Clarify Your Online Marketing Objectives Before Seeking Social Media Status
Nobody could have imagined just a few years ago that two simple words and a few innovative platforms would ignite a new media firestorm. Today, television networks, hot dog stands, and just about everything in between can be found and followed in the social media landscape. That following, of course, is in an effort to generate new customers, build loyalty, and, ultimately, impact the bottom line.
Yet in this new world of tweets and hashtags, fans, friends, and likes, social media has created an entirely new way to communicate that many people do not fully understand or, at best, are learning as they go. Social media is fast moving and ever growing, and to many it is completely overwhelming. But it doesn’t need to be.
To borrow from the social media lexicon, follow me through this brief article on some basics about social media, some considerations before getting started, and how dental practices can better leverage their existing online assets before investing in these new applications.
More Small Businesses Embracing Social Media
According to the Small Business Success Index™ (SBSI) sponsored by Network Solutions® and the Center for Excellence in Service at the University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business,1 one out of five small business owners are actively using social media in their business. Further, the study finds that social media adoption by small businesses has doubled from 12% to 24% from 2009 to 2010, with businesses increasingly investing in social media applications including blogs, Facebook, and LinkedIn profiles.
The question is whether or not this is a strategic move for small business. The numbers may be impressive, but they don’t tell us anything about the businesses using social media. Further, they may be feeding the misconception that to be relevant you must participate on these forums. While the coffee shop or bookstore may have legitimate reasons for wanting to leverage social media to gain customer loyalty by promoting special events or discounts to their patrons, how do social media initiatives benefit dental practices?
Be Prepared: Social Media Has its Costs
While it is easy to look at these applications and acknowledge that they are free to set up and use, there are a variety of costs associated with maintaining your social media presence.
Engaging in social media takes a significant investment of time on a daily basis to make it relevant to your target audience. The SBSI survey also revealed that 50% of small businesses using social media said that it took more time than anticipated. Dental practices need to take into account the person or people who will be responsible for updating, posting, tweeting, and responding to inquiries and whether or not this is the best use of their time and talent. To achieve this may mean that it takes away from other activities that are important to the practice.
Communicating a message that is consistent with the brand, tone, and personality of the practice is easier said than done. A misguided tendency is to delegate to the individual that has time, yet that individual may not be the best ambassador for your practice online. Outsourcing your social media may afford you an expert—at a cost, of course—but likely won’t have knowledge about your practice or the dental industry to be truly effective.
Reputation and Perception
Reputational capital can easily be overlooked until it is too late. Whether it is the online permanency of an ill-advised communication, a post by an unsatisfied patient, or a social media platform that is not kept current, perception matters and it impacts your reputation. An important consideration for dentists is this: What if you learned that your physician, attorney, or any other licensed or board-certified professional was regularly tweeting, posting to Facebook, and blogging? Does it change your perception about his practice, his capabilities, or his priorities? How might your patients react to your social media activity?
Avoid the Temptation to Follow
Despite the spike in small businesses leveraging social media in the last year, only a small percentage of dental practices actually employ a robust social media strategy. And while there always will be exceptions to the rule, dental practices should avoid the temptation to jump on the social media bandwagon just because a local competitor is on Facebook or Twitter, and for the cost implications mentioned earlier.
The SBSI study revealed that 61% of respondents use social media to identify new customers. However, it is unlikely that prospective patients will “like” or follow you without experiencing your services first. Viewed in this light, social media for a dental practice becomes more about relationship engagement with patients instead of business development. Dentists need to think about these implications and determine if that’s the return on investment they seek from social media.
Why Web Marketing Trumps Social Media
Remember the question that was posed earlier: How do social media initiatives benefit dental practices? My belief is that they don’t—not when better ways to invest and track your marketing dollars exist.
As mentioned, social media ensures there’s more to do with no guarantee of results that truly matter to dentists—generating new patients. So where should dentists spend their marketing dollars? Dentists should look no further than their website. Today, most practices have a website but are not leveraging it to its full potential. While social media suggests quick and easy connections, it cannot promise strategic and successful marketing results. Websites present the face, value, and message of any business, which is why it makes strategic and financial sense to drive interest to a website first over any social media forums.
SEO & PPC: Initials that Get Results
We all search for content on the Internet. Getting found on the Internet is a completely different matter—and that’s where search engine optimization (SEO) comes into play. Optimizing simply means aligning website content and page tags with the terms patients consistently type into search engines to find products and services. By leveraging in-house marketing experts or contracting with trusted marketing partners, both new and existing websites can be optimized to leverage a practice’s messages, services, products, and location. But optimization also requires monitoring key search terms and making the necessary adjustments if a practice is to rise steadily in search engine rankings and get noticed by prospective patients.
Pay-per-click marketing (PPC) is the companion marketing effort that leverages search functionality by placing targeted ads before individuals who are conducting online searches. These “pay-per-click” ads are cost effective and appear on search engines such as Google, but also can be contextual ads that are available and woven into other thematic content that makes targeted sense.
Together, SEO and PPC comprise what is known as search engine marketing (SEM) and it can accomplish what social media cannot—attracting new patients through targeted marketing with a goal of conversion. This is in contrast to accumulating social media status. The first step is educating dentists that they do not need a massive following—what they need is targeted marketing to prospects within proximity of their practice. And that level of focus pays off with measurable results.
High ROI IS Possible with Search Engine Marketing
Because SEO and PPC are Internet marketing solutions that are completely measurable, trustworthy marketers should have no hesitation in recommending these programs to their dental clients.
Take the example of Loren M. Petry, DDS, who operates a family dentistry practice in Northeast Ohio. Like many dentists, his story is familiar. In trying to attract new patients, he invested in a mix of marketing techniques—billboard advertising, Yellow Pages, direct mail—with mixed results that were difficult to measure. In the spring of 2009 he began an SEO/PPC campaign.
During a 9-month period, Dr. Petry invested $11,500 to have his website optimized and monitored while simultaneously launching a pay-per-click campaign. The campaign generated more than 150 new patients with an ROI of 800%.
These results are achievable because SEO and PPC Internet marketing campaigns are monitored, adjusted, and measured in real time. This is the clear differentiator from other marketing opportunities and social media hype that is unable to deliver these types of measureable results.
Dentists have many tools at their disposal to accomplish their dental work with patients. Selecting the right tools to get the job done well is the difference between securing a loyal patient and losing their business. The same is true for marketing a dental practice. Knowing what works best can take the guesswork out of marketing and improve ROI. With the right programs in place, dentists can get back to focusing on what they do best.
1. Network Solutions® and the Center for Excellence in Service at the University of Maryland Smith School of Business. Small Business Success Index™ (SBSI). Available at: www.networksolutions.com/smallbusiness/small-business-success-index-highlights. Accessed February 12, 2011.
About the Author
Danielle Walton is co-founder of Adept Marketing, an Internet marketing firm that specializes in delivering performance-driven metrics for small to mid-size businesses and serves multiple dental clients across the country. Contact Danielle at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.marketingadept.com.
Danielle Walton is a co-founder of Adept Marketing in Columbus, Ohio.