought social networking was primarily limited to the younger demographics, the Pew report clearly signals that social media tools are diffusing throughout the U.S. population, regardless of age. 

So what does this mean for you? Well, we continue to believe that pharmacies and pharmacists should identify social media tools that they can begin to use in their practice. The selection of the tool depends on the intended use, which is ultimately influenced by the user’s comfort with the tool and by patients’ abilities and desires to use the tool(s). From our conversations with your colleagues and from our interactions with your future colleagues (i.e., Pharm.D. students), we realize that most people are intimately familiar with one or two social media tools, but do not have a knowledge of the range of other tools that are available for use. Accordingly, we devote this installment to reviewing some of the most popular social media tools, hopefully expanding your own knowledge of their scope.

As the most popular social networking site, Facebook is the obvious starting point in this discussion. It’s difficult to imagine that ComputerTalk readers have not heard of Facebook. Everyone may not use Facebook, but we anticipate that you are familiar with it. But have you heard of PharmQD.com or RxSpace.com? These are social networking sites that target the pharmacy profession. While these sites do not provide a space to interact with your patients, they are intended to provide an online forum for individuals from the pharmacy profession. Related to this, LinkedIn is one of the most widely used social networking sites for professionals. We think of it as Facebook for professionals.

We mentioned Twitter above. Twitter is a microblogging tool that allows users to create textual posts that are then viewable to anyone who is “following” that person. Tweets, as the posts are called, are limited to 140 characters. Twitter has a lingo that is quickly learned. We encourage you to read our 2009 article on using Twitter in community pharmacy. There are other microblogging services (like Pheed.com), but Twitter is clearly the most popular.

Google Offerings

In addition to the widely popular Google Docs online document collaboration tool (see drive.google.com), Google has two other popular social networking tools. The first is YouTube; yes, Google owns YouTube. While it’s the home of videos from funny and entertaining to serious and thought-provoking, YouTube can also serve as a source for credible videos to help patients manage a variety of conditions. We believe YouTube is one of the best tools to build your brand within the community by providing videos that are important to your patients. And you can embed videos in your website so that patients do not have to leave your site to see your videos on YouTube.

Recognizing the popularity of Facebook, Google created a social networking site called Google+. Google+ provides an online forum for individuals with common interests to share information through status updates, pictures/videos, and links to other sites. Google Hangouts are a unique feature of Google+ that we have enjoyed using. Google Hangouts are free, Web-based video chat for people in your circle (other users that you share content with). Google+ integrates with other Google tools, making it a useful portal to all of the Google services you use.

Instagram.com leads another popular category of social media tools: photo-sharing sites. Photo-sharing sites like Flickr.com have existed for quite some time. Instagram, however, rose in popularity because it provides filters to enhance users’ photos and allows users to easily and quickly share photos. Every photo-sharing site chosen requires others to follow you to see the photos that you share (or for you to follow others to see their photos). So we recommend careful consideration of how to best position photo sharing within the pharmacy’s operations to ensure a return on the time invested. We can easily see opportunities for pictures to promote renovations, new services, and new staff additions.

We previously wrote about social tagging sites, like Delicious.com and Connotea.com (see ComputerTalk May/June 2010). These sites let users tag and share online resources that others with similar interests can identify. Since that publication, changes have occurred. Connotea is no longer available, but Delicious is, and so is CiteULike. Along the way, another related category of social tools has grown in popularity. Best classified as “wisdom of the crowd” tools, sites like Reddit.com and Digg.com allow users to keep up with the latest news from a host of interest areas. In the case of Digg.com, “digg” means to give the item a thumbs-up. As more users digg an item, it is displayed more prominently on Digg.com.

We recognize that the value of all of the social media tools we have written about depends on the desires and capabilities of your patients. Their value also is influenced by the amount of time you have to devote to setting the tools up and then managing them. 

Other sites to explore include LivingSocial.com and Groupon.com. As leaders in the category of online daily deal sites, they provide discounted gift certificates on products and services in the user’s local community (and throughout the United States). We have used Groupon to purchase services locally in Auburn and in Atlanta. We see a clear opportunity to promote your pharmacy through these tools.

The last category of social media tools for you to consider includes services that provide location-based information. Foursquare.com is probably the most well-known. Foursquare provides users with information about local businesses, like where the best local pizza can be found. Users “check in” through the Foursquare app when they are in a business, posting their opinions and photos about the business to inform other Foursquare users. As more and more users post their experiences, a business’s profile in Foursquare grows. At a minimum, we recommend claiming your pharmacy’s listing in Foursquare. Make sure the core information is correct (address, phone, etc.). Then look at the possible options for using Foursquare to promote your pharmacy to new patients and to reward loyal patients. 

We recognize that the value of all of the social media tools we have written about depends on the desires and capabilities of your patients. Their value also is influenced by the amount of time you have to devote to setting the tools up and then managing them. Our intention here is to describe some of the most popular tools so you can begin evaluating them for introduction into your practice. Please let us know about your experiences. CT


Bill G. Felkey, M.S., is professor emeritus, and Brent I. Fox, Pharm.D., Ph.D., is an assistant professor, Department of Pharmacy Care Systems, Harrison School of Pharmacy, Auburn University. They can be reached at felkebg@auburn.edu and foxbren@auburn.edu




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