Therapist Websites Are Not Enough

Last March a friend and former graduate student I supervised was visiting me from out of town. He was telling me about a call he got that went something like this: “Hi Bob, great website! Would you like to do a workshop on creating a online presence for our chapter of NASW? You won’t be paid for this, but you’ll get exposure, what do you think?”

This sort of exchange contains every element you need to have to teach a lesson on how not to do things as a Web 2.0 therapist. Let’s break this down:

1. What you are doing is so valuable we’d rather not pay you for it. Anything that you would go to a workshop to learn is something you should be willing to pay for. Even if it was only $20, a small amount or honorarium is something you should offer when you recruit someone to help you. Offering a rationalization is not the same thing; if my former student needed exposure the last place to look for it would be from this cheapo crowd! I know we have had a longstanding tradition in the psychotherapy disciplines to expect that we will present papers or talks at big yearly conferences for free, and that kind of thing seems a little different in my mind, because they are national conferences or Symposia and have many presenters. But to recruit someone specific for a specific workshop and not pay them any honorarium seems both cheap and arrogant to me.

2. Online Presence=Having a web site. Wrong! A website is just one small (important, but small) part of having an online presence. Having a website is something you should have prior to trying to launch your online presence. Now opinions vary on how to get one. I have some colleagues who know this space who believe that Therapists need to hire someone to build a website for them, and I can see the merit of this. My own opinion is that WordPress and our current technology have made it possible to have a very professional website for a fraction of that price if you are willing to spend some time and a little extra money to get a framework like Genesis. That is the one I use, and this site is one that I was able to design and launch pretty quickly. I have an older site that is still out there, but doesn’t get anywhere near as many hits now. That being said, I do think that whether you build one or have a professional do that, you definitely ought to have a professional critique it. My colleague Juliet Austin has a expertise doing this, and having been in the market for a while, she has a great eye for dos and don’ts.

But having a website is not an online presence in 2011, it is a colorful classified ad. Yes it is necessary now that potential patients want to see and meet you before they see and meet you, but now that there are thousands of Therapists with websites it will not distinguish you much more than a Psychology Today profile. Having an online presence requires you have a vibrant combination of interactive dialogue, recommendations that establish your “brand” as a therapist, multiple forms of media to see, hear and read you, and some amount of change over time.

I’m not trying to discourage any of you from getting started online with a website, I just want to make sure you see it is only one component of having an successful online presence.

3. Professional Organizations need to become more professional when it comes to business and social media. Asking your constituents to take the lead without compensating them is just lame. But even more concerning are the attitudes I see many organization taking towards social media. One example recently was a workshop NASW was promoting on HIPAA and Social Media. The flyer began with the bold red words “Protect Yourself!” The workshop like many others I have seen approaches the Internet and Web 2.0 from the point of view of fear-mongering, if the advertisement is accurate. Be scared of social media. Don’t learn how to use it for marketing your business, let alone your clinical work. This is not the message we need from our leadership. Include a component on social media in a general ethics course, sure. But please stop fostering the association of technology with ethical risk, social media with liability.

Our professional organizations also need to put the same thought and care in finding expertise when it comes to Web 2.0 as they would other workshop topics. Would we ever email a colleague and say, “Hey, want to do a workshop for NASW on EMDR?” based on information as limited as a website? I doubt it. As leaders of our profession, our professional organizations need to treat the topic of social media and health care with the same care as other topics. Their endorsement gives an imprimatur. If they say, the only thing you need to know about social media is to avoid it or you’ll be sued, we learn nothing but fear. If they say, social media requires no expertise or experience, we underestimate the skills we all need to learn to use it.

Bob is a great guy and an excellent clinician, but his having a website doesn’t make one an expert. Being on Facebook or Twitter doesn’t make one an expert. Having 5-15 years of experience working in the space of Web 2.0 like Juliet, Susan Giurleo, or myself does. These are peer-vetted experts, experts vetted by peers in both the clinical and Internet fields. I used to be hesitant to say this, because even though I teach people how to self-promote as part of their business I still feel uncomfortable with it myself. But I feel it is important to make a distinction between people who have spent years and thousands of dollars learning how to integrate clinical practice and Web 2.0, and your colleague who has a nice website.

Look, we need to start taking social media seriously, 97% of our patients and other human beings use it. I applaud our professional organizations for trying to offer something. But the above approach reminds me of having your grandson hook up your DVD player when he comes home from college. It is shortsighted and underestimates the complexity of the matters at hand. At some point Therapists need to strike a balance between a healthy respect for the growing importance of social media and avoidant fear. And at some point we’re going to need to invest time, money, and serious thought into how, not if, we use it in our practice.

Comments

  1. As an internet native and online internet marketer, the biggest issue I see for therapists is having the right mindset.

    There is no golden solution, no perfect tool, but it’s the right mindset about what marketing is, what therapy is, and your role as a therapist in society at large and within the population you wish to serve.

    The tools will always change but the right marketing mindset is the filter from which all the possible tools are weighed for the right action.

    I can not be more grateful to know everything I know BEFORE starting graduate school so I can very calmly listen to the drivel that is the professional baggage, and then come out the other side and stand along side my awesome colleagues to grow my own practice.

    There is no magic bullet. You don’t even have to spend much money to be wildly successful.

    Mindset baby! 😉

  2. Hi Mike,

    great stuff again. Telling it like it is.

    For me, and this is my bias as a practitioner, it’s about how we make and maintain healthy relationships. That’s as much true in the cyber/telecoms world as the face to face world.

    It’s about engagement.

    Therapists spend a lot of time and energy on learning their field, working with people and their difficulties. Yet seem time and again colleagues hit a glass wall with the internet, social media and telecoms. Also about how to place themselves in a competitive market and allow clients to find if they like want one’s services.

    I guess you wont be surprised that a lot of the reasons are emotional and not technical.

    Which is part of what I offer to colleagues. A chance to unpack some of these fears and anxieties and repack in a way that is more comfortable and helpful to future success. To plan strategies to develop a profile and develop professional connections.

    Mike, it is so amazing working with colleagues in the therapies to help them unlock their own potential, so satisfying and personally rewarding.

    warm regards

    Noel

  3. Great post, Mike.

    Interestingly, I was approached just this morning to do a freebie presentation at an upcoming conference on “the dangers of social media”.

    Now, I will do this for free because a) it’s local and b) therefore just a networking day out of the office in sunny (lol) Edinburgh rather than a whole trip (for which i would demand at least full expenses), with some bonus exposure for my company with therapists who may not have come across me before.

    BUT I insisted that instead of “perils”, I would only present – The Use of Social Media in Therapeutic Services – What Practitioners Need to Know rather than the high drama that they seemed to think the scaremongering approach would produce bums on seats.

    So – all that to say – I agree!

    Kate

  4. Mike, I agree that there seems to be an element of “won’t you don’t know could hurt you,” regarding clinicians and social media. I think the helping professionals in general have lagged behind in using technology to market themselves. Agreed that it’s only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to marketing.

    I do disagree on on the compensation part of being asked to present. Money is not the only compensation. Firstly, you will get recognition from your peers which is priceless. This may also serve to get you to branch out into being a helping professional for helping professionals. If you’re tech savvy this may be an opportunity for you to throw your hat into the ring in developing some products. You can always collect names and get an interest list started.

    I also think when opportunities like present themselves, it’s a perfect time to educate our misguided colleagues.

    Thanks for sharing!

  5. Mike, a very good article and I agree with so many points you’ve made. I help individual therapists learn how to market their practices and workshops on and offline, and help therapy training groups like schools and institutes do the same. Like you, I have some years of this under my belt and I see that you have identified some of the major stumbling blocks for sure.

    Implicit in your post I see something I’m guessing we all run across when helping therapists market – no matter how carefully and repeatedly the idea of creating and maintaining a marketing strategy is outlined, therapists are often disappointed that for the most part and for most people, there isn’t always a direct line that can be drawn between any one initiative – like creating a website – and outcomes. So people say – “I tried this (they usually mean once) ” and it didn’t work. Part of what you are addressing I think is how to also cultivate an understanding of the marketing process, that it is ongoing and multi-layered, and that as you say, no one initiative on its own is “enough”.

    The person who can help their clients with this is like you the professional with experience coaching, motivating, encouraging, developing and whose expertise in this area needs to be appreciated and yes, invested in as needed.

    Thanks for the post!

    Linda

  6. As usual, some excellent points. I just created a business Facebook page about a week ago so I’m still on a learning curve with all of this since I am not a digital native. Thanks for your expertise and encouragement.

  7. Great post, Mike and thanks for the mention.
    Some of your points and those in the comments point to the importance of valuing our colleagues and patience. I sense in the profession a shift from wanting to ignore social media and marketing to realize we are behind the rest of the world and a rush to make up for lost time.

    Unfortunately, in the push to get CE courses and conferences on these topics associations are short sighted in who they approach and are limiting themselves to who they can get for free or cheap.
    There’s also a rush for ‘results.’ As Linda says, many helping professionals make the mistaken assumption that a website and a facebook page will attract clients.
    Just like building any relationship, marketing takes time, consistency and patience.
    This is serious stuff that most of us didn’t have to think about 10 years ago, but now
    we need to keep pace with the growth in technology and business demands – without fear. I have to admit I have been very disappointed in most associations (with a very few exceptions) in their approach to these very important issues.

    • I very much agree with you “…marketing takes time, consistency and patience.” This career is a devotion! Best (for you) if it’s a devotion AND a “calling”. In our current instant-everything world, it still takes time to develop a successful psychotherapy practice. I think those who end up the best (easiest and most money) are in some rendition of a group practice. I, myself, am in a private practice. It is successful in that I have as much work as I want and have had for many years now. Monetarily, not so successful (I still take insurance). I have, not a website, but a blog. it is probably a lot more work, on-going, than a website but it is a creative endeavor for me. I’ve been doing it for 2 years now. It IS work, make no mistake, but kind of fun-work. I have started getting some new-patient calls as a result of my blog. But, I didn’t start it for that reason. I really did it as a give—I’ve been in practice a long time, I’ve leaned and am learning a lot and I wanted to share it with people who might not have access to such an experience. So, my blog isn’t very commercial.

      • Mike Langlois, LICSW says:

        Paula, thanks for your comment. I would suggest that your blog is commercial in that it allows another way for your thoughts and ideas to get out into the stream of commerce. I think we often think commerical and sincere are diametrically opposed, not true. When we are moved to say something, our thoughtfulness and passion come through, and that is not unlike what our patients sometimes experience in their first sessions with us.

  8. You are right–to a point. Like all marketing, you have to put in HUGE effort at the beginning. When I restarted a private practice a few years ago I did lots of social marketing. Then my practice got full and I didn’t have time. Guess what? It hasn’t made any difference. That’s because by doing all that front loading I got a great google rank. At this point, going on facebook, etc., is a time waster that I’d rather spend on bigger projects that will bring more money than a private practice might.

  9. I work with a lot of therapists, and most of them dismiss social media reflexively without considering how it might help their businesses or even make them better clinicians. Thanks for reminding us that web marketing is an ongoing process.

  10. Mike, thanks for bringing awareness again to some critical gaps in business thinking and marketing readiness among professionals in the therapy world.

    As a profession, we are way behind others who have overcome poverty consciousness — the root mindset of the “we don’t pay but you’ll get great exposure” con game — and those who have taken up the digital challenges of marketing with multiple online tools and consistent client attraction strategies. Hate to say it, but it’s clear to me that the more therapists cling to old ways of thinking and doing, the faster they will be left in the dust of the digitally savvy.

    As I am more and more shifting my business to helping therapists develop sustainable marketing methods, and build websites — I’ll put a plug in here for the WP theme Atahuala that I’m currently using to transform my own blogsite (not for the novice, but it’s growing on me) — I’m seeing on a daily basis just how deeply entrenched too many of our colleagues are in:

    (1) wanting instant results
    (2) wanting big results for as little up front effort and investment as possible
    (3) thinking in terms of 3rd party referral (too indirect and unreliable in my view)
    (4) thinking in very small terms (hobby vs business), and
    (5) overlooking some excellent marketing resources hidden where they least suspect.

    If I had a magic wand I’d have a solopreneur marketing curriculum added to all APA and NASW controlled graduate programs.

    In the meantime we’ll rely on your blogs, and the excellent work of others like you and some who’ve posted here who are ahead of the pack.

    Cheers,
    ~ Deah

    • Mike Langlois, LICSW says:

      Deah, belated thanks for this great free advice. I hope people will check out your blog, “The No-Hype Mentor,” it really is a great no-hype site. Deah’s got a great tone and I know that it appeals to a lot of folks for its common sense approach. ‘Tis a gift to be simple.

  11. In the professional worlds I move in – psychology/psychoanalysis – there’s a pretty clear set of assumptions of who gets paid for what. I have presented at workshops and conferences a lot in my career and have no objections to not being paid when invited to speak or when a conference proposal or an article for a professional journal is accepted. (Of, course I also appreciate being paid for speaking, which is the norm if invited to speak to a specific group out of town.) It’s the norm: the benefits include not only the potential financial rewards of exposure but also the sense of belonging to a group, the fun of meeting colleagues at conferences, trips out of the country that are also tax deductions and the reward of recognition in a competitive field. I wonder how “Bob” feels? Was he asked to present just because he had a great website (that would be pure folly indeed) or did the NASW requester know Bob, know his work and reputation? Carolyn

    • Mike Langlois, LICSW says:

      Hi Carolyn, I appreciate the comment. I would respectfully kibbutz though that just because something is the norm doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to change it. Not long ago being straight was accepted as the norm, and I for one am glad we didn’t just leave it at that. I say it is high time we change some of the assumptions our profession makes about who gets paid for what.

  12. Hah, this made me chuckle. You know, the first time I launched my web site I thought I did a pretty good job being a technology immigrant and all…and an actual immigrant. I posted it in Facebook and asked my friends for feedback, they all congratulated me about how great it was etc etc. Well long story short, I ended up revamping it completely when I realized the potential the site had when done right with the right tools. So the first version in comparison will go down in history as an Epic fail 🙂 My marketing efforts have had a similar life which is to say they suffered and then they grew and they are not done growing (if I could only manage time better!)
    Anyway, I sense a little bit of resentment but good for you for claiming your expertise, being proud of it, sharing the stage with colleagues and demanding fairness and respect.
    I do have to say though, I have learned things from you and Susan and others but never paid you a dime and for that I am very grateful.

    • Mike Langlois, LICSW says:

      Hi Elvita, thanks for sharing your example of invention and reinvention. I wonder if immigrants aren’t sometimes more used to this than we Americans with our nativist entitlement. Speak English, etc. In Europe everyone has learned several languages. In terms of business and technology, I think its high time we did as well.

  13. Great article. I agree with most of what you wrote, and it’s best when you can do your own website. WordPress + a decent theme, plus some seo/backlinking and a google places account can really bring in the business. 90 percent of my new referrals in my practice are from google.

    • Mike Langlois, LICSW says:

      Thanks, I agree that google places can be a great source of referrals. That being said, I think I am seeing that change in my area. We’re saturated with Google Ads and places. When I started I was paing 8 cents a click, and now it is up to $6 or more. This tells me that we are approaching a time when folks will need to do different things, which isn’t a bad thing. So just keep an eye on your stats, and be prepared to change in the future.

  14. Fascinating conversation. Thank you. I’ve had an online presence for decades. In the early days I posted articles periodically and often did nothing for months at a time. That was okay because not many therapists were online at the time.

    I see waves of activity come and go on the internet. Sometimes my phone rings often with new clients who discovered me. Sometimes the long sound of silence is profound.

    These days so many options exist for an online presence that the challenge is deciding which avenue/s we need to take and which to let go. We can’t do it all, at least I can’t.

    So these days, I write articles and blog. My blog posts go to Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin automatically. I engage with people who ask questions I can and want to answer or who offer interesting information.

    Benefits to me? In terms of my practice, it varies with active months and quiet months.
    In terms of my knowledge, it’s fabulous. I learn so many new perspectives from individuals and get a broader sweep of what’s going on in the field. And I love learning the stories of professionals and lay people across this country and sometimes, world wide.

    The most current and ongoing benefit to me is that my website got me a book contract with a traditional publisher. My book, Healing Your Hungry Heart: recovering from eating disorders for adult women, comes out in August.

    The book promotion is yet another kind of online presence – new for me. I’m just learning.
    I don’t know yet what my author presence will create, but surely it will create something. 🙂

    Thank you for this superb conversation.

    best regards,

    Joanna

    Joanna Poppink, MFT
    Los Angeles psychotherapist
    http://eatingdisorderrecovery.com
    author: Healing Your Hungry Heart
    08/11 Conari Press http://amzn.to/grcDfG

    • Mike Langlois, LICSW says:

      Hi Joanna,

      I really like your optimistic and enthusiastic approach. Have you noticed there are no Pilgrims on the internet? Those dour folks are staying with what they know, and they’re referral sources are drying up no matter how brave a face they put on it.

      And good for you for promoting your book here. I think people who are comfortable with self-promotion deserve it! Everyone, shoot on over to Joanna’s site and check her book out for yourselves..

  15. We recently revised our ancient (about 12-year-old) website, hiring a marketing company to help with the design and technical aspects. I am not sorry to have hired them because it’s quite an extensive site and took us a lot of time just to deal with content and organizational issues.

    But we certainly have found out that just having a more up-to-date site (in appearance, especially) isn’t the end of it. We actually lost web-traffic with the change and have a lot to do to help have a “web presence”, as in the discussion. Interesting challenges.

    • Mike Langlois, LICSW says:

      Yes, having an online presence isn’t hanging up a web-shingle and then putting your feet up on the desk until patients start knocking on your door. Thanks for the reminder.

  16. Thanks for the read. Everything here seems to make perfect sense, though I must admit I do have a lot of hesitation with marketing my practice using social media. It takes a lot of energy to keep updating material and it seems one needs to be very cautious indeed about how one uses websites like Facebook. It’s too bad we do not have graduate courses that teach us about marketing and advertising… most of us could have used them.

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