Social media can be a great addition to a physician’s communications toolbox. It’s a way to reach out to potential patients, make yourself visible to recruiters or recruit staff, and share research and data that would interest your colleagues and patients. But social media can also be a danger, leading medical professionals into hostile territory where risks include losing credibility or even one’s career. That is why it is important to establish guidelines for yourself so you can fully benefit from the positive elements social media has to offer.

Here are a few tips:

Check your employer’s social media policy.

If you work for a hospital or other employer, you’ll want to ask your human resources department if they have a social media policy or any sort of guidelines to be followed. If they do, read it carefully and design your social media plan so you are playing by the rules. If your employer doesn’t have a written policy, once you have determined how you’ll use social media, share the information with your manager and the HR department. Unless your employer says otherwise, consider a line on your Twitter or Facebook profile page that says something like “all opinions expressed are my own.” If you share an office with other physicians, meet with them and discuss developing a social media policy for the office.

Consider a pseudonym.

If you aren’t using social media to specifically connect with patients and colleagues or draw attention to your practice, you might consider using a pseudonym. For instance, if you enjoy tweeting about medical discoveries or legislation that affects the healthcare field but you prefer to stay out of the limelight, you might use a generic photo and name. This doesn’t mean you should spread information you wouldn’t share under your own name. It is just a way to keep your professional identity away from the social media world.

Opt for information over advice.

So, now that you’ve set up your social media accounts and are ready to post on Facebook or Twitter… What should you post? Well, you shouldn’t post anything that could be taken as medical advice or anything that could lead a patient to make a serious medical decision. Instead, post interesting research, facts about your medical practice or hospital, or links to legislation that impacts healthcare. You also could write about new recruits to your team, mention awards you’ve won, or post about recent conferences you’ve attended.

Disable comments.

Of course you love interacting with patients and colleagues, but this opens the door to problems like public conversations about contentious issues or patients asking questions about medical emergencies. Answers, or non-answers, could be a source of trouble. Therefore, it’s often a good idea to disable comments so those problems don’t arise in a public forum. If you want to use social media to communicate with patients, colleagues, or others, encourage them to send you a private email.

Think twice before you post or comment.

Political issues or other contentious subjects could result in trouble. While it’s fine to post a link to the latest law that will affect healthcare, resist the temptation to get involved in commenting on certain issues without considering the consequences—especially if you are an employee versus a doctor with his or her own practice. If you criticize a lawmaker or the new healthcare bill, could it hurt your employer? Could certain statements damage your reputation? It is easy to misinterpret a quick tweet or Facebook post, so even if you meant no harm, your words might still be used against you.

Consider using social media as a recruiting or job-finder tool.

If you’re hiring, post job offers concisely, providing an email address where candidates can reach you. If you’re looking for a job, connect with hospitals and physicians’ offices across social media. And whether you’re an employer or a job-seeker in the medical field, be sure to connect with us at Enterprise Medical Recruiting on Facebook. We’ve placed thousands of physicians and advanced practitioners in top medical positions nationwide since 1990 and we’re ready to help you too!