For Immediate Release
Date: Apr 24th, 2014
Contact: Glenn Lombardi, President, Officite
The Dentists Guide to Social Media Marketing
You hear about it in the news, on the internet, and on every marketing blog you can find. Social media is a huge part of online practice marketing. But when the term “social media” describes so many services, it can be difficult to unpack exactly what to do with all the information available. Running a social media campaign may seem like a difficult prospect, but you don’t need to be an expert to get your practice set up with the basics. In this article, we tackle the fundamentals of social media. By the time we’re finished, you’ll have enough information to build a solid foundation for your practice’s campaign.
What is Social Media?
Let’s start with the big question. Social media doesn’t refer to any one service or website. Instead, it’s a blanket term that refers to an ever-growing number of ways people communicate online. The first examples that spring to mind often include Facebook and Twitter. But Tweets and status updates are only part of the picture; other services are often forgotten. The broad umbrella of the term can include sites like YouTube, LinkedIn, blogging platforms, and even Wikipedia. From a conceptual viewpoint, social media is any virtual space in which users voluntarily form communities and build networks.
It may seem like a purely 21st century discipline, and in part, it is. But even though many of the challenges presented by social media are unfamiliar, the principles at its core aren’t anything new. Overall, social media is simply a newer, slightly more complex spin on the way your practice has always communicated with its patients. Through social media, you have an enhanced ability to interact directly with your patients at any time. The main difference is that the lines of communication are open to public viewing, and so every interaction turns into a branding opportunity.
How Can it Help my Practice?
Social media allows your practice to put forward a public face, to build a strong brand, to increase referrals, to engage consistently with your patients, and to improve their satisfaction. It’s an incredibly versatile tool, and it’s the first step in monitoring and influencing your online reputation, which is more important than ever before. The world has gone digital. In 2013, a Pew Research study showed that 85% of American adults use the internet regularly. Since the internet is one of the first resources people consult when looking for dental care, your name will appear during their online research. However, surprisingly often, the first result will not be your own website. That honor may go to online reviews and social media conversations.
Regardless of your knowledge or involvement, it is extremely likely that patients are using social media to discuss your practice. If a potential patient discovers these online conversations before seeing content your practice produced, their first impression of your practice will be outside your control. Setting up a social media presence allows you to monitor and participate in these discussions, and that means you gain a greater stake in how people perceive you online.
But the biggest benefit of social media is its strength as a referral network. Everyone in your social media network has a network all their own. And when your patients interact with you, that conversation can appear on each of their friends’ news feeds. If the content is good enough, it begins to spread across networks to people you never would have been able to reach through traditional marketing methods. The effect can potentially be exponential. In that way of thinking, social media is sort of like 2014’s version of word-of-mouth advertising. When used correctly, it bolsters your online presence, improves your search engine ranking, provides a constant point of contact, and brings new patients to your door.
How Do I Start?
As the old saying goes, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. And even though using social media in your personal life may come easily, even naturally, it demands more tact when used as a practice marketing tool. A successful social media campaign will require strategy, time, staff, and no small degree of expertise. If you want to get meaningful results, developing a strong plan is crucial. There are many areas to consider while forming your social media plan, but the 4 main areas should include your goals, your tools, your identity, and your resources.
Knowing Your Goals
Goal setting is one of the most important elements of social media success. Without a clearly guided set of expectations, it becomes very easy to let a social media campaign lose steam and fall apart. Some of the most basic social media goals will include:
- Raising brand awareness
- Increasing website traffic
- Getting new patients
- Building relationships with existing patients
These ideas are at the very heart of what social media is meant to do. But despite how valuable they are, they need a little more brainpower behind them. In a word, they need to be SMART.
SMART goals are:
Examples of SMART social media goals:
Increase organic Likes by 5% per month.
Respond to questions and settle complaints within 24 hours.
Increase engagement by 15%.
Examples of weak social media goals:
This goal is not specific, realistic, or timed. And while it is marginally measurable (there is no concrete standard for whether or not something can be considered “viral”), it’s also borderline unachievable.
This goal is neither specific nor timed.
Increase website traffic tenfold
This goal is not realistic, especially without a timeframe.
Know your Tools
Before you dive in, it’s important to have an understanding of what you’re getting into. Not all platforms are created equal, and they are certainly not interchangeable. Each has a unique user base, and that means unique strengths and weaknesses. They all have a small set of specific areas where they excel. More often than not, the key to a successful social media campaign is not to take the shotgun approach, throwing content at as many targets as possible. A lot of the trick lies in your ability to choose the right tool for the job. With that in mind, let’s break down several of the major social media platforms:
To socialize online and to share relevant information and media.
- Used by 67% of internet users,
- 63% of online males, 70% of online women.
- Is especially popular with women, adults 18-29+
- Used by 86% of people 18-29.
- 50% of users log in every day.
- Is female, college-educated, 41 years old.
- Has 130 friends
spends 55 minutes a day on the site
- clicks “like” 9 times a month
- writes 25 comments a month
- becomes a fan of 2 pages a month
Benefit: Facebook is the biggest and most widely used social network, and is likely to hold the biggest opportunities for your practice.
Guidelines: Post twice a week, minimum. Try not to post more than twice per day.
Primary Use: Sharing news and links as immediately and succinctly as possible.
- Used by 18% of online adults
17% of online men, 18% of online women
- Used by 29% of all online African Americans
- 31% of the 18-29 bracket
- 232 million active monthly users
- 500 million tweets per day
- Average user has 208 followers, spends 170 minutes per month
Benefit: Fantastic way to share information quickly, especially if it’s time-sensitive. Can also be used as a real-time way to provide customer service.
Guidelines: Try to post once per day.
Primary Use: A platform for sharing original content, especially articles and pictures, on a variety of subjects.
Audience: Varies depending on the service and the main subject of the blog.
Benefit: Consistently engages audience with content you control. Helps improve search engine ranking.
Guidelines: Try to post a short article at least once per week.
Pinterest: Image-centric content site beginning to grow in popularity. Especially popular with women, who are five times more likely to use it than men.
YouTube: The Web’s most popular video sharing service. An exceptionally good choice if you or any of your staff have a flair for visual production.
Google+: Google’s rapidly growing social network. 69% of users are male. Though engagement is typically low, a Google+ page receives preferential treatment in Google search results.
LinkedIn: The professional’s networking site. This is used to communicate with members of your professional network, generally not with your patients.
Know your identity.
Image is a powerful thing, and it’s not just for rock stars. An effective social media presence begins and ends with the way you portray yourself online. Everything you post serves as a representation for your brand. That might seem like a daunting idea, but when done correctly, it can be empowering. Social media allows you to position your practice in the marketplace effectively, and to strengthen the roots you have already put down. When you know your practice’s identity, every social media tool you use becomes more powerful. So, when beginning a social media campaign, be sure your actions are informed by:
Catering to common themes in your patient base is probably the strongest way to build a valuable social media platform. If your content caters to your largest demographics, it builds loyalty, increases engagement, and is more likely to earn you referrals from pleased patients. Ask yourself – do the majority of my patients fit into a particular age group? A particular income bracket? Are they mostly female? Mostly parents? If you have definitive answers to questions like these, you have a foundation to build upon.
For example, if a significant portion of your patients are female, it may be a wise decision to start and maintain a Pinterest page. That decision becomes even better if they are between the ages of 25 to 34, affluent, and have children.
Similarly, if your patients are mostly male, or if you practice in an area where a high number of people are employed in a technology field, it’s worthwhile to get rolling with Google+.
In the same vein, Twitter is an especially strong candidate if you practice in an urban area and a high percentage of your patients are African American. That segment of the population is almost twice as likely to engage with brands via Twitter.
In any case, the bottom line is that you need to build your social media presence within the services your patients are most likely to use. That means every practice should be using Facebook. Don’t worry about branching out into other services until Facebook is up and running. After that, use your knowledge of your patient base to determine which services will provide the best fit.
Cater to Your Strengths
Every practice has something unique that sets them apart from their competitors. When you build your social media presence in a way that caters to the things that are special about your practice, you boost the strength of your brand and simultaneously make your content more engaging. Think especially hard about two main things: your specialties, and the things you can offer that nobody else can.
For example, if you have state-of-the-art equipment, flaunt it. Even if the majority of your patients can’t identify the machines, a short explanation alongside a picture will portray your practice as cutting-edge.
If you offer highly specialized services, make sure your fans know that your practice is one of very few places where such advanced care is available. This establishes credibility and prestige.
If your practice strives to be a family-friendly environment, then let it show in your content. Include blog posts featuring quick tips for helping kids feel comfortable during their visit. Share articles that focus on child health. Include pictures of your family-friendly facilities.
Be a Person, not a Brand.
Surprisingly, one of the most frequently neglected social media resources is something that should be effortless - your personality. After all, social media was designed to help people connect, to share ideas, and to socialize. So, even though its marketing potential is vast, the most success will come when your patients believe your content is genuine – that it goes beyond a sales pitch.
Don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through. Say, for example, you like your local baseball team, and it’s opening day. It’s perfectly acceptable to write a post like “Who thinks the Orioles have a shot this year?” Questions invite people to participate in a discussion, and people love sharing their opinions. Social media allows you to leverage that desire and turn it into familiarity with your practice. Be sure, however, to stay with safe topics. Divisive issues like politics and religion should be avoided.
Know your resources.
Budgeting is a crucial part of social media marketing. Most of the time, money will not be the primary resource concern. In fact, the vast majority of social media services are free to join. However, social media will demand a fair amount of your staff’s time. Before beginning, commit to training your staff and setting reasonable expectations. Remember, you will need to allow time to:
- Regularly post strong content
- Update on a consistent basis
- Respond to posts directed at you
It is also possible to pay to promote posts, granting them wider exposure. The prices vary according to how extensively your message will be distributed. Generally speaking, you have a greater chance of success if you collaborate with an expert to determine what paid solutions are right for your practice. During the start-up phases, stick with content you can produce yourself, free of charge.
Perhaps the most difficult component of social media marketing is that it demands continuous attention. Once your practice has navigated through the starting process, it can be easy to lose momentum, especially if results are slow to trickle in. But the key is persistence. As you remained dedicated to social media maintenance, here are a few quick tips to keep in mind:
Use Facebook. Facebook leads the social media pack by miles. Much more than half of your patients will already be there, and that makes Facebook the strongest choice, by far, when considering where to start. It should also demand the majority of your maintenance attention, simply because it will gain the most exposure. It’s fine to devote just as much time to other platforms, but make sure Facebook stays afloat. Doing otherwise may be penny-wise, but pound-foolish.
Provide valuable content. How do you know if your social media content is any good? Remember the 3 E’s of content: Engaging, Entertaining, and Educational. The best content is all of these things at once. The more of these requirements your content fulfills, the better the response is likely to be. If it fulfills none of them, you may want to reconsider posting it.
Provide special offers. Rewarding your patients for following you on Facebook is an especially tangible way to provide them with value. Though this best when done in moderation, everyone loves being rewarded. Happy patients are patients that are more likely to give you referrals. So if you have the occasional special offer, feel free to post about it, especially on Twitter.
Use pictures. Posts with pictures almost universally perform better than posts that are only based on words. The difference can be as big as 40%, so whenever possible, include photos with your posts. It’s more likely to catch the eye and to draw interaction.
It helps to work hard, too. But your efforts will see a huge boost if you use the tools available to make sure that the time you spend goes the greatest distance. Facebook analytics are a great way to do this. Their Page Insights section lets you see page likes, post reach, engagement, organic/paid reach per post, post clicks, post likes, comments, and shares, all in one place. Figure out when your audience is online. Figure out what kind of content they enjoy the most. It’s all doable through these built in features, and can make a world of difference.
Over-sell: It can be easy, and even tempting, to let your page become cluttered with sales pitches and health lectures. A certain measure of that is fine – even expected, but if your social media turns into your practice’s personal advertising channel, your patients will be turned off. Don’t just sell – engage. Remember the 3 E’s, and provide a healthy amount of content that caters to them.
Try to fight every battle: Getting started in social media is exciting, and it can be easy to get carried away. Despite your enthusiasm, beware of signing up for too many platforms and spreading yourself too thin. It’s wiser to focus your limited time in one area, and to excel in it. Add services one by one, and don’t feel compelled to utilize every outlet under the sun.
Post copyrighted material: Copyright laws still apply to social media, and the last thing you need is to go through the hassle that can come after posting material to which you don’t possess the rights. Share away – just be sure that whatever you are sharing isn’t copyrighted.
Disclose private information without consent: When it comes to social media, HIPAA is a good thing to keep in mind. Unless you have a patient’s express permission, do not mention them by name in your posts, even if what you have to say is flattering. It’s better to be safe than sorry. If you would like to share a story about a patient, ask them first. If they agree, it can become an opportunity to tap into their friend network. But remember: consent is the name of the game.
Social media will be remembered as one of the defining features of our time. That might sound tacky, but for better or worse, it’s true. Never before have people been so easily and so constantly connected; the way we interact has been fundamentally altered. Tapping into the sensation can be an immensely powerful practice marketing tool. But if there’s one thing to remember before starting, it’s this: you get what you give. When all is said and done, you’ll never get more out of social media than what you put into it. It can be fun, and it is definitely a lot of work. Don’t get discouraged. And if you need help, call a professional team like the experts at Officite.
About the Author: Glenn Lombardi is president of Officite, Official Web Service Provider of the Kentucky Dental Association and the leading experts in Web Presence Marketing for the dental industry. Specializing in strategies that reach beyond the website, Officite’s complete online marketing platform includes social media; search engine optimization (SEO); reputation management; mobile websites; and much more. Officite has built thousands of websites for dental professionals all over the world, securing more than 700,000 new appointment requests. For more information, visit www.officite.com or call (866) 291-4434.