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Physical Therapist's Guide to Social Media: How To Break the Internet

by C. Shante Cofield


Three months ago I wrote an article entitled “Careers After Physical Therapy School: The Road Less Traveled.” The feedback and interaction that I received was absolutely incredible. The people had spoken. Heck, they had yelled. Students were tired of being told that there was only one path to follow after graduation, and a somewhat bleak one at that.

In the months following, I received a slew of emails and even had a few awesome in-person encounters. There was always a running theme: social media. Given that New Grad Physical Therapy is an online resource, people had come across the article because they had seen it posted or re-shared on one of a number of platforms, or because they followed me on social media. For physical therapists, social media can be an incredible tool. The power and far-reaching nature of social media could not be denied, but the question was always, ‘how did I create a social media presence and gain a social media following in the first place?’ So, I decided that it made more sense to write an article instead of answering the same email time and time again. After all, life is about working smarter, not harder, right?

Irrespective of your reasons for wanting to brave the social media madness, here are a few things that I’ve learned along the way. Now, I by no means consider myself to be some sort of social media mogul, but I have managed to use these various platforms to help land my dream job, grow my business, gain patients, and make moving across the country a reality. So, read on if you’d like. The choice is yours.

Here are my 7 tips on social media for physical therapists

1. Pick a Logo, or Don’t

This is hands-down the number one spot where I see people getting unnecessarily hung up. It’s actually a pretty fun process to try and come up with something catchy that represents you, but the long and short of it is, it doesn’t matter! People will like, repost, subscribe, and continue to follow you because of your content; not because you have a cool logo. Just put SOMETHING out there to start off with. You can always go back and change it later. Start building your brand from day one, even if it's just a small landing page with your name. It's better than nothing. If you think that those big companies out there didn’t change things up along the way, you’re sorely mistaken. Do your best to look official and then just fake it till you make it.

2. Be You 

At the end of the day, what's most important is doing what interests you, what makes you happy, what you are passionate about. I don't post anything simply because I think it will get me more followers or more engagement. If it's just followers you’re after, post pictures of girls in relatively little clothing doing basically anything. Instant followers. But if it's genuinely interested followers that you want, be your authentic self. Teach people the same way that you would want to be taught. Be cheeky if you're cheeky. Let your personality come through. Leave no question about your love of the material. Far too often people make things overly formal and complicated; it's social media for heavens sake. Your readers are likely look at your post while sitting on the toilet, and yet you’re worried about coming off as too informal?! Time to reevaluate things. People like to be around happy people. People like to be around funny people. People like to be about passionate people. Don't be afraid to be all three.

3. Worry About Yourself

It is important that you find and use your own voice, and not worry about what is out there already. As my mentor Perry Nickelston would say, "It's always new to someone." All too often I get people reaching out to me with the same concern as to whether or not people will actually read their stuff, because to them, it's not anything new or novel. Guess what, NOTHING is new or novel. We're all just saying something that's been said before, but putting our spin on it. And that's great. The way that you interpret and present something may turn out to be way easier for Susy Readsalot to understand than the way it had been presented to her before. Don’t let the fact that someone else is talking about the same thing stop you from speaking at all. It’s ALWAYS new to someone.

4. Let Your Audience Pick You

Again, let me reiterate the point that I do not consider myself to be a marketing maven. I’ve read a few things here and there, but I don’t intensely track analytics or use some detailed spreadsheet to determine what I should be saying to which demographic at whatever time. I could probably maximize my reach and optimize my growth, but I honestly have no desire to get caught up in those nuances. If that’s your thing, then by all means, dive right in.

I strategically branded myself as The Movement Maestro, because ‘movement’ applies to anyone, irrespective of their taste in exercise modality. While I did initially have crossfitters in mind, I didn't want that to be my only audience. From there, everything pretty much just grew organically, and my target audience got dictated TO me, not by me. As things began to evolve and people began to comment or write to me, I realized quickly that the audience that I desired, and that I had attracted, was not from a specific background (though it's definitely nice when people have somewhat of a clue about movement), but rather, folks that wanted to understand the why behind an exercise, not just how to perform the exercise.

5. The How’s vs. The Why’s

When it comes to the type of content that is posted on social media there seem to be two big camps. This dichotomy inadvertently, or perhaps not so inadvertently, brings with it distinct differences in the audience. On the one had we have the folks who present the "how”, while on the other side are the folks who present the "why".

Regarding the pros and cons of both parties, accounts that post primarily how-to videos do tend to gain followers quickly, as a large portion of social media users are looking for quick suggestions on how to stretch this, strengthen that, or improve something else. Accounts that post about ‘why’ you should consider using a technique in the first place, not just how to perform the technique, tend to take a bit longer to pick up steam. Captions written by these accounts may be a bit longer, and in reality, people often want to be spoon-fed material. The flipside is that the followers garnered by this type of account tend to be more invested which can make it easier to monetize your social media musings should that be something you desire.

As for the level of detail presented to each audience, that’s honestly up to you, and it can help you prune your audience. When I post, I don’t want to sound like I’m writing a dissertation, but I also don’t want to have to dumb it down to the point of, “this is your knee, and this is your foot, etc.” I have since found that dancing that line can be quite the task, and simplicity is in fact a skill. If the only way you can explain something is with complex medical jargon, then you likely don’t know the material that well yourself. If your target audience has a specific level of knowledge, then it’ll be a bit easier to write for them. If your audience is varied then aim for the upper middle of the pack, then ask for and listen to feedback as to how well you’re being understood.

At the end of the day, neither type of account is better, and what team you choose should be based on what speaks to you. Just start writing, start posting, and you’ll figure out who you want to be talking to, and how.

6. Deliver a High-Quality Product

Irrespective of what type of content you decide to put out, make sure that it is good! As Tim Ferris states, “There will always be a market for quality goods.” What does that mean in the context of social media? When you’re putting out legit info, people can tell. These people will tell their friends, who will tell their friends, and so on. Why? Because people are always looking for something to better fill their needs and answer their questions. Put out fluff, and your audience, interaction, and likely lack of brand growth will reflect that.

7. Be Consistent 

You can't put up one post a week and expect to grow a following. The social media algorithms just won't let that happen. You could perhaps write an article a week and do well, but that a lot of writing. If you're doing anything Instagram-post related then you have to try to post AT LEAST once a day, and then give it time. It took me about a year and a half and roughly 900 posts to gain my first 10,000 followers. That may not be impressive numbers by some standards, but I like to judge myself on an absolute scale, and wanted to throw out some stats for your reference. Growing a social media presence is a job, plain and simple. It can be the most fun job you'll ever have, but it's a job.

The Rundown

Congrats! You’ve made it to the end of this ridiculously long article. So much for me saying that simplicity is a skill. Anyway, I think I’ve just presented you with all of my social media growth secrets. Not so exciting. Sorry. However, the recipe doesn’t have to be complex for the food to taste good. Be you. Be passionate about what you do. Deliver a high quality product. Be consistent. That's pretty much it. Before I wrap this up, let me leave you with one of my absolute favorite quotes:

"Go as far as you can see; When you get there, you will see farther."

I honestly don’t know who said this first as it's credited to about 3 different people, so whatever. My point is don't stress so much on the planning or worry too much about the future details. It's going to change as you go. I promise. And that's the most fun part.

Ps... Here are all the best twitter accounts in physical therapy.


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