There’s no question that social media is a marketing force to be reckoned with. Used effectively, it can generate huge amounts of interest in your healthcare practice, leading to new patients and better retention. On the other hand, social media blunders can sour patients on your brand and seriously jeopardize your relationships.
So how does a savvy dentist reap the marketing rewards of social media while keeping risks to a minimum? Do you need to run ads? Hire an agency? Hire a full time social media manager? There’s no foolproof formula, but some simple rules will go a very long way. Here are 12 do's and don’ts of social media for your dental practice.
1. Don’t spread yourself too thin
When you first start firing up your social media profiles, it’s easy to bite off more than you can chew. Why stop with Facebook and Twitter, when there’s also Instagram and Snapchat? And LinkedIn and YouTube? And Flickr, Tumblr, Pinterest, Tik Tok, FourSquare...
The more of these networks you try to stay active on, the harder it will be to keep up with your patients and post original content. So resist the urge to stake a profile on every social media channel you can find. It’s much better to do a great job with one network than a mediocre job with 10 of them.
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2. Don’t let a profile get stagnant
Would you bother calling an attorney or mechanic whose Facebook profile hadn’t been updated since 2013? Probably not. In fact, you might assume they’d gone out of business or retired. If you let your social media profiles turn into ghost towns, potential patients will assume the same thing about you.
That doesn’t mean you have to react frantically to every piece of breaking news. Even on a very fast-paced network like Twitter, posting an update once or twice a week is good enough. If you find that you just can’t keep up, there’s no shame in retiring the channel. Either delete it completely, or leave a final post telling patients where they can find you. (“We’re not very active on Twitter these days, but click here to check us out on Instagram!”)
3. Do follow a plan
Social media can be fun. After all, it’s built to be addictive. But if you’re expecting real marketing returns from it, you have to approach it as a real marketing project. First, that means identifying your core goals (Are you trying to achieve a certain number of followers? Or generate new patients? Or create a certain level of new awareness?). It also means allocating budget and / or staff time to these goals, and tracking your progress as you go.
What are reasonable goals and a healthy budget? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. To do a little homework, you might want to chat with fellow dentists, ask around at professional conferences, or even hire a marketing consultant. But if you’re eager to get started, it’s fine to just experiment and revise your plan as you learn more (That’s exactly how a lot of professional marketing works!). Just make sure you have a rough idea of where you’re going and how you’ll get there.
4. Don’t try to bury problems
Social media is the go-to place for consumers to air their grievances, and patients are no exception. So don’t be shocked when you get your first barrage of angry tweets from an unhappy patient. These things happen - you just need a playbook.
First, don’t ignore negative feedback. Acknowledge the patient’s complaints as empathetically and professionally as you can (“We’re so sorry you didn’t have a good experience with our practice”). Second, try to take the conversation offline as quickly as possible. This is the simplest way to defuse a spiraling problem (“Can we give you a call to understand what went wrong?”).
You can’t prevent patients from making negative comments on your social media profiles. But you can show other patients that you take these issues seriously and do your best to make things right.
5. Do deliver something valuable
When businesses get active on social media, they tend to talk about themselves. But - surprise! - your patients might not be enthralled by the latest CDT 2018 revisions. So what are they interested in?
That’s exactly the question you have to answer. Tidbits of dental news might be intriguing. New treatment technology that you’re rolling out could catch their attention, too. And occasional promotions and discounts are also a great hook. Most likely, a mix of all of these things (and more) will best keep patient engaged.
The key is that you see things from the patient’s perspective. Deliver something valuable - even if it’s just a smile. Give them a reason to listen.
6. Don’t over-promote yourself
Social media is a place to engage with patients - not a place to advertise at them. And while it’s great to offer an occasional discount or exciting office update (see above), there’s no quicker way to alienate patients than to blast them with marketing material.
How much marketing is too much? There’s no hard-and-fast rule, but keep asking yourself: What story am I telling? What conversation am I starting? Who is this narrative about? If you can’t come up with good answers to these questions (or if the answers are “me, myself, and my practice”), then you’re probably doing too much self-promotion.
7. Do be consistent
Finding your practice’s “voice” on social media can take some time. But it’s very important that patients who interact with you always feel like they’re dealing with the same personality. That’s why you should put one person in charge your practice’s social media updates.
Having multiple people managing the same profile creates too much potential for ‘whiplash’, and basic misunderstandings. It’s also more efficient for one person on your team to build social media into their daily responsibilities.
Over time, as your voice becomes established, you can loop in other people and develop more sophisticated workflows. But initially, only one person should have the keys - and consistency should be one of their explicit goals.
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8. Don’t buy followers
And even if you get away with it, what you’re buying is nearly worthless. Fake followers don't actually engage with you - so even if you have a lot of them, your social media profiles will look unusually quiet and lonely.
But if you’re willing to pay for traction, almost every social media network lets you buy ads targeting potential followers. These are real followers and paying for their engagement is perfectly legitimate. Just make sure you're working with the network, rather than going behind its back.
9. Do bridge the online-offline gap
Want patients to engage with you online? Just ask! Let them know you’re active on social media by including a note on your business cards, putting a funny placard on the front desk, or adding an announcement to your outgoing phone message. This is truly a no-risk move. After all, patients might be pleasantly surprised, even if they don’t engage.
And of course, your social media activity should feed back into the real world. You can post pictures of your office, your patients and staff (with their permission, of course), and updates about your practice operations. The goal is to make it seamless for patients to move between online and offline aspects of your practice.
10. Don’t try to be something you’re not
Too often, healthcare providers think they need to manufacture an slick new identity for their social media profiles. But nothing rings more hollow than a business trying to hop on the latest trend or hijack a meme for their own self-promotion.
Assume your audience is savvy. Millennials, especially, tend to see right through marketing efforts. So don’t try to manipulate them into thinking you’re hip or edgy. It won’t work. They know you’re their dentist, and that’s OK! Don't worry about your image. Just focus on delivering something valuable (see above), and your image will take care of itself.
11. Do be sensitive to larger conversations
Every once in a while, a business fails so spectacularly in its social media efforts that it actually makes the news. The problem is almost always the same: They’re talking without listening.
If everyone online is upset about a natural disaster or a troubling political event, announcing your office’s new paint job can look utterly tone-deaf, or even callous. That doesn’t mean you have to weigh in on the latest news. It’s perfectly acceptable to stay silent, in most cases. But don’t ignore the larger conversation. Pay attention and speak when the time is right.
12. Don’t expect instant results
Far too many providers build out their social media profiles, fire off a flurry of content, don’t see the overnight reaction they were expecting, and abandon the whole project. This is a classic rookie mistake.
Social media is fast-paced, but marketing is a slow grind. It requires patience, tenacity, and reasonable expectations about the return on your investment. That’s why, as we mentioned above, it’s vital that you have a plan.
Before you get started, create an editorial calendar with your publishing schedule and the benchmarks you hope to hit. Stay active, post consistently, and don’t give up! Be prepared to invest at least 6 months in social media before you decide whether or not it’s an effective marketing tool for your practice.
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