How to Get Social Media Results in Your Practice

The Internet seems like an obvious place for anyone with a unique product or strategy to sell to the general consumer. The success of companies like eBay and Amazon are obvious examples of that statement. However, service businesses (like dentistry) do not seem to have it that easy. Making a sale online is extremely difficult for a service business because of the constantly changing variables that affect each sale.

Some of these variables include the facts that the viewer might not be seeing your information during normal business hours or may not understand the nuances of the needed service. That need for a clear exchange of information along with a touch of salesmanship is a key reason that dental Web sites tend to fall into 2 basic categories:
1. A successful information provider to help existing and potential patients better understand you and your services.
2. A high-priced business card that may not do much more than look pretty.

The world we live in today demands a certain amount of marketing beyond “word of mouth” to continue to attract and retain patients and maintain continual new patient flow.

There are many anecdotal success stories of online triumph within dentistry, but this success also comes with a price. Marketing, like anything else in business, requires a plan, commitment of resources, time, and consistency of your message. Social media is the newest enigma in that online marketing puzzle that can prove to be elusive. Many doctors seem to understand the concept of social media and that it can be a powerful referral source, but even more dentists have a hard time with it. It is still very new to many dentists and getting a true grasp on its possibilities can be difficult.

UNDERSTANDING THE MEDIUM OF SOCIAL MEDIA
Social media has developed enough to have a profound impact on the way consumers seek health-related information as well as how they choose their healthcare providers. According to a recent survey by Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, 61% of Americans turn to the Web for online medical advice and information. When done correctly, a social media presence for your dental practice will give you the ability to instantly connect with the public and distribute your practice message. However, many practices that engage in a social media campaign do so by either dipping their toe in the water or jumping in with gusto before they have even learned to swim.

During our years of social media training, we have learned that what typically happens in most dental practices is the following:

  • The doctor will ask a team member to start a profile on Facebook and try to connect with patients.
  • No one devises a plan or strategy.
  • No one truly understands the medium for business purposes.
  • They tend to spend a lot of time on the page and “real” work suffers.
  • The effort is dropped until they can “figure it out,” which rarely happens.
    Regardless of the mistakes that people commonly make, the allure of this market is obvious. Let us put into perspective just how large the new patient potential can be when using this form of marketing:
  • There are 53.5 billion minutes per month spent on Facebook alone! Next on the list of where your patients are spending their time on the Web is searching on Yahoo (17.2 billion), Google (12.5 billion), AOL (11.4 billion), Bing (9.5 billion), and YouTube (9.1 billion).
  • Facebook users spend at least 5 hours or more per month on the site. They are using this powerful tool to tap into their personal social network that they have chosen on their own to get recommendations on everything!
  • When focusing solely on social media, Facebook remains on the top, with YouTube and Twitter following behind. Google+ pulls an impressive eighth position, directly behind LinkedIn and MySpace, since opening public access. In just one week, Google+ went from 54th place to its new ranking.
    Another important skill, when it comes to the effective use of this kind of technology to market your services, is to know your audience and where the technology is headed.
  • Females are the most active on social media networks; we can safely assume a vast majority of these are moms looking for recommendations on services from their trusted social media circles.
  • Another important market to be aware of is the mobile user. The age that has most increased its use of smartphones to access social media sites is the 55 years and older crowd. That increase was up by 109% at the end of 2011 compared to 2010.
  • Facebook and Twitter are also growing a loyal following via mobile users. On average, slightly more than half of US smartphone users (50.9%) accessed Facebook on their device.

IMPLEMENTING SOCIAL MEDIA
Knowing these statistics is important, but putting them to effective use means knowing how. To maximize your practice’s social media presence, you must create multiple links to your Web site (also known as cross-posting). The larger your social media footprint, the more search engine optimization your practice will have. In other words, search engines like Google or Bing like to see many unique references to your sites and will rank you higher organically. Social media can be a cheap method for doing this. An office team can do this internally, or the task can be delegated to an outside company. Frequently, the untrained “do-it-yourself” method for achieving this is flawed because the general belief is that a practice must connect with as many people as possible to hit a critical mass so its “sales” (new patients) will sharply increase.

Having several people following your sites is preferable, but this thinking misses the point of social media and can take a serious toll on your team. The goal should be more about the quality of posts and “connecting” with patients than quantity. You could have a huge number of “likes” with no one posting anything. 

Having several people following your sites is preferable, but this thinking misses the point of social media and can take a serious toll on your team. The goal should be more about the quality of posts and “connecting” with patients than quantity. You could have a huge number of “likes” with no one posting anything.

Asking nonpatients to become your friend or follow your Tweets just because you have a social media account might help, but your existing patient base is the best place to start.
Four simple ways to begin are to:
1. Ask your patients to like your page on Facebook.
2. Post a sign at your reception desk.
3. Use appropriate social media logos on your business cards, Web site, and patient correspondence.
4. Be certain that everyone on your team is aware of the importance building practice followers.

SOCIAL MEDIA AS AN INTERNAL PROMOTIONAL TOOL
Another way to use social media is as an internal promotional tool to create awareness of unique treatment options in your practice. Do your patients know all of the treatment modalities you offer? For example, maybe your office is achieving great results with minimally invasive orthodontics using systems like the Inman Aligner System or Six Month Smiles. Maybe you are using a new whitening procedure or products that are getting great results. Clinical techniques, such as Snap-On Smiles, may be a new treatment option for your patients and their friends and family. Pass this information (with patient-friendly before-and-after photos) on to your social media followers. Provide interesting topics or dental tips that are likely to be shared among their friends.

That said, being too sales-oriented might also achieve the opposite effect you wanted. Your information must be in a format that engages your followers to ask questions or make comments. Remember to keep it simple and consumer-friendly, and think about your posts as if you were a nondental reader.

SOCIAL MEDIA COORDINATOR
Whether you are going to maintain and refresh your social media information in-office or have an outside resource do this, someone on your team should be the designated social media coordinator. This person could be the office manager, the patient treatment coordinator, or the receptionist. One of his or her key responsibilities is to follow up on all Internet requests daily and in a timely manner. Patients who are searching the Internet for information expect an expeditious response. An Internet request is as important as an incoming patient phone call. Responding to Internet requests occur throughout the day. The office should compose a template response that can be customized. If the patient has provided a phone number, this response should include a statement such as, “We look forward to meeting you. If we haven’t heard from you to schedule your visit in the next few days, I will follow up with a courtesy phone call.”

This social media coordinator should be an excellent communicator both on the phone and in the written word. This person also needs access to treatment information and digital images that would be pertinent to post. (Be sure and have a photo release signed by the patient before you post his or her images on Facebook or other social media outlets.) The social media coordinator would also work with the doctor to coordinate what treatment options or case study would be scheduled to post.

It is one thing to have a social media presence, but the objective is to inspire the patient to call and appoint. So what do you do to perpetuate the image you have presented on the Internet when you finally speak to the patient? Create awareness among the team on what is being presented by your practice on social media so that they are comfortable taking a patient phone call and answering an inquiry. Team training in this area must be ongoing and consistent. When the patient calls, the message and the disposition of your office must be congruent with your social media presence. Both must be professional, personable, and accessible.

Social media has proven to be a sound marketing tool for many service businesses for a variety of reasons. In order to make a real impact using this medium, you must first understand it and those who use it. Creating a viable strategy and setting realistic expectations for results of a social media campaign will completely depend on your ability to gain this understanding.

Closing Comments
For those doctors who choose to embrace social media as a strong piece of their patient attraction and retention strategy, they should be sure their plan is clear to the team and that they fully understand their place within it. That way, social media’s effects on the team can be profitable, fun, and a great inspiration to help a practice grow in any economy.

Suggested Reading
The social media data stacks: a research collection for marketers (sponsored by HubSpot). PowerPoint presentation prepared by Watershed Publishing, Thetford Center, VT. hubspot.com/Portals/53/docs/marketingcharts-social-media-data-stacks-pdf.pdf. Accessed on March 5, 2012.


Ms. Engelhardt-Nash serves on the American Dental Assistants’ Association (ADAA) Foundation and is a founding member of the National Academy of Dental Management Consultants, where she served 2 terms as president. She has been a guest instructor for the Oregon Health Sciences Continuing Dental Education Department, Central Piedmont Community College Dental Assisting Program, and the Medical College of Georgia. She has spoken and presented workshops internationally for dental study groups and associations. She was also contributing editor for Contemporary Esthetics and Restorative Practice and Contemporary Dental Assistant and has written for a number of other dental publications. She is the author of the book, A Series of Dental Letters, has won 2 journal awards from the ADAA, and was the 2008 recipient of the ADAA’s Distinguished Service Award. She can be reached at (855) 362-6274 or at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Disclosure: Ms. Engelhardt-Nash reports no disclosures.

Mr. Train is CEO and co-founder of Get Results Marketing and Business Coaching. He and his business partner, Hogan Allen, have been in dentistry for many years and teach dentists and dental teams how to maximize their marketing and management efforts. Their proven track record in social media and Internet marketing support and training has helped dentists succeed in these areas of new media. They were fortunate to become the management team working with The Nash Institute, and their goals are to aid Dr. Ross Nash and Debra Engelhardt-Nash in helping dentists learn and grow in any economy. They can be reached at (800) 275-2350 or at the Web site getresultsfordentists.com.

Disclosure: Mr. Train reports no disclosures.

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