A primer in social media

Feb. 1, 2010
You probably think that Facebook and similar social media sites are strictly for your kids.

For more on this topic, go to www.dentaleconomics.com and search using the following key words: social media, Web site, Facebook, Twitter, communicate, online, blog, Dr. Jeff Dalin.

You probably think that Facebook and similar social media sites are strictly for your kids. Well, think again! Social media Web sites are quickly becoming something that can no longer be ignored. In the past, networking was a way of grouping individuals together into specific groups so they could interact with each other. Now this is being done online. Millions of people are looking to meet other people online to share information on just about any topic.

Social media are the No. 1 activity on the Web. Let's put this phenomenom into perspective by considering the following:

To reach 50 million users, it took radio 38 years, television 13 years, and the Internet four years. Meanwhile, Facebook reached 100 million people in just nine months!

If Facebook were a country, it would be the fourth largest in the world. Some 80% of companies use LinkedIn as one of their primary tools to find employees. Some five billion minutes are spent on Facebook each day. Approximately 55% of Americans have a Facebook page, and the average person spends more than 19 minutes a day on the site.

Twitter has more than three million tweets placed each day. Ashton Kutcher and Ellen DeGeneres have more Twitter followers than the entire population of Ireland, Norway, and Panama. Some 80% of Twitter usage is via mobile devices. Those people in Generations Y and Z now consider e–mail passé.

In 2009, Boston College stopped distributing e–mail addressed to incoming freshmen. YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world. It has more than 100 million videos in its library. Approximately 13 hours of video are uploaded every minute to YouTube. The average person spends more time on YouTube than on NBC, CBS, ABC, and Fox combined.

There are more than 200 million blogs, of which 54% post content or tweet daily. Some 73% trust peer recommendations while only 14% trust ads. In the past month, almost 25% of Americans said they watched a short video on their phone. Some 35% of book sales on Amazon are for its Kindle device. More than 1.5 million pieces of content (Web links, news stories, blog posts, notes, photos, etc.) are shared on Facebook daily.

Social media is not a fad; they are a fundamental shift in the way we communicate.

I found these statistics on a Web site compiled by Erik Qualman, who has coined a word for this phenomenom — socialnomics.

More than 300,000 businesses have a presence on Facebook. An example that illustrates how this fact can impact the bottom line is by looking at Gary Vaynerchuk and his family business. His business grew from $4 million a year to $50 million a year thanks to the use of social media. He found that if he spent $15,000 on direct mail, he generated 200 new companies. If he spent $7,500 on billboard advertising, the business generated 300 new customers. But if he spent no money on Twitter, he generated 1,800 new customers.

James Farley, chief marketing officer of Ford Motor Company, said, “You can't just say it. You have to get the people to say it to each other.”

Some 37% of Generation Y–ers were aware of the Ford Fiesta via social media before its launch in the U.S. Ford now spends 25% of its marketing budget in digital/social media. As it turns out, they are the only U.S. auto company that has not taken a government loan.

During Barack Obama's rise to the White House, he garnered five million fans on social media, and 5.4 million clicked on an “I voted for Obama” Facebook button. More importantly, this resulted in three million online donors who contributed $500 million to his campaign. An amazing 92% of the donations were in increments of less than $100.

Is this strictly a “youth” phenomenon?

If you look at statistics, you might be surprised. The fastest growing segment on Facebook is females age 55 and older. The reason they join is so they can engage with their children and grandchildren. Facebook has more photos on it than all other photo–sharing sites combined.

I hope these statistics pique your interest.

When it comes to online social networking, various Web sites are commonly used. They are known as social media sites, and function like an online community of Internet users. Once you are granted access to a social networking site, you can begin to socialize. This socialization may include reading the profile pages of other members and sharing information.

Some of the more popular sites include Badoo, Bebo, Classmates, Facebook, LinkedIn, My Life, MySpace, Naymz, Plaxo, Tagged, and Twitter. There are specific dental social networking sites starting to grow. Some of these are New Docs, U–Dent, iDental Community, Dentist Network. One of my favorites is at community.pennwell dentalgroup.com, which is part of PennWell® Corporation's www.dentistryiq.com. Web site.

Social media allow you to connect with people with the ultimate goal of generating more traffic to a practice. Because you constantly update content more often and users link to this content, social media sites rank highly within search engine results pages. This provides increased visibility online for a practice.

Keep in mind that community members do not necessarily want to be added to your practice's database. They might only want to have a conversation. Figure out what they want and always try to provide relevant information. You can use these social networks to communicate with others on various levels, from posting information to promoting products, from sharing videos to sending invitations.

Let's take a look at specifics of the largest site of this sort: Facebook.

One of the first things you must do when joining this or any other networking site is to create a profile for yourself. This profile serves as your identity while you are a part of the site. You can list professional, as well as personal information. Most sites allow you to keep this information “private” for only those who have your permission to view it. These people are known as your “friends.”

Once designated a friend, these people stay up–to–date with anything you post on your “page.” If desired, you can expand your following to groups. A group can be set up by specific topics. You can share information with this connected network of individuals.

On Facebook, there are three types of pages that you can create:

  1. Profile page — This is for personal use.
  2. Group page — This is a way to have users on Facebook meet each other based on similar interests.
  3. Business page — These are the pages that need to be created in order to build a business. They are the pages you might already be familiar with because they ask for people to become “fans” of certain businesses, individuals, or products. Learn how to develop these pages since they are the best way to use Facebook for a dental practice.

There are no limits to the numbers of fans that you might have. This page is viewable to people who are not even on Facebook. And best of all, if fans are Facebook users, they will be notified of status updates via news feeds on their home pages. This can be a powerful and fast way to communicate with many people (your patients) at one time.

Now let's look at one of the other fast–growing sites: Twitter. On this site, you post short, 140–character or less entries. These entries (tweets) are viewed by your “followers.” It is recommended to tie these tweets to your Facebook page. Use Twitter when you want to make short announcements. This can be as simple as announcing an entry on a blog, or you can let everyone know about a course you will be attending.

How should you get started?

First, if you have not already done so, design and develop a Web site for your practice. Work with professionals and make it a well–designed and effective site. I have listed many companies that do this sort of work in past issues of Dental Economics®. A couple of new ones have recently popped up: officite.com and theonlinepractice.com.

After you are done with this step, set up Facebook and Twitter accounts for yourself and the practice. To get started, go to facebook.com and twitter.com. Be sure to post links to these accounts on your practice Web site. Be sure to tell everyone (patients and nonpatients) about your new Facebook page. Also, be sure to designate relatives, employees, other dentists, patients, and just about anyone you can think of as “friends.” Try to accumulate followers on Twitter.

Next, work on a blog. A blog is an interactive newsletter. You can easily make this part of your practice Web site. Post these blogs to sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Try to post regularly on your blog. It would be great to do this at least once a month. Make it educational if possible.

Feel free to share your feelings about just about anything in your blog. Be sure to post pictures if you have them. You will find that a blog has added benefits since it is indexed by search engines faster than your regular Web pages. So be sure to bring in good keywords and headings. Always make sure your Facebook and Twitter accounts are updated when you post to your blog. And when you get on Facebook and Twitter, don't forget to search for some of your favorite dental products and manufacturers.

Don't be afraid of social media and how to become involved with these sites. Take it slowly and start by studying this new phenomenon. It can seem intimidating, but you should work this area into your practice's marketing plans.

There are many people and groups who can help you explore this new world of social media. The Madow brothers are doing a great job of getting the word out. TNT Dental is another good resource. So is Jason Lipscomb and his dental social media site. You can always sit down with your children for some good one–on–one tutoring. It makes for some great parent–child bonding. There is nothing more exciting for your children than realizing that they can teach you something.

Jeffrey B. Dalin, DDS, FACD, FAGD, FICD, practices general dentistry in St. Louis. He is a cofounder of the Give Kids A Smile program. Contact Dr. Dalin at [email protected].

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