By now, you’ve probably used Yelp to help you select a business based on its online reviews. Whether you’re in a new city looking for a place to eat, or need to find the closest auto-body shop, Yelp can quickly and easily help you find a match to suit your needs. In fact, since its inception in 2004, Yelp boasts an impressive 108 million unique business reviews, as well as over 140 million unique users per month. Seventy-two percent of these reviews are positive.

So why is this important for healthcare?

A recent study by Health Affairs concluded that Yelp reviews may, in fact, not only fill in the gaps for consumers left open by more traditional scoring systems, but they may also be more reliable, accessible, and telling. According to an article in Healthcare IT news, 72% of American internet users sought out health information online, and 42% looked at social media platforms (such as Yelp) for health-related consumer reviews.

So how do you get started?

1Claim Your Business

The first thing you should do is check to see if your business is already listed. If it is already listed, you should “claim” your business. This is a fairly simple process, but you will have to create a Yelp account. Once your “claim” is sent, Yelp will contact you via the listed phone number with a security code to make sure that you are associated with the business. It is extremely important to claim your business if it is currently unclaimed, even if you don’t intend on using all of Yelp’s features. I cannot emphasize this enough. An unclaimed business can still be reviewed, and could be populated with incorrect information, which could be confusing to your customers or even damaging to your reputation. If your business is not shown on Yelp, you will want to create a new listing for it.

2Choose the Correct Category

Yelp breaks down each business listing into 3 different categories. For instance, if you are a Primary Care Physician who specializes in asthmatic patients, you might choose the general heading “Health & Medical” and then a subcategory of “Primary Care” and then “Asthma.” You will still show up if a local customer selects Primary Care in the larger subset, but if the customer selects “Asthma,” you will be in a small subcategory and thus more likely to be found. Take a look at this Yelp video for more information on claiming, categorizing, and maximizing your business.

3Upload a Picture

Consumers respond positively to online information accompanied by pictures. If you are searching for a restaurant, you are more likely to select the restaurant with good reviews and pictures of its prepared food over one with just good reviews. You could consider uploading a professional head-shot, a clean examination room, your welcoming lobby, or perhaps shots of equipment you have at your practice. The more the better, so long as it presented professionally.

4The Reviews

Reviews will typically be sorted by what Yelp’s system thinks is most “helpful” to the viewer. It also defaults to their top reviewers—the so-called “Yelp Elites”—those users who have left many “helpful” reviews in the past.

Remember that Yelp can (and should be) a conversation between your business and prospective patients. You can respond to any review that someone has left for you and your business, be it a positive, negative, or neutral review. My advice would be to accentuate the positive reviews and treat the negative reviews calmly and cautiously, while always keeping privacy in mind.

So, for instance, if someone gave you a glowing review for asthma treatment, you could accentuate that your practice is on the forefront of asthma treatment by using the latest information and resources, or that customer satisfaction is one of your main goals. This additional information may entice more asthma sufferers to give your practice a shot.

That said, I would caution against speaking about individual customer experiences as it may violate HIPAA. Instead, accentuate the picture of their satisfaction with very broad strokes.

Similarly, if you have a negative review, you should be consolatory, something along the lines of “We’re sorry to hear about your negative experience. We will contact you to rectify the problem.”

This establishes a dialogue with the unsatisfied patient (and shows potential customers that you are willing to establish dialogue with unhappy patients), but discusses the situation in very broad and general terms so as not to violate patient privacy. You never want to get into an argument with a reviewer, or seem combative. Not only would an argument open you up to privacy violations, but arguments are a sure fire way to put people off, even more so than the occasional negative review.

Finally, business owners have many resources to deal with unfair or factually incorrect reviews, and it would be much sharper to follow those channels rather than trying to fight it out in your review section.

5Introduce Yourself

Yelp has a section called “From the Business” where you can introduce yourself, and give a bit more information about your business than someone could get from the description. Keep it short, sweet, and to the point, highlighting your history and specialization. Focus on services you offer that differentiate you from the competition.

These five steps should get you on your way to creating and maintaining a successful online Yelp profile, all of which you can do in the span of an afternoon. Yelp also offers upgrades to premium accounts which can include the removal of competitor ads on your profile, an image slideshow, and even customized Yelp deals to help promote your business.

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