Impact of Social Media on Dental Practices

A decade ago, the term “social media” was foreign to all of us. Now, it has become a part of everyday life in both personal and business life. Many dental practices have taken the leap to expand their marketing efforts into the social media arena. As the “newness” of this type of marketing begins to wane, one needs to examine the impact of social media on dental practices as well as the importance of participating in these efforts.

SOCIAL MEDIA IN DENTISTRY: JUST A FAD?
First, let’s define social media as it pertains to dentistry. These venues are any sort of electronic media in which a patient or potential patient can interact with you and your practice, including but not limited to blogs, Facebook, Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, text messaging, and e-mail marketing.

At first, many believed that social media was just a passing trend that would soon fade away. While much of the hype has calmed down, the social networks remain and grow in influence. From personal experience, I had a hunch that the baby boomers would become more active with technology and social media as I saw more of my own aunts and uncles requesting my friendship on Facebook. My next tip-off was the purchase of my first iPhone on eBay. This phone was in mint condition and was being sold by a young man whose grandma was an avid “texter” and had opted to upgrade to the iPhone 4. I feel confident this was true because the phone arrived, in mint condition, and smelled of grandma’s perfume.

Now for some more concrete research beyond my personal experiences. One of the best resources for keeping up with the social media world is the Web site mashable.com, the largest independent news source dedicated to covering digital culture, social media, and technology. If you aren’t already a Facebook fan, I would strongly suggest visiting this site. In their April article by Jamie Carracher, “How Baby Boomers are Embracing Social Media,” Mr. Carracher states that social network use among Internet users age 50 years and older has nearly doubled, to 42% during the past year. He also states that in the United States alone, there are nearly 16 million people age 55 years and older using Facebook.

You may wonder about the importance of the older social media user. Many of social media’s critics say it is only for the younger generation. I believe it is showing that it has staying power with older generations as well. What does this mean for your dental practice?

DEVELOPING A SOCIAL MEDIA STRATEGY
Here are 7 strategies to consider when developing or refining the social media plan for your practice.

1. To participate or not to participate? When I polled my nondental friends and colleagues, many said their dentists seemed a little behind the times with social media and Internet visibility. These individuals also stated that it seemed relevant to them because it made them question just how up-to-date the doctor was in other ways, such as his or her clinical skills. As a result, I would suggest that all clinicians choose to participate on some level. Not to participate would be similar to the way that having outdated practice decor raises concerns about how up-to-date the practice is. For some potential patients, this could even bring into question the quality level of the services being provided.

2. Where do you start? If you don’t already have a well-designed and up-to-date Web site, this would be the place to start. Next in order of importance would be a Facebook page. Facebook has more than 700 million users and is a wonderful venue for connecting with your patients, as well as advertising to your community. Be sure to set up a Facebook business page, versus using a personal Facebook page.

3. Establish accountability within your practice. Decide who on your team will have access to the page. You, as the practice owner, must be an administrator for the page. Too many practices have Facebook or other pages that have been set up by team members, yet the dentist has no access. If you aren’t sure how to do this, there are many providers in the Web and social media market who can set up and run your social media pages for you.

4. What are your goals? Be aware that participation in social media is becoming a must, not only in the dental profession, but for most any business. Set goals to connect with as many of your patients as possible. Have regular contests or drawings for members of your fan page, to encourage participation. If your state’s Dental Practice Act allows promotions, offer them for new patients on your fan page. Facebook also has a feature for paid ads, which function like Google Adwords. Facebook ads offer great customization for reaching your local demographics.

5. Take a look internally at the customer service you provide your patients. The social media networks have provided your patients with a platform to brag about their positive experiences, and to also warn their friends and connections about any negative experiences. In this age of transparency, what happens in your practice can be instantly broadcast to a patient’s network of friends. In the past, the saying was, “If customers have a great experience in a business, they will tell one or 2 people, yet if they have a bad experience, they will tell at least 20 to 25 people.” Now, with the click of a few keys, patients can post positive or negative comments on their social media pages and instantly reach their network of several hundred friends. While this can strike a bit of anxiety in most business owners, this is a call to action to improve customer service at every level in the practice.

6. Set a budget. Practice marketing is becoming more and more important for the success of dental practices. Most practices should spend between 3% and 5% of collections in order to be in the forefront in their community. This is especially important in areas where there is a low ratio of patients per dentist, as well as in practices that are limiting insurance plan participation. The great news is that Facebook and Twitter pages are free. Facebook ads can be set up as pay per click, so you can be in control of your monthly budget. Also, the world of Web development has become more user friendly and competitive. A simple yet effective Web site can be set up with a fairly small investment, and many have simple interfaces that allow the practice to make their own edits and updates.

7. Now for a little housekeeping. You must have a social media policy as well as cell phone policy in place in your practice. First, be sure to establish a code (or guidelines) for online conduct with your team. Everyone on the dental team must protect the integrity of the practice at all times. No negative posts should ever be made about the doctor, team, or patients—period. With regard to cell phone policy, there is no reason for any dentist or team member to have cell phones in the operatory or clipped to scrub pants. Nothing shouts poor customer service more than a patient witnessing a doctor or dental team member sending/receiving a text or phone call, or hearing that phone chime, ring, or buzz in their presence during appointment time that is supposed to be strictly devoted to them. Cell phones should be kept in a private place away from the patient treatment areas and should only be used at breaks or lunchtime. Family emergencies and other urgent personal calls should be directed through the office landline to the receptionist.

CLOSING COMMENTS
Social media has created many exciting avenues in better connecting practices with patients, to increase practice visibility, and to offer additional ways to market the practice to prospective patients. The question becomes, should you participate? In most cases the answer is yes! Being found online, as well as within networks like Facebook and Twitter, is more important than ever before. It is as important as having a visible and professionally done office sign and high-quality business cards.


Mrs. Limoli is a nationally renowned consultant and marketing expert. She began her dental consulting career in the early 1990s. Her company, the Reed Limoli Group, is a dental practice management and marketing firm servicing practices across the country. She offers customized solutions to assist doctors in setting, achieving, and maintaining their own unique goals. Her unique combination of management experience, dental practice consulting, and online marketing expertise provides strategies to help dentists effectively grow their practices. Mrs. Limoli is based in Memphis, Tenn. She can be reached at (888) 877-5648 or reedlimoli.com.

Disclosure: Mrs. Limoli reports no disclosures.