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Social media authenticity is in: How healthcare providers can share stories while setting boundaries

Updated: Sep 15, 2022

When authenticity is the social media buzz word, where does that leave healthcare providers whose profession is built upon boundaries and confidentiality?

The simple answer is it depends.

In 2021 the boundaries between work and home life are blurred in a way that’s not likely to ever change back. Even for therapists and physicians, telehealth visits mean that patients might be viewing their providers in their home environment.

The fact that we all have a life outside of work is no longer something we hide, and for most of us, this is a relief.

Plus, last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests further raised widespread demand for authenticity from even small business owners. Clients and patients expect transparency and authenticity from the brands they buy and even the service providers they use.

64% of today’s customers are belief-driven buyers.

Edelman’s Trust Barometer 2020 found 64% of today’s customers are belief-driven buyers. They think brands “can be a powerful force for change,” and they often make purchases based on brands they align with.

But in healthcare, with HIPAA requirements and the general boundaries ingrained in physician-patient and therapist-patient relationships, this gets a little complicated.

What is authentic content

First let’s address authentic content because this can mean something different to all of us.

For me, I define it by trying to show up in all spaces online in the same way that I show up in real life. If you watch my video and then work with me, I want to show up the same. And if you’re my friend asking over coffee, again, I am the same person.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have a continuum of privacy depending on who I am dealing with. But my goal is that my overall demeanor in person and online is the same.

If you’ve ever known an influencer in real life who seems completely different than their online persona, you know that not everyone masters this.

Is it okay to share stories in healthcare on social media?

In healthcare, the boundary between personal and professional is even wider, but still, personal stories can go a long way to support patients and clients. A physician who is also a parent balancing family and work in the pandemic can share how this is hard for all of us. And a therapist who has ADHD can be an inspiration for clients with the same challenge.

authenticity on social media

Dr. Lucy McBride, who has made it her mission to replace pandemic fear with facts and even positivity, often shares her own family’s experience when she’s explaining the data or news. She answers questions we all have, such as having our unvaccinated kids hug their vaccinated grandparents by sharing what her family has decided and why. Her stories are not only practical, but they’re comforting (you should absolutely follow her and subscribe to her newsletter).

One beloved pediatrician I work with shares stories of parenting all the time, and this is highly relevant to that audience. Her audience comes out in droves to support the social media posts with her face and stories on them.

And several healthcare heroes I’ve interviewed in skilled nursing share stories of helping their grandparents as they aged or even of their own injuries and therapy.

These stories of humanity bring us together.

How healthcare providers set authenticity boundaries on Instagram

I asked on Instagram how healthcare providers deal with sharing stories and setting boundaries, and here’s what responders said:

Rebecca Marcus from RM Psychotherapy says, “My rule of thumb with self disclosure is I only share it I feel it will benefit the client.”

Dr. Danielle Dragon of The Couch Method says, “Anything I would not say in a session, I do not include in my stories. I don’t get super personal.”

TherapyLux says, “I use my Ig to educate others I share personal things when it suits the educational post.”

Dr. Una from Entremds says, “I share the entrepreneur with the world, but I keep the rest of me to myself.”

There’s no absolute right or wrong approach. Each provider has to decide what’s appropriate within the boundaries of their profession.

How to identify stories to share for healthcare social media

Once you determine your storytelling comfort zone, how do you determine what stories to tell?

A great exercise for finding stories to share is to look back in your life in five or 10-year increments (depending on your age). Brainstorm a list of every story from your life and work you can recall. Next, identify those stories that relate to your work.

It’s important to keep in mind that even when you’re sharing your own story, you’re still doing it for your audience’s sake. Picture your ideal client and patient and think about how you would give over this story. Would it help her? Then tell it.

My own healthcare story that drives me

When I did this exercise, I thought of numerous stories from my life. Many are just the kind of story that can draw attention on social media. Frankly, I don’t even have to try hard to make them dramatic, because many of those from my childhood are. But that doesn’t mean I share them if they’re not relevant to my work.

I first ask myself:

  1. Does anyone need to hear this?

  2. Is it relevant to my work?

  3. Will I regret sharing it?

  4. Am I still feeling raw from this experience?

  5. Will I cross any of personal boundaries by sharing it?

  6. Do I need anyone’s permission before sharing it?

If the story works, I’ll go ahead and share it. Here’s one that’s very personal that I still share because it’s important and relevant. I shared the following on social media for February #heartmonth.

heart health

I was six when my father suffered his first stroke, most likely from type 1 diabetes.

I was 14 when he died.

I actually have no memories of him ever being healthy. I know now that with proper medical care, lifestyle and diet changes, my family’s experience would have turned out drastically different.

That knowledge shaped me. It propelled me to commit to healthy living, and I do my best to model that for my family and community. Knowing that heart disease runs in my family made me an early adopter of eating healthy, getting rid of all trans fat foods from the pantry and eating whole foods. I changed my family’s diet, and I helped change my community’s diet as an early food blogger.

Professionally, it drove me to make it my mission to help health and wellness experts help more people and have a bigger impact.

This is a story that’s highly personal and highly relevant to my profession. It’s also not raw for me since I’m sharing it nearly 30 years later. For all of these reasons, I’m willing to share it as part of what drives me professionally.

How to get better at telling stories

Telling stories, like writing takes time and practice. It’s likely that the stories you share at first might sound a little half-baked. As you see what resonates with your audience, you start to find your voice. It’s in the practice of retelling stories that you really start to perfect the art.

Even the same story you begin to tell about your life will evolve as you get better at telling it. It’s not that you change your story, but that you and your audience are changed by it. You’ll start to connect to your audience through that story and tell it in a way that is most helpful for them.

What authentic content is not

Authenticity does not mean making something out of nothing just for the sake of sharing a story on social media. It should go without saying that blowing something out of proportion just to get engagement is not authentic. Still, I see it all the time–among mom influencers especially.

Making something out of nothing just for the sake of oversharing on social media isn’t good for our community or even for our own health.

A good way to avoid blowing stories out of proportion is to wait. See if the incident still sticks with you a few days later. And then ask yourself all the six questions from above. Does it pass the test? If it does, go on and share it.

Digital is temporary

While it’s true that once you post something to cyberspace, you can’t ever fully take it back, digital media is still somewhat temporary. Shortly after you post something, your audience will likely move on. This works in your favor as you continue to hone your storytelling craft. Social media is a great space to practice your stories without a lot of pressure to get it perfect. And over time, your stories will help your audience to get to know, like and trust you.

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