Let’s see a show of hands out there. How many of you have dentists who have content rich websites and are active on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest? That’s what I thought. Not too many of you. Well, as a dentist, I am on a mission to change that.
Dentists and Marketing
Marketing has not been an easy journey for the healthcare industry. For a very long time, professionals in healthcare were discouraged, if not reprimanded, for advertising. About all you could do to “market” yourself was to have your name appear in the local phone book. The early adopters in attempting healthcare marketing were not well received and were, in fact, lambasted for their efforts.
“Classless” and “cheap” were words used to describe healthcare professionals’ small attempts at marketing and advertising. Slowly, very slowly, this limiting attitude has changed. The healthcare industry has finally, if not reluctantly, taken the full plunge into the ocean of marketing and social media.
As with most things in life, there is a modulating process that needs to accompany change. Before that modulation occurs, typically you are going to see extremes. In healthcare, the extremes have been pretty obvious. There are the pharmaceutical, hospital, weight loss and dental implant companies that barrage us with promises of the best, the only, and the right options for our healthcare needs on radio and TV. On the other end of the spectrum, you have the general dental practice that sits quietly on Main Street USA hoping that “word of mouth” will continue to bring in new patients. While, just down the street, new dental offices are popping up every day providing more and more options for these same new patients.
As “experts” in our respective fields, no matter what our business, the reality is that as a rule, every day when we go to work, we do basically the same thing as our competitors. So, in the field of dentistry specifically, most of my colleagues that are vying for the same patients that I am vying for do the same kinds of fillings, cleanings, x-rays, crowns and bridges. Some of us offer slightly different options but, for the most part, our days are very similar.
So then, how can we make ourselves appear “different” to potential patients? What can we do to increase the traffic through our door instead of letting the dentist just down the street get the new patient? That is the age old question!
Think outside of the box. We already know what we’ve been trained to do as “experts” in our field. And we should always strive to do it better! But we can’t just rest on our laurels anymore. There are far too many other businesses like yours and mine out there and potential customers/clients/patients are getting more and more digitally-savvy all of the time. They are doing their homework and basing the decisions they make on their research. And to make ourselves show up in an enticing way, we need to think outside of the box. And one of those ways is social media.
Let’s Get Personal: My Story
Let me tell you how social media changed the culture of my dental practice. I’ve been a dentist for over 22 years and have owned my own practice for 16 of those years. I, like many of my colleagues (and other small businesses), tried many of the traditional forms of marketing including, but certainly not limited to the Yellow Pages, Dex Knows, church bulletin ads, local newspaper coupons and participation in local school events. In the early days, the only way of tracking my analytics was by keeping track of my results with a notebook and pen. And one by one, I eliminated ineffective and sometimes costly marketing efforts that had little to no ROI (return on investment).
I was conflicted because I still felt that there was value in the tried and true “word of mouth” method of growing a practice. But I knew that with new competition popping up at every corner, I was going to die as a business if I didn’t figure out how to create growth effectively and inexpensively. And then, one day, one of my awesome patients came up with the answer. The conversation began innocently enough. I was complimenting her on her oh-so-funny blog and asking her how she was able to promote her blog so successfully. She looked me straight in the eye and said “You can do it too. Just create a blog for your website and get a Twitter account and tweet about your practice”.
There is Value in Being Impetuous and Impressionable
That very day, I solicited the help of Heather Acton, freelance WordPress developer extraordinaire and I started designing a new WordPress website that would allow me to blog directly from my business website. I also set up a Twitter account and created a Facebook page. I worked diligently on increasing my presence on social media. I played with many ideas and tossed out the ones that didn’t work and kept the ones that did. I began doing videos that were posted to both YouTube and my website that dealt with dental health issues. I started a regular feature called Ask the Dentist in which someone emails me a dental health related question that I post and answer on my website.
I began to post articles to local newspapers to increase awareness of my office’s presence. I attended functions, some with the clever name of “Tweet Ups,” in and around the city of Chicago so that the many people that I was communicating with in social media I could meet face to face IRL (in real life)!
The result was a measurable increase in my “new patient” numbers as a result of my presence on social media.
To be clear, I made many mistakes along the way and even allowed myself to get slightly addicted to social media. But, the lessons that I gleaned as I muddled through the myriad of information I was reading and experimenting with, grew my desire to share a best practices sort of approach with dentists wanting to use social media. The result was my site, Social Media DDS, which allows me to consult with and coach dental professionals in the art of social media strategy.
What I Have Learned
- Have an interactive website. By interactive, I mean, make sure that your site is content rich and content fresh. Create a space on your website modeled after traditional “blogs” from which you can provide information to your readers and they can communicate with you. Have a fully functional and user-friendly commenting platform integrated into your website and “blog” such as Livefyre that allows conversation-like communication to occur, encouraging readers to participate in dialogue with you and the community.
- Be regular and predictable in your posts. As Marcus Sheridan, the awesome author of The Sales Lion, says in this video interview, blog with regularity. Let your audience know that you will be there for them. Listen to their needs and then…engage, engage, engage. Social media is, after all, social. Once you have established a solid “home base” with your website presence, consider expanding your social media presence on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and, yes, even Pinterest.
Don’t Have Time?
I happen to LOVE working the social media and marketing angle for my dental practice. But I understand and appreciate that not all owners of a business can find the time to put into growing their social media presence. One of my favorite go-to people in the dental, social media marketing world is Rita Zamora of Social Media & Relationship Marketing. She suggests finding a “champion” for your social media presence (regardless of the type of business you run).
Look to your staff and decide who would be a perfect fit for championing your business. Let them represent the business. Teach them how to be the “voice” of your company. Delegate wisely. And, always keep your “voice” consistent and authentic. Never succumb to the temptation of letting a third party company be your “voice.” Always understand that your “voice” is what makes digital “word of mouth” marketing work.
Wrapping It Up
I am passionate about the potential of social media as a powerful tool in a business’ marketing strategy. I am also passionate about my business. It seems pretty intuitive then that, when I combine the powerful forces of my business with social media, awesome goodness is going to be the result.
I can’t imagine a new business in any industry not wanting to make sure that their internet presence is felt and that the business consistently nurtures its online presence. There are countless examples of success using the power of social media to build a business. I love to tell people that if I, as an owner of a dental practice, can grow my business utilizing the power of social media, then anyone can grow a business using social media!
How have you used social media to grow your online presence? Has it worked? Do you have any tips that might help others as they take their first steps into social media?