Health Care Social Media

Online Etiquette for Health Care Professionals: 7 Mistakes You Can’t Afford to Make

Now you’re online. You have a website and blog, you’re on Twitter and Facebook. You’re reading other blogs, commenting on people’s posts. You are feeling groovy and very 21st Century.

Awesome! But are you following the rules?

[Quick aside: I’m not talking about ethics in this post, I’m talking about professional etiquette. So this isn’t about networking with clients or patients. It’s about how you relate online to colleagues and other professionals.]

I know, I know, social media can look like the wild west, where anything goes but the truth is there is an unwritten code of etiquette and if you violate the code, you look at best naive and at worst like an unprofessional jerk. Neither one of those reputations will do good things for your business. And it can be hard to undo an online faux pas because the evidence stays in circulation forever. Yikes!

Here are the 7 online mistakes you need to avoid and what you can do to avoid them:

  • You promote your stuff in someone else’s comments. This is considered spam and super rude among the blogging crowd. This happens when you post a comment like,

“This is a great post, if people want to learn more they can come to my site at”

NEVER do this. It will infuriate the person who writes the blog. They just put a ton of effort into writing that post and don’t want some sneak coming in and grabbing the traffic they are working so hard to attract. If they junk your comment into spam, the search engines will associate your email address as a spam address and then lots of your comments and emails will get spammed all over the place. Ouch.

How to avoid being a comment spammer: Write comments that focus on the post. Add your thoughts and move on. If people want to read more, they can click on your name and get your blog’s URL. When you add to the conversation on others’ blogs they appreciate your efforts and are willing to promote you when the chance arises.

  • Promoting other people’s stuff in the comments. This happens when you comment,

“This was a great post, but so-and-so over at has great services that can help with this problem.”

See above for reasons why this will annoy the author of the blog and how to avoid spamming by promoting others in the comments.

  • You’re the devil’s advocate from hell. Ever read posts or comments that are focused on pointing out others’ faults and mistakes? Are those articles every helpful or enlightening? How about the guy who’s always disagreeing with the author’s ideas or philosophy? Nope, not helpful either. Don’t be that negative person online. No one wants to do business with someone who is a grouch.

How to avoid being” that guy” (even if you’re a woman): Use this mantra, “If I have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all.” BTW, you can disagree, but just be agreeable about it. Make sense?

  • Plagiarism. True story, a few months ago someone who read my blog took one of my posts, copied it and posted it to her site word for word without giving me credit. I was shocked before I got angry. Who doesn’t understand plagiarism?! When I told my online friends, several of them went ballistic and started posting harsh posts about this person on their blogs. Not only is this crazy rude and disrespectful, it’s illegal and can result in Google shutting you down, your hosting site booting you out and lawsuits. And, even worse, you can get a reputation as a slime ball. As a professional you know better.

How to avoid plagiarism: Don’t cut and paste. If you use other people’s work, put it in quotes and always give them credit with a link back to the original article.

  • Trying to “call out” someone anonymously on your blog or in your Twitter/Facebook stream. And by “call out” I mean quoting something of theirs, without using their name, and crapping all over it. It looks like this,

“I hate it when people say, ‘I love my cat, Bob,’ on Twitter. I mean who says that? I think this person is an idiot.”

You think you’re being all sneaky, saying “this person” instead of their name but the person who reads it KNOWS you’re talking about them.

I have seen this approach to online anonymity blow up so many times. From major online celebrities to, uh, me, people can find out when you are knocking them down online, even if you don’t use their name. Just don’t do this. It’s not worth the blow back. Maybe the person initially won’t confront you, but the world is small and there will come a time when they bring this faux pas to your attention. Or worse, they tell others you’re a jerk. Bad, bad, bad for your reputation.

How to avoid being fake sneaky and getting caught: Just be nice. Go back to the mantra above. You don’t need to quote others’ tweets or words and be mean. It serves no purpose other to meet some emotional need of yours and no one wants to see your personal issues played out online. Especially if you’re a therapist, if you know what I mean.

  • Asking for free advice. People blog for lots of reasons, one big one is to attract paying clients. What they write in the blog is free – take it and run with it (and lots of bloggers are super generous and if you take notes, you can create a damn good business just based information you gleaned from free blog posts – you could ahem do that here, BTW). Be grateful for the blog posts and say “thank you.” Don’t ask for free advice, either in the comments, or worse, via email. Just like you, this person is trying to run and business and make a living. They can’t give your personalized coaching or consulting for free. Some people justify asking for free consulting by saying, “Well, it can’t hurt to ask, the worse they can say is ‘no.’” True, but know they are making a mental note that you’re not someone who values their time and efforts. Do you want to be known as an opportunist in your professional circles?

How to avoid being perceived as a freeloader: Be appreciative of all the free content out there and pay for the stuff that answers your specific questions.

  • Mocking things you don’t understand. Several of my colleagues don’t understand social media. They don’t want to understand and I respect that. Until one of them writes a sentence mocking Twitter in his email signature. I won’t quote it because I will be violating rule #5. Suffice it to say, the sentence made those of us who do understand social media cringe. Not because what he said was so witty and ironic, but because it made him look like that crazy uncle who wants to try your “ApplePhonethingy.” He just looked ignorant and sad. And it was in his email signature, so every email he sent had this embarrassing quote to inform people he was out of touch. Not good.

How to avoid looking ridiculous: When you don’t understand something, ask questions or observe until you have a better grasp. Saying nothing is also a good strategy.

By avoiding these 7 mistakes you’ll make friends and have a much better experience online. The take away here is this:

If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing.

If you don’t get it, be curious and ask. People will respect that and help you out.

And appreciate and respect the efforts of your fellow professionals online.

Now that you know the rules, get out there and be social!

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