Why and How Doctors Should Use Hashtags

I’m writing to you today as a former #hashtag skeptic. Frankly, I found it difficult to take them seriously. I’ve changed my thinking, as it has become increasingly clear that hashtags (when used appropriately) can be extremely powerful tools to increase your marketing reach with very little effort.  

If you’ve been active on social media at all, you’ve likely seen people put hashtags anywhere and everywhere – sometimes without any rhyme or reason. Many people use hashtags incorrectly or without any purpose. People even use them ironically or say them out loud during normal conversation to make fun of them. 

As crazy as it may sound though, hashtags aren’t just a fad, and they are not going away. 

The use of the ‘#’ symbol in technology is actually almost as old as the modern computer. It was used as early as the 1970s and in C programming language to tell the program where to start.

On Twitter, hashtags first appeared in 2007, but they really took off in 2010. Now hashtags are used by at least 15 major social networks, websites and platforms. If something has been so widely adopted by major sources for so long, it’s difficult to just brush it off as a gimmick or a fad. 

More importantly, when hashtags are used correctly they can greatly magnify the reach of your marketing. 

Don’t believe me? 

Well, whether you’re aware of it or not, you already interact with hashtags – even if you’ve never even actually put one in your social media posts or comments. 

On Facebook, hashtags influence what you see in the “Trending” section on the upper right of your news feed. On Twitter, hashtags dictate what you see on the “Trending Topics” section on the left side of the screen. These trending topics also populate your feed’s main section as well. 

My point: if you’re going to use social media to promote your practice, you might as well use the tools available to do so effectively. Keep in mind the whole point of promoting your practice on social media: it’s where many (if not most) of your patients and prospective patients spend their free time. Social media lets you present your practice to a huge group of people in your area in a way that used to cost a small fortune. 

For doctors, there are two key ways to effectively use hashtags. 

1) Look at what’s trending on your Facebook or Twitter feed and to co-opt what’s topical and popular. If a news item seems like something that’s relevant to your practice, you can make a post and add the hashtag to the end. 

For instance, say the US Surgeon General made an announcement about a breakthrough oral cancer treatment, and you notice the hashtag “#OralCancer” is trending. 

You can make a Facebook post about it, like, “The latest news about oral cancer treatment is really exciting. It means more options and better outcomes for patients suffering from this disease. #OralCancer”

Using popular, trending hashtags is a great way to increase your reach. It alerts Facebook and Twitter that you are posting something that other people are interested in, and they’ll show your post more frequently than they would otherwise. The goal is to show up in the feeds of local patients, friends, and organizations you follow.

2) Use them for native content. For example, content that you create based off of your practice, such as a holiday photo of your staff. 

Then, you simply want to hashtag this native content with an appropriate, existing tag. It doesn’t have to be trending, but it should be established. 

Say you’re practice is volunteering at a community event. You can search online for the event and find hashtags related to it. Maybe it’s a blood-drive for a local Red Cross event, in which case you could post a picture of your staff with a short description of, “Dr. Miller’s team here at the 2015 Jonesville blood drive! #RedCross, #GiveBlood”

Before you use a hashtag, there’s one super-important rule: ALWAYS be certain you know what a hashtag means before you use it. The Internet is a cauldron of innuendo, inappropriate jokes, lingo, and slang. It’s also filled with opportunists who will look for any unintentional slip-ups as their time to publicly embarrass anyone they can. 

You don’t want to end up in the news as the doctor who used the wrong hashtag to promote their practice. So just always make sure you know what the hashtag means and how it’s being used. 

A Few More Hashtag Guidelines

1. Don’t use punctuation or spaces in a hashtag. The ‘#’ symbol only tags numbers and letters after it, up until it hits a space or a non-alpha-numeric symbol.

2. Don’t put any letters or numbers directly in front of the hashtag. Always put a space in front like this: #hashtag. Not like this: Hash#tag. 

3. You can put hashtags in a sentence, but remember the above rules. 

4. There’s an upper limit of 30 hashtags you can add to a post, but I can’t imagine a time when you’d need more than three. If you think you need more than that, just focus on the three most important, otherwise you run the risk of making your post look a little obnoxious, in my opinion. 

5. I mentioned before, but they bear repeating: always use a pre-existing tag, and always make sure you know what it means.