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Social Media for Dentists

Issue: Fall 2010

The world of Dentistry has definitely changed over the past several years. It is no longer a business where you can put up a sign and expect to have hundreds of patients knocking down your door. Dentists have embraced marketing and now employ several different methods to drive traffic. Nowhere has this been more noticeable than on the Internet. Dental Web sites are now a universal tool, and offer everything from computer graphics to appointments. They may range from the simple to the complex, but the common consensus is that everyone should have one.

The Web is constantly evolving. More and more of the content is being created by ordinary users like you and me. The Web is no longer an environment of static Web sites, it is a thriving community that allows for immediate communication and information sharing. People don’t just visit Web sites anymore, they live on them. We are in the world of Web 2.0 and Social Media. These are terms that are tossed around quite a bit, but many don’t really know what they mean. Web 2.0 and Social Media is the next step in the evolution of the Web. They give the user the opportunity to take control of their own Web destiny and can create a Web environment that is specific to them.

This type of environment makes it much more conducive to share information and to connect with other people around the world. It also marks a new era of dental marketing, the era of Social Media for dentists. Many dentists are embracing Social Media, by creating pages on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and LinkedIn. These platforms allow dentists to step out of the static framework and become more engaging. Dentists can easily share their knowledge and become a real person, not just a name and a logo. Still others don’t see a need to try this alternative marketing. The problem is, this alternative marketing is becoming the new main stream.

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Let’s look at the statistics of one of the major Social Media outlets, Facebook. Facebook is the biggest social utility Web site out there. It has over 400 million users. It comes in a close second to Google as the most visited Web site in the world, and it has actually beaten Google on several occasions. Almost 60% of the American population has a Facebook account. That in itself is amazing. Try to get 60% of Americans to the polls on election day! The average user has over 130 friends on Facebook, and spends almost 55 minutes each day on the site. No other Web site can match this. Google may have more traffic, but no one spends almost an hour on Google. A majority of these active users believe that every business should have a presence on the site.

What do all of these statistics mean? It means that people are living their lives on Facebook. They are connecting with friends, shopping, and getting their news from one place. It also presents a wonderful opportunity for dentists to connect with over 60% of the population. These are not all teenagers either. One of the fastest growing Facebook demographic is users aged 55–65. Social media viewership is a true phenomenon that encompasses people of all ages, races, and creeds. This type of thing doesn’t happen very often.

Business’ have also jumped on the Social Media bandwagon. The static Web site has become so ingrained in our consciousness, that many major businesses don’t advertise them anymore. What you will see is FORTUNE 500 companies saying, “Find us on Facebook” or “Follow us on Twitter.” Before long the Facebook page or Twitter account will be the standard.

What are the benefits of using Social Media for dentists? The most obvious reason is the sheer number of people using these platforms. Conventional media like T.V., radio, and print is a crap shoot. There are too many alternatives out there for people to view. More people get their news from the Internet than newspapers. Tivo and other video on demand options have lessened the power of commercials. Many people are watching TV shows on the Internet. Satellite and Internet radio is crippling the radio broadcasting industry. More than half of the population still returns to Facebook each day for almost an hour. Most dentists would love to reach 60% of the population in their area.

Many dentists are embracing Social Media, by creating pages on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and LinkedIn. These platforms allow dentists to step out of the static framework and become more engaging.

The financials of Facebook marketing are also strong. Operating a Facebook fan page or a Twitter account is complimentary, so the R.O.I. of Social Media can be very high. Facebook does offer some pay per click advertisement much like Google. Where else can you find an effective complimentary way to advertise your office.

The great thing about social media is that word of mouth advertising is built right in. It is extremely simple to share content with another user on Facebook or Twitter with the click of a button. That is why many pundits say it is word of mouth on steroids. Information can travel very fast on these sites and can easily go viral. Take for instance the aforementioned factoid that most Facebook users have 130 friends. If a Facebook user posts a comment or picture, it will be seen by 130 people, then to almost 17,000 viewers (130 x130) , and so on. Within minutes content can be seen by thousands of people. All with the click of a button. When people ask me why I would encourage social media use instead of a phone book ad, I usually reply “The phonebook doesn’t have a share button.”

One of the strongest reasons a dentist should use Social Media is because of fear. Thousands of patients cancel their appointments each year because of fear. Many others don’t make an appointment because of fear of the unknown. They don’t have a dentist and they are afraid to start with a new doctor they don’t know. Social Media allows dentists to build an online personality and reduce fear. They can express themselves and not only prove their knowledge, but show their human side. Social media is about building relationships online, and building these virtual relationships will help build your practice. Social media also gives dentists the power to become the local expert. Patients and potential patients often have many questions or concerns. They often are afraid or embarrassed to ask them. Using social media gives them a feeling of anonymity, and allows them to ask questions more freely. Dentists can then answer these questions and it gives them an air of professionalism and compassion. It also cements their status as an important figure in the community, virtual or real.

Although these Social Media Web sites may seem like they are all fun and games to an outsider. They contain a lot of powerful marketing information. Facebook and other Social Media outlets collect great amounts of demographic information from their willing participants. Users freely hand over their address, phone number, birthday, etc. This is a shrewd move on their part, because if any other Web site, even Google, were to ask for this information red flags would be waved. Social Media-users tend to acquiesce and give out a lot of information. Much of this information can be used to target audiences for Social Media marketing, and really let you hone in on a specific demographic. Targeted marketing in any campaign will make marketing efforts more effective and drive traffic.

How then should the average dentist get started with social media? There are many social media platforms to explore, and it can be quite daunting for the newbie. It is best to pick one type of Social Media at first. Some dentists jump into several different platforms at once, and it is very easy to become burned out or watered down. Be diligent and do your research. Start an account on one platform and play around with it. Learn the “language” of the Web site. Each type of Social Media has its own set of rules and etiquette, and it is best to learn this well before diving in.

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Time management is a very big part of Social Media for dentists. They must figure out how much time can be spent on a campaign, and how many new patients it will take to validate the usage. Too much or too little time can kill a Social Media campaign. Creating a weekly calendar of goals and procedures will be a big help for most dental offices. Learning how to get a campaign going and maintained without taking up too much time is one of the biggest hindrances for dentists. A successful Social Media campaign can be managed in just minutes minutes or even a day if the correct parameters are put in place. Many dentists believe that they have to constantly contribute creative content to be successful. Contributing content can be as simple as uploading a picture with a short description or as complex as a two- page blog post. As long as you keep your audience engaged with something, however simple, you are making an impact. Many dental offices find it helpful to incorporate their staff or spouses into their Social Media campaign.

Privacy is also a major concern with dentists using Social Media. We as dentists often treasure our privacy and time away from the office, and many see Social Media as a threat to privacy. Don’t let privacy be a deterrent. It is only a speed bump. Many successful Social Media campaigns have been successful without giving up privacy. The one thing to remember about Social Media is, you get out what you put in. Much of the personal information they request is not necessary. It is helpful but not necessary. You can operate a Facebook account on a name only. No picture. No birthday. No credit card number. You may also have a profile for your business, and have no personal information available at all. Google already knows more about you than will ever be found on Social Media. Phishing and other security concerns are still a very real threat on Social Media, but they are no more of a concern than they are on E-mail accounts. A certain level of common sense must be maintained. Don’t fall for the prince from Nigeria who needs $10,000 to get 1 million, no matter how they contact you.

This is the future of the Web, like it or not. Years ago just having a Web site was a major accomplishment, now it is a necessity. Soon a Facebook or YouTube account will turn from a novelty to a necessity. Dentists need to be there with an established following. And why not? We spend hours and hours on patient education to keep them informed, and explain our methods. Their level of understanding makes our job easier and also helps with case acceptance. Social Media marks the first time in history that we can connect with the public, educate them, and have them share their experience in one package. Truly Amazing.

Dr. Jason Lipscomb is a general dentist who operates two practices in Virginia. He specializes in helping dentists expand their practices through the use of social media. Jason and his partner Stephen Knight started Social Media for Dentists to help other dentists master social media and attract new patients. Jason and Stephen have also authored the book “Social Media for Dentists”. A 350 page guide to social media as seen from the dental perspective. Visit their website at http://www.socialmediadentist.com or http://facebook.com/socialmediadenist