Social media: Bogeyman or best marketing tool ever?

June 1, 2011
Many dentists are terrified of social media because they feel that opening themselves up to social networking makes them vulnerable to a negative review at the hands of a disgruntled or unreasonable patient.

Kristie Nation

For more on this topic, go to www.dentaleconomics.com and search using the following key words: social media, positive visibility, online reputation, reviews, testimonial, Kristie Nation.

Many dentists are terrified of social media because they feel that opening themselves up to social networking makes them vulnerable to a negative review at the hands of a disgruntled or unreasonable patient. But by refusing to participate, they do not actually prevent any possibility of that happening and they deprive themselves of one of the most powerful and relevant tools in existence.

The key to prospering in today’s rapidly changing market is to harness the power of social media rather than being intimidated by it. If you participate, you can manage and control the available information. By doing so, you can increase your practice’s positive visibility in the community.

Here are six very good reasons why you should stop ignoring social media and instead make it your workhorse:

1. You exist in the same space as your patients.

2. You become more than a Web address.

3. You can connect with your patients directly using their preferred mode of communication.

4. You can create a community that supports you and encouragse others to trust you. This leads to prequalified new patients.

5. You can answer questions and address issues that arise. These issues, by the way, will exist and surface even if you are hiding your head in the sand.

6. You can manage your reputation.

That last point is perhaps the most important. Rare is the practice that has zero negative reviews. But if you position yourself correctly, you will be more than able to take control of the situation and minimize any potential damage. In fact, you just might be able to turn dross into gold!

There are four steps to take when it comes to managing your online reputation:

First, you have to expect that people will be talking about you (especially if you are marketing yourself properly), and that the talk simply cannot be positive all of the time. You cannot please every single person on any given day. People have been known to post bad reviews simply because they disliked the movie that was playing on the overhead television during their treatment.

Second, you need to learn from every bit of information that comes your way via social media — both the good and the bad. These are your patients, their families, and their friends. They are showing what they like and do not like about you. This is incredibly valuable data, and tells you when you hit the mark and in what areas you need to improve.

Third, you have to dilute any negative reviews by addressing them openly and (if you were the one in error) bending over backward to make things right. Follow up by encouraging your most loyal patients to recount their positive experiences. It is easy for a negative review to stand out from a handful. But the negative review is much more difficult to find when it is buried in a pile of glowing testimonials.

Fourth, actively promote positive things about your practice by using testimonials from patients, and solid statistics to boost your profile and prove you are the right choice for those seeking excellence in care. You should not ignore the negative, but do not spend so much time battling it that you do not have time to put your best foot forward. Remember, written testimonials are not the only avenue you have available. Use photos and video as much as possible. Potential patients respond well to seeing the smiles of your raving fans in relevant social media outlets.

Think about the way you select your service providers. What is important to you? Which factors mean the most to you? Then take these questions and apply them to your practice by looking at your industry the way your patients do.

When I research a hotel, I am much more likely to dismiss one bad review if it is surrounded by dozens of glowing ones. If most visitors claim their rooms were spacious and only one says it was cramped, I assume that the disgruntled guest mistook the Holiday Inn for the Hilton, was refused a free upgrade to a suite, and decided to take revenge.

Likewise, if 100 patients gush over your attention to detail and your staff’s politeness — and only one whines about a perceived slight — most readers will view you favorably.

So, how do you attract these glowing reviews and then get them in front of potential patients? Andy Sernovitz, author of “Word of Mouth Marketing,” has some great advice:

Step One: Ask. Patients may not automatically think to give you a review. But if asked, most are happy to comply. You could have a short form for them on your website, as well as a printed card that you can hand them at the end of their appointment. If you have managed to create a decent Facebook community, ask for recommendations there.

Step Two: Ask again. Make sure you have permission to share these reviews. This should be simple. Have a place for them to sign the card underneath the OK to use their testimonial in your future marketing material. You can also state that by submitting a testimonial electronically, they grant permission for the same. You do not want to get the best review ever and then be unable to publish it.

Step Three: Use what you have been given. Have a page on your website devoted to patient testimonials. Every time you get a particularly good testimonial, update the page. You can rotate one on your homepage. If your patient also lets you use a photo, even better.

Step Four: Go surfing. You might be surprised to see how many impromptu reviews there are of you and your practice on blogs, Twitter, and even forums. Anything posted publicly is usually fair game for reposting as long as it is credited. You can get some real gems from these unsolicited reviews. What a shame if these glowing reviews go unnoticed.

Handled properly, social media can be your friend. Take advantage of this, and make the most of every positive word patients have to say about you. You deserve it!

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 (888) 557-6443.

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