The benefits to your practice of having a social media presence depends on how well you use Facebook, Instagram and other digital marketing tools, writes Sue Nelson.
The common wisdom is that you can reach anybody, at any time, on social media. And if you can reach them, you can market your service to them. “Social media is highly measurable and responsive, which makes it a far more effective marketing tool than mail drops or traditional media,” says Engage Media’s chief content officer, Rob Johnson. “It’s a way to get the message out to a wide audience but also to connect with potential clients and build trust. You’ve got the market at your fingertips.”
Some dentists have been slow to adapt to this new landscape, sticking with the drop-in or over-the-phone model that has served them well for the life of their practice. Others are partially on board—hosting a Facebook page with a handful of ‘likes’.
Then there are the true believers. “Next year we are cancelling our directory listing and channelling the proceeds—around $3500 a year—into social media and Google advertising,” says Craig Moulton, who manages My Body Dental in Melbourne with his dentist wife, Annette. “That’s the future—our customers live in that world.”
Budget and strategy
The practices that really shine at social media marketing are those willing, like Moulton, to devote a budget and a strategy to social media, and who maintain a strong online presence over time. Despite the perceived immediacy of the medium, it can take time for results to start to filter through. “Plan to execute your social media plan over a year; you can’t expect to ‘set and forget’,” says Johnson. “Best practice is to track your progress each month over six months or so to monitor whether your strategy is working.”
The content you’re putting out there should both encourage interaction with the target audience, and establish your integrity and expertise as a dental professional. Consider the issues from a patient perspective—e.g. are they more likely to google ‘tooth pain’ or ‘crowns’?”
Johnson sees it as an opportunity to help patients to educate themselves. “A dentist can’t offer an impulse purchase,” he says. “The service they provide is a considered purchase, requiring research and the narrowing down of a field of options. If you give them decent information through their search channels, they have a better chance of getting an answer—and finding you.”
Subtlety online is vital. “Focus on the patient and the problems they are likely to want you to help solve—not on the product or service you’re trying to sell,” Johnson says. “If they trust you as a practitioner, they will approach you to help them with a solution.”
Your content should also help you to target your demographic and make it clear what kind of practice you run. Your demographic will, in turn, inform your choice of platform. Craig Moulton’s key demographic is families, in particular, mums between 25 and 50. According to Moulton, they are well-connected and social, acting as the gatekeepers to new patients from their communities.
Know your customer
For Moulton, the appeal of social media is the power of a scrolling list. “Social media is an expansion of word of mouth,” he says. “Look at online notice boards and you can see the power of your name coming up.
“You need to be proactive about boosting posts—paying for them to be pushed to a certain group or demographic.”—Rob Johnson, chief content officer, Engage Media
“It’s important to know the drivers of your market,” adds Moulton. “In my case it’s about having a tech-literate patient base and speaking their language. I would still advocate doing the local paper and sending letters if that is working for you. Know your customer. If you’re an older dentist who mainly sees patients over 60, why would you use social media? Your patients won’t be scrolling on their phones.”
Social media gives you granular data which, in turn, allows you to focus your activities. Sydney practice, The Dental Room, has a comprehensive approach to social media, and has data analytics down to a fine art. “We introduced our Facebook and Instagram channels in 2016,” says Dr Shawn Rama. “But it wasn’t until mid-2017 that we started to invest a lot more resources into making our social strategy effective. It is really important to understand your audience’s behaviours on each social channel to ensure you’re creating the most relevant content for them. We communicate daily with age segments across the social media channels.”
Dr Rama and his colleagues at The Dental Room have harnessed data that tells them that the largest proportion of their Facebook audience is young (18 to 24) and male, while their Instagram followers are older and female. This knowledge helps them refine their content for those platforms.
“We are active on both platforms,” he says. “Instagram is a modern-day digital magazine to showcase the amazing results we’re achieving for our clients.” The Dental Room also connects with social media influencers and celebrities on Instagram, who help boost its signal through their own accounts. “Facebook gives us a platform to share our educational blogs, business updates and lighthearted videos with our existing followers,” Dr Rama says.
Taking your business to a new level
So, does social media live up to its reputation for being cost-effective? “The cost benefits are definitely there but it’s a myth that it’s free,” says Rob Johnson. “You need to be proactive about boosting posts—paying for them to be pushed to a certain group or demographic.” You can also use advertising to encourage people to visit your page or drop a cookie on their computer so that they see your ads in their search returns.
“Agencies can assist you but be clear about what you want. No-one can guarantee you business but they can help you with algorithms and assumptions that will help you target your audience,” says Johnson.
“We often see healthcare practices dabbling in social media without a proper strategy,” says Dr Rama. “My advice is to either stay away from social media or, if you’re serious about taking your business to the next level, engage marketing experts to manage your strategy.”