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Social media for start-ups

May 2, 2019
5 steps to launching your practice on social

Kristie Nation

Launching a new dental practice requires a lot of planning—location, staff, equipment, financing—so you might not consider marketing until you are ready to open the doors of your new practice.

However, a solid marketing plan starts with advance preparation so there’s no lag between a practice launch and patient acquisition. Plan on working out the details of your complete marketing approach during the same time frame as all of your other preparations, so you can start prebooking appointments leading up to your opening day.

The case for a social media presence for dental practices

If your business doesn’t have an online presence, it may be virtually invisible to the majority of potential patients in your community. Dental practices, as a rule, have a very small radius of reach in the physical world, with most patients living only five to 10 miles away,1 although there are exceptions for specialists or practices with a national or international reputation, expertise in a certain procedure, or a dental tourism patient list.

American adults spend more than 11 hours per day listening to, watching, reading, or otherwise interacting with media-based content, including social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and messaging applications.2 The average person spends 135 minutes daily just on social media networks and at least 20 minutes on Facebook specifically, excluding time spent on Facebook Messenger.3

Online marketing, using a blog, website, and social media accounts, can help your practice be found easily by potential patients in the places they spend most of their time. Social media marketing specifically could be one of the strongest avenues for new-patient acquisition in the first year of your practice’s existence.

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Social media is the new word of mouth

Marketing is a multipronged approach. While television, radio, and print media still own a lion’s share of marketing dollars, word-of-mouth referrals are still the most effective and trustworthy way to acquire new patients who already have a built-in level of trust in you, with thanks to an informal “referral” from friends, family, or trusted consumer peers.

In today’s increasingly digital world, that word-of-mouth referral is more likely than ever to come from a social media platform. A 2017 consumer behavior study found that 91% of participants said online communities play a role in their health decisions.4 Of consumers viewing health information through social media,

• 61% percent are likely to trust information posted by providers;

• 45% said information found via social media would affect their decisions to seek a second opinion;

• 42% look for other consumer’s reviews of health-related providers, products, services, and experiences;

• 41% are likely to share with providers via social media;

• 32% review family and friends’ experiences;

• 29% look for other patients’ experiences with the same disease or condition; and

• 24% watch health-related videos or images posted by patients.5

A staggering 43% of baby boomers are starting to leverage social media for health care–related information,6 but on average, health-care marketers only spend 23% of their total marketing budget on content marketing activities, compared to 31% for all marketers.7 There is a gap waiting to be filled in the health-care space, and new dental practices can help to fill it.

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Getting started on social

Launching your start-up dental practice on social may necessitate hiring a social media management team experienced in setting up business accounts, supplying daily interactive content, and administrating the practice Facebook page, as well as conceptualizing, creating, and rolling out various advertising campaigns.

These five steps can help you understand the scope of social marketing, what it can do for your practice, and what commitments you should make to fully leverage the power of online platforms for new patient acquisition and practice growth.

Step one: Budgeting

The first step to creating your dental practice’s online presence is assigning a budget. In the early days of social media, it was a simple task to set up accounts and organically grow an audience, but today’s pay-to-play landscape means that social platforms require more attentive management and carefully planned and deployed advertising campaigns to reach maximum effectiveness.

Your available budget will vary, depending on a wide variety of factors, but as a rule of thumb, here’s what you can expect:

• Of your annual projected revenues, expect to spend 5% to 15% on marketing across all platforms, including print, television, radio, and digital.8

• Of the total marketing budget, 35% to 45% should be allocated to digital marketing, which includes content, website costs, search engine optimization (SEO), social media marketing, and paid advertising on search and social.8

• Of this digital marketing budget, 15% to 25% should be allocated to social media, including management and paid advertising campaigns.8

Step two: Platform selection

It is far better to “do social media” well on one platform than to try covering every platform superficially. Facebook is the leader when it comes to reach because it is used by 85% of internet visitors worldwide, excluding China.9 Facebook also has the most sophisticated advertising platform and largest bank of consumer data to access when creating and running ad campaigns. Other platforms to branch into include YouTube, which can be integrated for video and is the next most-used platform after Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Step three: Content creation

Content creation should be tailored to your chosen platform. Shorter is generally better; the average consumer of online content has an attention span of only eight seconds,10 meaning that all content should be consumable in that time frame or less. Images and videos enhance Facebook feeds and ads. In fact, 78% of marketers plan to use Facebook videos in 2019.11

Content should be published regularly—not like clockwork at 10 and 3 o’clock each day, but naturally and with a blend of image and video content, split between directly promotional content (around 20%), informational content (around 70%, including content you own and content created by third-party publishers), and inspirational content (around 10%).

Step four: Ad management

Ad management varies from platform to platform, but the goals are the same: new patient acquisition, patient reacquisition, practice visibility, and patient education. Facebook’s ad options allow for targeting and retargeting; permit you to reach out to current Facebook Page followers, nonfollowers, or both, as well as to target by email address; and provide the ability to A/B split-test ads to discover what approach works best.12

Use ad tools to refine your target demographic. Geographic tools can ensure you don’t waste advertising dollars on prospects outside of your area. Income ranges can help you highlight young parents if your start-up dental practice is pediatric or baby boomers if you are a dental implant specialist.

Step five: Measuring ROI

Social media marketing can be one of the most difficult areas in which to accurately measure results and identify the impact of budgetary outlay. The best way to attach ROI to social media efforts is to define goals clearly and concretely for each action you take on social media, assign a “value,” and track results accordingly.

For example, if your goal is new patient acquisition, a Facebook ad might be designed to prompt the viewer to click through to a landing page on your practice website that displays the phone number for booking an appointment. This ad has an initial goal for that person to call to book an appointment and an ultimate goal for that person to attend their booked appointment.

If the appointment is booked, a solid lead has been acquired. If the patient attends the appointment, a new patient acquisition has been made. If the cost of each click-through from the Facebook ad to your landing page is $5, and one out of every five people who visit the page call to book an appointment, a high-quality lead is acquired for every $25 investment.

Of these leads, even if only half of those who book an appointment attend it, every $50 investment returns one new patient (with a potential lifetime value), plus the lead who booked an appointment but missed it, allowing you the chance to follow up and try to reconvert them.

Campaigns that don’t directly lead to new patient acquisition can also be conducted, and in these cases, ROI can be more difficult to assign. For a boosted Facebook post (a regular post, not an ad, which can be “boosted” to a wider audience by paying a small one-time fee based on desired audience size and location) that raises awareness of your practice, the “eyes-on” value must be determined, and ROI awarded accordingly.

Are you ready?

Utilizing the power of word of mouth to raise awareness of your practice among the local patient population can be enhanced by real-time physical participation in your community, traditional advertising, and print marketing.

However, it’s the network you build on social media that will continue to provide cumulative benefits for years—and launching your start-up practice on social media before your physical doors even open could be the smartest move you’ll make in 2019.


1. Hathaway S. A dentist’s guide to selecting the right office location. TDA Perks website. https://tdaperks.com/a-dentists-guide-to-selecting-the-right-office-location. Published August 3, 2017. Accessed February 28, 2019.

2. Time flies: U.S. adults now spend nearly half a day interacting with media. Nielsen website. https://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2018/time-flies-us-adults-now-spend-nearly-half-a-day-interacting-with-media.print.html. Published July 31, 2018. Accessed February 28, 2019.

3. Daily time spent on social networking by internet users worldwide from 2012 to 2017 (in minutes). Statista website. https://www.statista.com/statistics/433871/daily-social-media-usage-worldwide/. Updated 2019. Accessed February 28, 2019.

4. Role of patient influencers: How do patients truly share information? WeGo Health Solutions. https://tglv8lyxesoiyue1wzi0cmgt-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/PT-2-WEGO-Health-Solutions_BIS_sharing-behavior.pdf. Published May 2017. Accessed February 28, 2019.

5. Health Research Institute. Social media ‘likes’ healthcare: From marketing to social business. PWC website. https://www.pwc.com/us/en/health-industries/health-research-institute/publications/pdf/health-care-social-media-report.pdf. Published April 2012. Accessed February 28, 2019.

6. Warden C. 30 facts and statistics on social media and healthcare. Referral MD website. https://getreferralmd.com/2017/01/30-facts-statistics-on-social-media-and-healthcare/. Published November 2017. Accessed February 28, 2019.

7. Beets LM, Handley A. 2018 benchmarks, budgets, and trends—North America. Content Marketing Institute website. https://contentmarketinginstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/2018-b2b-research-final.pdf. Published 2018. Accessed February 28, 2019.

8. Kendig P. How to set a realistic social media advertising budget. Webstrategies website. https://www.webstrategiesinc.com/blog/how-to-set-a-realistic-social-advertising-budget. Published April 2017. Updated July 18, 2018. Accessed February 28, 2019.

9. The most popular social media platforms of 2019. Digital Information World website. https://www.digitalinformationworld.com/2019/01/most-popular-global-social-networks-apps-infographic.html. Published January 1, 2019. Accessed February 28, 2019.

10. Are declining attention spans killing your content marketing strategy? Cision website. https://www.cision.com/us/2018/01/declining-attention-killing-content-marketing-strategy/. Published January 22, 2018. Accessed February 28, 2019.

11. Why video is exploding on social media in 2019. Wizowl website. https://www.wyzowl.com/video-social-media-2019/. Published January 2019. Accessed February 28, 2019.

12. Carter R. A painless guide to social media marketing for dentists. Sproutsocial website. https://sproutsocial.com/insights/social-media-marketing-for-dentists. Published May 2, 2018. Accessed February 28, 2019.

Kristie Nation is the founder and CEO of myDentalCMO, a marketing consulting firm that provides strategic marketing “treatment plans” exclusively for dental practices. The firm was founded with a mission to prevent dentists from wasting countless dollars marketing their practices ineffectively. She can be reached at [email protected] or (877) 746-4410.

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