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  • #Fail? Study Says Physical Therapy's Reach on Social Media Comes up Short

    When it comes to using social media to promote the profession, physical therapy may be missing out: that's the conclusion of a recent study that analyzed physical therapy-related tweets and found that, for the most part, Twitter discussions about the profession are occurring in an "echo chamber"—if they even rise to the level of a discussion in the first place.

    The study, published in APTA's journal PTJ (Physical Therapy), looked at a random sample of 1,000 tweets from a collection of 30,000 tweets gathered over a 12-week period. Researchers sorted out each message according to its author, intended audience, tone, and theme, and—when it occurred—the "pattern" of the twitter conversation, which includes shares as well as actual online exchanges. The collection was based on 9 search terms: physical therapy, physiotherapy, physical therapist, physiotherapist, #physicaltherapy, #physiotherapy, #physical therapist, #physiotherapist, and #physio. Hashtags associated with "known physical therapy campaigns," such as APTA's #ChoosePT, were not included in the searches. [Editor's note: the article appears in the August edition of PTJ, which is the journal's 1,000th issue—help celebrate by checking out the PTJ website for original research, perspectives, podcasts, and more.]

    Here's what they found:

    • Of the tweets that generated shares and discussions, most were what the Pew Research Foundation calls "tight crowd" and "brand cluster"—discussions that "tended to cluster on the periphery, dominated by a small group of highly connected people with few isolated participants," according to authors.
    • A substantial number of tweets, authors write, were from "disconnected participants" whose messages "resulted in no interaction with anyone other than the tweet's original author." The exceptions tended to be when APTA, other national organizations, and celebrities tweeted about physical therapy. As an example, authors offered up a 2016 physical therapy-related tweet by wrestler and actor John Cena, which at the time of the study had 1,550 retweets and 4,403 likes.
    • Almost half the tweets (48.5%) were characterized as "marketing" in nature. Employment-related tweets were a distant second at 17.7% of the total, followed by patient experience (15.7%), education (15.7%), advocacy (14.6%), conversation (14.3%), opinion/editorial (13.8%), physical therapist (PT) education (11.3%), research (7.7%), and continuing education (3.2%).
    • Recruiters and corporations were responsible for 86% of all employment-related tweets. PTs, physical therapist assistants (PTAs), and clinics were the authors of the majority of messages related to patient education, continuing education, and marketing.

    The big takeaway, according to authors, is that if PTs and PTAs want to heighten the profession's profile on social media, they need to do more than just show up.

    "The results of the present study reveal that simply being present on social media may not be enough," authors write. "The power of social media is in the conversation, and information becomes influential through 'likes,' 'retweets,' 'shares,' and 'mentions.' Physical therapy professionals and the hospitals and clinics that employ them need to understand the function and structure of online health conversations so they may influence and effectively engage in these conversations."

    Moving physical therapy discussions beyond what the researchers describe as a social media "echo chamber" will require a more savvy approach, according to the authors. They suggest "leverage[ing] the power and reach of broadcast networks and popular events" such as the Olympic Games, and using more generic hashtags (#rehabilitation, for example), as well as hashtags that "infiltrate another distinct mode of professionals" (#sportsmedicine, for instance) as ways to increase the reach of their messages.

    Authors acknowledge that the samples they studied provide a "limited" and "superficial" view of the entirety of physical therapy-related social media activity, and further admit that the average of 300 physical therapy-related tweets per day is a drop in the bucket compared with Twitterverse activity as a whole. Still, they argue, the profession needs to understand—and leverage—the power of social media as a provider of health information.

    "Online health information seekers have a high level of trust [in information accessed online] and often use it to make health decisions," authors write. "Rehabilitation-related information is not immune to this influence."

    Research-related stories featured in PT in Motion News are intended to highlight a topic of interest only and do not constitute an endorsement by APTA. For synthesized research and evidence-based practice information, visit the association's PTNow website.


    • While social media is a powerful marketing channel (and I realize this study was about Twitter and PT) for many businesses, I'd argue that physical therapy isn't something that people get excited or "social" about. You can't induce demand for physical therapy and there are HIPAA regulations and required legal releases that do provide a barrier to having personal discussions of significant value in public forums like Twitter, FB, IG or similar. No one wants to go to physical therapy and most don't search for physical therapy on social media channels. This behavior is similar to other utilitarian services like locksmiths, emergency plumbers, or urgent cares. Ask yourself, when's that last time you searched for any of these on a social network? Most don't. They use Google. Moreover, engaging, rich media campaigns executed on an ongoing basis require a significant investment and often don't yield the ROI that many smaller practices need to maintain them. There are certainly opportunities for improvement and creative innovation.

      Posted by David Straight on 8/9/2019 12:12 PM

    • I slightly disagree with David's comments in that a lot of my patients are active in social media, probably facebook more than twitter and do use it for assistance when looking for help including health related problems. Sharing of testimonials and pertinent information regarding common health related issues that PTs and PTAs are trained to address needs a platform and social media is a very strong platform to do so (and relatively free). My patients enjoy "checking in" on facebook and letting their "friends" know how PT is helping them. Anything that helps promote the idea to the general public that physical therapy should be an individual's first option to consider for the treatment of musculoskeletal conditions or a source for improvement in their overall health is a good thing in my opinion be it through twitter, instagram, you tube or facebook. And although it might take a little time and the actual tangible ROI may be hard to calculate, sometimes the message can be more important than that. Great discussion to have.

      Posted by Chris Kopp on 8/10/2019 8:41 AM

    • I do a lot of social media for a PT client and our best ROI is definitely Google My Business for phone calls. I use FB to engage and grow followers and often get engagement on FB posts that are educational/informational. Motivational posts target informational articles on their website (blog) or Join Newsletter, or Contact Us but show much less engagement unless supplemented with a boost or ad budget. We don't have a storefront, per se, but my client has invented a new piece of PT equipment developed for heavier and older patients, so that's our hook. We're in the process of producing low-key how-to videos (hosted on YouTube) which also gets great engagement on each platform. We spend time on LI just making connections of those in the PT world to educate those audiences about our new 5-in-1 Multiple Applications Table (MAT). Without a solid foundational website, it's tough to show ROI; practitioners must know how to follow the Lead generated by web/social, through to conversion (sale) and beyond (advocacy). I use the 5 Step Marketing Strategy.

      Posted by Cheri Bales on 8/14/2019 8:54 AM

    • I have to disagree with the article. By limiting the study to Twitter, it is not an accurate measurement of Social Media use. I curate content for a very large therapy company who is active on several social platforms: Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter as well as cutting edge in developing educational video. For a justifiable measurement, the study would need to include more social platforms.

      Posted by Kellie Moeller on 8/17/2019 6:57 PM

    • Interesting article! I wish it had not been limited to just Twitter. While I assist with our social media, the ROI is hard to track. Google Adwords has been helpful. I just don't think many people seek to socialize with a PT online.

      Posted by Jessica on 8/19/2019 4:31 PM

    • The effectiveness of social media depends on the target audience and the platform. David is correct that nobody wants physical therapy; however, when they need it they go "social" to see where their friends are going and where their friends are having success. Social media must be used to connect with people and relate to people. It can't just be about asking them to buy. People get tired of that. People want to be engaged - that's how they build trust. If they can't trust a business or a therapist, then they won't be a patron or a patient.

      Posted by Jeanette on 1/3/2020 4:34 PM

    • Most social media isn't very social at all. It's a brand monologue, not a brand-patient/patient-patient/patient-prospect conversation. Write me to learn about ouf Friend-to-Friend Healthcare & Fitness Recommendations App. It turns your PT clients into your social media ambassadors.

      Posted by Earl Weingarden on 2/12/2020 6:50 PM

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