Implementing a successful social media plan for your practice

Whether you have been avoiding a social media strategy since it became available or you are overwhelmed with your newly launched Facebook page, understanding the value of a sound social media marketing plan will help you cultivate relationships and connect with your Web-savvy patients.

Glenn Lombardi

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Whether you have been avoiding a social media strategy since it became available or you are overwhelmed with your newly launched Facebook page, understanding the value of a sound social media marketing plan will help you cultivate relationships and connect with your Web-savvy patients. The conversation about your practice is now happening online. Neglecting this growing phenomenon is not an option if you want to participate in meaningful conversation with existing and potential patients.

Social media is people having conversations online. These conversations can take a variety of forms, such as blogs, Facebook, and Twitter. The Internet has shifted from being a one-way resource for information to a platform of user-generated communication. This means patients are not only searching online for information about oral health; they are actively responding, engaging, and expecting interaction from Web users. Dentists can use social media sites to share real-time updates, provide useful health information, offer support, and facilitate meaningful conversation between patients.

Facebook. Blogs. Twitter. These social media sites have one thing in common: they connect people. What started as a great way to connect with friends and colleagues has quickly evolved to become a critical tool that businesses and health-care practices alike are embracing to educate, connect, and engage their existing and prospective patient bases. In fact, social media use surpasses email as the most popular Internet activity, according to a March 2009 Nielsen study.

Imagine this. A female patient comes to your office for a scheduled teeth whitening appointment. Following the procedure, she is so satisfied with the results that she takes a photo of her whitened teeth and shares it on her Facebook page along with the message, “Check out what Downers Grove Dental did for my smile!” In a matter of seconds, her entire network is notified of her status. This translates to widespread, exponential exposure for your practice.

Your approach to social media must integrate with existing communication channels and goals. Don’t treat your social network as a separate entity from other marketing initiatives. Your practice website should function as the portal that unites all your social media sites. Social media activity should lead prospects back to the more comprehensive and detailed information that resides on the website for additional resources and appointment requests. To maximize the value and effectiveness of your social network, it is important to:

Contribute and contribute often. Social media engagement is based on user-generated content and regular communication with audiences. Establishing schedules for publishing or producing content can help you stay consistent and diligent in your social networking efforts. Stale sites are ineffective and quickly disregarded by those in your network.

Have realistic expectations. While social networking certainly will not deliver an instant return on investment, with time it can build awareness for your practice and help promote services to existing and potential patients. Remember, social media is about sharing and engaging with patients, not aggressively selling to them.

Request an outside source’s expertise. Social media requires time and an active voice if you want to be effective. Dentists new to social media, or practices with tight schedules and limited resources, may require assistance to strategically plan, execute, and integrate an effective social media strategy.

The first step to launching a successful social media campaign is setting up your Facebook page. Assign this responsibility to a Web-savvy staff member, or request the assistance of your website provider for professional customization and integration of your Facebook profile.

Additionally, if you blog, make sure you add new and relevant content at least a few times a month. This will ensure your entire social network, including your Facebook page, is always up to date. Since every new post to your blog counts as fresh content, you also will be assisting in the optimization of your site for the search engines. This improves your ranking for increased online exposure.

Social media is not a fad. As more patients flock to the Web as a source of health information, social media is proving to be a great tool to help your practice reach untapped, potential patients and stay connected to current ones.

Effectively using social media to build your dental practice can be time consuming, but it is the wave of the future and a great way to engage your tech-savvy patients, referral sources, and prospects. When integrated with the website, your blog, Facebook, and Twitter pages can be great referral tools to help your practice reach untapped patients and stay connected to existing ones.

Glenn Lombardi is president of Officite, LLC, a provider of websites and Internet presence management strategies for the dental community. Officite has built more than 6,000 websites that have generated more than a quarter of a million appointment requests since 2002. For more, visit www.officite.com or call (800) 908-2483.

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