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Attract like-minded patients with Instagram

April 6, 2022
Creating an engaging Instagram presence starts with understanding what's important to you, and what's important to your ideal patient. Once these are established, the rest will follow. Jessica Emery, DMD, shares her story.

I’m a dentist just like you who ran a successful fee-for-service practice for 15 years. I had a vision for my brand from day one, and I chose to embrace social media when no other dentist in my community did. The consequence of this choice has shaped my entire career.

While I still love dentistry, I felt a calling to serve dentists who are struggling to stand out in an ever-competitive market. I now run a boutique dental marketing agency that helps dentists step into their brand and showcase their amazing stories through the powerful lens of social media—specifically Instagram! But why build your brand? Why showcase it at all? Allow me to take you back a few years to share with you a story that demonstrates why I believe it’s so important.

Discovering the power of social media

Picture a beautiful summer morning in Chicago; the sun is rising as I grab my morning latte before entering my practice for another day of dentistry. The phone rings, my office manager answers. My whole team is trained to answer phones, handle objections, and discuss our financial policy. This strategy has paid off; I learned early on that even the most effective marketing will only get a prospect as far as a phone call or an email. Turning that prospect into a cosmetic consult requires a well-trained team. Ultimately, your practice is only as good as your weakest team member.

The script is on-point, and the caller answers a lot of pertinent questions. How did you hear about our office? “Oh, it was actually my daughter who found you; she’s back from college for the summer. She has a serious dental phobia but has been thinking about getting a smile makeover for a long time now. She’s a little shy, but I should tell you that she is on the call as we speak!”

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The daughter timidly introduces herself and begins to explain that she has been following us on Instagram for almost a year. “Everyone seems so fun and friendly. And I love your space; it’s so beautiful and doesn’t look like a dental practice at all!” She schedules a cosmetic consult, and within four weeks, she has a beautiful new smile.

Here’s the thing: she was so excited about her experience that she documented the entire event on her Instagram and TikTok accounts—I guess I cured her phobia! She also tagged the office, and within a few days, one of her friends scheduled a cleaning, and then her friend’s mom came in to get her teeth whitened and also signed up for Invisalign. What dentists don’t realize is that Instagram is a modern-day digital referral system that’s perfect for dentistry.

Marketing my practice on Instagram enabled me to showcase my brand, and that strategy changed my life. I went from working 50 hours a week to just 24 hours in three years while collecting over seven figures. My outside-the-box marketing approach enabled me to attract like-minded patients who valued me, my practice, and my services. My patients weren’t insurance-driven; they just wanted a great experience, and that’s what I gave them! My cosmetic patient base grew significantly because of Instagram marketing. When you start adding just a few high-value patients each week, it has a domino effect that really impacts your bottom line. My collection per hour more than doubled in three years to over $1,000. That shift allowed me to cut my hours significantly, which improved my quality of life, and like so many dentists out there working their tails off, that’s exactly what I wanted.

Finding a niche

These kinds of results require a strategy. For me, it started with a clear vision for who my ideal patient or “avatar” was: what brands they liked, what they disliked, where they lived, their age, and their gender, which for me was primarily female. I also knew where they shopped and what other health and beauty services they liked. This avatar clarity is absolute gold. If you want to hit your target, you need to know where to look! Once I knew what they liked, I simply handed their likes to them by posting intentional content on my Instagram page, and I got paid back in kind.

Understanding your avatar gives you a distinct advantage; it’s kind of like the cast through which your marketing strategy is poured. It’s never about “selling”; it’s about being authentic and showcasing what’s important to you and what you feel will add value to your ideal patient experience. Once you make a connection emotionally, the trust and confidence follow!

It may sound trivial, but remember: you don’t have to be for everyone. Not everyone cares if you charge their phone for them during their appointment, or if you offer them a scented warm neck pillow or cashmere blanket. Most won’t notice that piece of toilet paper that’s shaped like a triangle when they enter an immaculate bathroom. Or that there is a “no wait” policy where they get a $10 Starbucks gift card every time you run a few minutes late. Certainly there are people out there who couldn’t care less if they receive a cupcake from a local bakery for their birthday, or that during treatment they can enjoy their favorite TV show or movie while wearing Bose noise-canceling headphones. But I had no interest in attracting people who didn’t care about these little touches. They weren’t my target market, because our values didn’t align.

If you find out exactly what your ideal patient wants and you overdeliver, you’re going to stand out and attract that patient. It’s that simple. The types of patients I wanted to attract definitely noticed every little detail. They valued extraordinary service above all else, and I knew how to provide it for them. I even had patients thanking me for having handbag stools in my operatories. It’s bad feng shui to have handbags on the floor, because floors don’t carry good energy. Silly, right? But not for people who appreciate this attention to detail. To them it matters, so it matters to me too! But all of this means nothing if it’s hidden behind the blackout curtain of poor marketing. Out of sight, out of mind!

Instagram is your best bet

Instagram is a visual platform, and studies have shown that people retain 55% more information when it’s paired with a relevant image.1 While you can include images on other platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, the imagery isn’t as prominent as it is on Instagram.

When someone sees your content, an immediate emotional connection takes place. The pictures you share are like little windows into the soul of your business. People can learn so much about your practice from your Instagram feed, but you have to be transparent, and that makes some dentists uncomfortable. Growth always requires some discomfort because our egos don’t like change.

These days, more than 71% of businesses in the United States use Instagram, and most users spend an hour on the platform every day, scrolling through the feed, watching stories, and engaging with the content they’re seeing.2 So why is it that most dentists haven’t yet embraced social media marketing? It turns out that 67% of dentists don’t have a marketing strategy or marketing campaign of any kind! And 51% of dental practices don’t use any social media at all, with only 3% posting at least once a day.3

I’ve spoken to hundreds of dentists, and there is one overriding objection when it comes to using Instagram for their practice. They all complain about not having time, which is code for “I don’t value this, so I’m not willing to put in the time.” What the majority of dentists are missing is that if they step out of their comfort zone and trust the process, they have a huge competitive advantage! It worked for me, it works for my clients, and I know it will work for you.

Social media is here to stay

Okay, I hope you’re paying attention, because I’m about to drop a truth bomb. There’s a change happening in the dental industry that has nothing to do with health care. It has to do with how we as dentists attract new patients to our practices. In the past, referrals were by far the best way to grow your patient pool, but these days, prospective patients are checking practices out online before making a decision. It takes courage and humility to pivot and change the way you look at things, but the evidence is overwhelming and the truth is that the future of dental marketing has already arrived.

It’s clear that social media isn’t going anywhere, and Instagram is getting more popular by the day. As dentists, we need to seize this amazing opportunity to insert ourselves into the conversation and connect with people in an authentic and memorable way.

It’s essential that dentists remain relevant during this tidal wave of change; they need to learn to embrace marketing, branding, and most importantly, storytelling. Dentists must be able to connect with people in their community on an emotional level outside the walls of the practice. The best way to do this is to use consistent and intentional branding to tell their story so people can get to know, like, and trust them.

Like everything else in life, we have a choice when it comes to all that we do. If you’re still sending out mailers to people who are looking for free cleanings and x-rays, and that’s attracting your ideal patients, then keep doing it. Marketing is not a one-size-fits-all game. But if you want to attract patients who truly value you because they love who you are, the comfort your practice provides, your amazing team, and of course your awesome services, then there’s no better way to showcase it than on Instagram!


  1. Medina J. Brain rules: vision. Accessed January 24, 2022. http://brainrules.net/vision/
  2. Mohsin M. 10 Instagram stats every marketer should know. February 16, 2021. Accessed January 24, 2022. https://www.oberlo.com/blog/instagram-stats-every-marketer-should-know
  3. Townie poll: marketing. Dentaltown. July 2021. https://www.dentaltown.com/magazine/article/8345/townie-poll-marketing

Editor's note: This article appeared in the April 2022 print edition of Dental Economics magazine. Dentists in North America are eligible for a complimentary print subscription. Sign up here.

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