by Glenn Lombardi
Social media is bigger than ever, and the business world knows it. In 2012, 75% of Fortune 100 companies were on Facebook, and 87% were using at least some form of social media. With these companies getting more than 10 million social mentions every month, it's obvious that the strategy has proven successful. But social media is not reserved for titans of industry. Small businesses, especially dental practices, can and should use social media to promote growth. The question, of course, is how to do it.
Know the Platforms
Every social media service has a specific area of strength that you can use to your practice's advantage. Facebook, of course, is a must since it has more users and sees more activity than any other service. However, it's more a catch-all than a comprehensive strategy.
Getting the most out of your social media campaign means branching out into a variety of services to help meet your practice's specific goals. LinkedIn, for example, can build a business network and professional public image that Facebook never could. Twitter keeps you wired into conversations about your practice in real time, and offers opportunities for your content to be redistributed in a way Facebook does not. If you want to emphasize SEO, Google+ is the easiest way to rack up valuable +1s and push your website to the forefront of search engines. The bottom line is this: Facebook is a must, and the others should be used to put a finer focus on your marketing.
Content before Sales
Social media can provide a boost to your bottom line. But if you want to connect with your patients in an effective, meaningful way, it's content that is king. Sales pitches and health lectures, while easy to produce, tend to go against the original spirit of social media, which is not to sell, but to connect. Content too heavy in sales can discourage people from continuing to follow you, so instead, you want to use the 3 E's to your advantage -- Educate, Entertain, and Engage.
Your content should strive to fulfill all of these requirements. That's a tall order, so more often than not, the best option for a busy dentist is subscribing to an expert content service that will provide you with professionally produced materials relevant to your field.
Dear Doctor, for instance, offers a celebrity blogging service that is one of the most engaging options available. After all, no matter how eloquent you are, learning about how Vanna White keeps her teeth worthy of her name is more interesting than a generic lecture on the importance of dental hygiene. Content like this promotes a higher level of patient engagement, and the more invested in your Web presence your patients are, the more attention they will devote to your practice. Regardless of how you choose to go about it, a blog should be high on your list of priorities.
Note the difference between "consistently" and "incessantly." Your content does not have to be overwhelming, and in fact, it should not be. That said, patients should be able to rely on fresh content from your social media platform at regular intervals. Not only does this live up to consumer expectations; the organization makes your Web presence appear more uniform, authoritative, and professional.
This is simultaneously the most intuitive and the trickiest skill in using social media effectively. Social media is a two-way street; just as you hope your patients will interact with you, they will expect you to do the same. This is particularly true when someone takes time out of his or her day to discuss your practice online. Whether the reviews are positive or negative, respond with thankfulness for their initiative, and whatever you do, do not lash out in self-defense. An appropriate, friendly response lets your followers see that you are doing your best to make sure all your patients have a satisfactory experience.
And the Most Important Lesson of All…
Your eggs should never be confined to one basket. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a full platform of online efforts to harness the power of social media. Study up, pinpoint your needs, and do not be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
Glenn Lombardi is president of Officite, a provider of dental websites and Internet marketing strategies, including social media, search marketing, reputation management, and mobile websites. Officite has built thousands of websites that have generated more than a half million new patient appointment requests since 2002. For more information, visit www.officite.com or call (800) 908-2483.
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