Friday, December 02, 2011
You’ve probably heard the term “social media” in the buzz that is today’s 24/7 news cycle but, depending on your age and interests, you may not know as much about it as your children or even your staff. However, social media are no longer just a way for adolescents or college kids to keep up with each other. They have become a source of information, marketing and promotion that can profoundly affect the fortunes of any business, including your dental practice.
As defined in Wikipedia, social media refers to “…the use of web-based and mobile technologies to turn communication into an interactive dialogue.” In everyday reality, it refers to web sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Linkedin. These sites allow users of any age to communicate information, advice and recommendations about anything, dentistry included. The significance of this phenomenon in today’s society is reflected in the statistics. About one in every nine people on Earth is on Facebook ( This number is calculated by dividing the planets 6.94 billion people by Facebook’s 750 million users). Each Facebook user spends on average 15 hours and 33 minutes a month on the site. More than 2.5 million websites (many of them representing businesses, including dental practices like mine) have integrated with Facebook. YouTube has 490 million unique users who visit every month (as of February 2011). YouTube generates 92 billion page views per month. Users on YouTube spend a total of 2.9 billion hours per month. Wikipedia hosts 17 million articles authored by over 91,000 contributors.
What do these staggering statistics mean to your dental practice? They represent an opportunity for you as a dentist to promote your practice in a way that more and more Americans use as their means of choice for informing the decisions they make about a range of issues, including health care. What does this mean in practical terms? It means that your practice must be positioned to use this social media if you want to take advantage of the opportunity that it offers. You may be asking yourself at this point, “How do I do this?”
First of all, you must have the basics in place online for your practice. These include having a practice web site. Every dental practice should have a web site. If yours does not, you need to correct this situation immediately. If for no other reason, you need to have one to enhance the value of your practice for future sale, especially if that sale will represent a significant portion of your retirement nest egg. It is the case that lenders who specialize in dental practice transitions are also aware of the importance of this type marketing and are willing to make special arrangements to facilitate it. This is not the place to enumerate the benefits of a practice web site at length, but suffice it to say that your current and potential patients expect you to have one as the definitive source of information for your practice.
You also need to find and employ the services of a competent videographer to create videos of and for your practice. Again, this is not the forum to address the necessity of practice videos in depth, but I believe they are essential in introducing and humanizing you to those looking for a dentist. After seeing your practice videos on your web site, new patients will feel that they know you before they ever set foot in your office and this is an advantage that cannot be overestimated.
Once you have these basics in place, you are ready to effectively use social media. Let’s start with Facebook. That’s the name of a web site that connects people with friends and others who work, study and live around them. People use Facebook to keep in touch with friends, post photos, share links and exchange other information. You can set up a page on Facebook that will allow you to present your practice to its huge online community. Your practice’s Facebook page will allow you to share pertinent information with this community such as something as simple as your picture to before and after photos of your cosmetic cases all the way to the practice videos you’ve had made. You can post notifications of your community service here and general tips on oral health or the continuing education courses you’ve just attended. Promote your practice’s Facebook page to your existing patients so they will become its “friends” and when they “like” it on their Facebook pages, their friends who may not be patients of yours will be drawn to it and there through visit your practice web site. The effect is exponential.
Online services like Demandforce can enhance your Facebook presence. Demandforce is an automated marketing and communications service that helps you retain and engage your existing customers. It integrates directly into practice management systems such as Dentrix or Eaglesoft and turns your customer base into a powerful social network. The surveys and reviews gathered by the Demandforce system can be posted on your Facebook page as testimonials to the quality of your care. It also allows potential patients to confidentially request appointments at your office through Facebook. Every new post on your practice’s Facebook page is another communication that will run through this exponential network and get you noticed. This also raises your practice’s profile on the common search sites that consumers use to look for a dentist such as Google, Yahoo or Bing.
YouTube is a great place to post your videos as well. You can also place links on both your practice web site and its Facebook page going to YouTube videos on valuable oral health care subjects. Video online is fast becoming one of the most attractive, effective and searched for means of communication on the web. The major search engines I listed above all have categories specifically designed to look for videos online.
LinkedIn is a business-related social networking site. It is mainly used for professional networking. As of March 2011 (2011 -03-22), LinkedIn reports more than 120 million registered users. Linkedin is highly effective for finding resources that can help your practice. You can find all kinds of professionals there that could be valuable to your practice from practice management consultants to dental laboratory owners to speakers for your local study club and much more. Mentoring relationships can be established there or potential sponsorship for continuing education groups you are supporting may be found. You can even find a social media consultancy there like enVellop Communications, the one I use or my practice. The possibilities are endless.
Social media in all its forms is becoming integral to the fabric of everyday life. More and more Americans are using sites like Facebook as their prime source for information and avenue of communication. Harnessing the power of this medium can become a powerful tool with which to market your practice. Knowing how to do this is the key that will unlock its potential for you.