Get Serious About Social Media
Facebook and other platforms are proving to be effective business tools for laboratories
Less than a decade ago, social media platforms were just that—social. Checking Facebook or Twitter was something to be done on your own time, not while on the clock at your job. Times have changed—quickly—and businesses ranging from mom-and-pop operations to Fortune 500 companies now utilize Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and other similar platforms as business tools. With 68% of all US adults using Facebook, 28% using Instagram, 25% using LinkedIn, and 21% using Twitter, there is an increasing likelihood that your clients, potential clients, and your competition are utilizing these platforms.
Jose Luis Banos, owner of Dentprosth Digital in Sunrise, Florida, and a faculty member at Nova Southeastern University College of Dental Medicine, says his wife, Monica, who helps run his laboratory, used to tell him he spent too much time on Facebook. Now, it is the opposite as she reminds him to post every day.
“She sees that Facebook helps drive business to our laboratory,” Banos says.
While in most cases it is not like a magic elixir to improve business, utilizing a well thought-out social media strategy is almost essential in 2017. A strong social media presence can help improve marketing efforts, client relations, and general quality of work.
“For most laboratories, posting on social media will not transform their business, but it is absolutely one of the tools in the toolbox that we need to utilize,” says Terry Fine, President of AMG Creative, a dental laboratory marketing specialist in Fort Collins, Colorado.
While laboratories should not expect an immediate influx of new accounts as a direct result of social media activity, some have experienced significant growth marketing their services, new products, or educational courses. Of course, no full-face photos should be posted without patient consent, in accordance with HIPAA laws.
Banos has been posting case photos on Facebook and Instagram for “a few years.” He superimposes his name on the photos for branding purposes, and he tags the dentists who worked on the cases, which often leads to them sharing his posts on their own pages—which can then be seen by other dentists. Banos says his business has increased by 60-70% since he began posting.
“My primary goal is to acquire new clients,” he says. “I can increase awareness of new products that I am using, such as PEKK, and dentists call to ask about them.”
That practice requires more than just posting photos, however. Banos prepares ahead of time for the phone calls.
“You must be prepared for any questions dentists might have, because you will not earn any new business by saying, ‘Doctor, just Google it,’” he says. “Every one of my posts is calculated.”
Pinhas Adar, CDT, MDT, embarked on a social media campaign approximately 5 years ago to create awareness of a new business model whereby Adar Dental Network would offer new pricing options by scaling its operations. He continues to post frequently.
“Twenty or 30 years ago, in order to spread your message, you needed to spend thousands of dollars on marketing,” Adar says. “Platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube make it possible to spread your message at no cost financially.”
Adar says it is important to understand exactly what social media marketing accomplishes for a dental laboratory.
“We are not selling products directly on Facebook,” he says. “We are simply creating awareness and then hopefully building relationships based on that.”
Adar built a relationship with one dentist he met via Facebook, John Heimke, DMD, who practices in Cleveland, Ohio. They now collaborate regularly on complex full-mouth rehabilitations. Heimke uses social media for marketing, his own practice.
“I frequently comment and collaborate on cases that are posted online,” Heimke says. “Dentists like to look at each other’s handiwork.”
Of course, it is inherent that the strategy of marketing via sharing photos is most effective for laboratories whose selling point is the quality of their restorations.
“Social media can be especially valuable for a small or niche laboratory because clients can see the photos and immediately recognize the level of quality,” says Arian Deutsch, CDT, owner of Deutsch Dental Arts in Surprise, Arizona. “You don’t need to try to compete with larger laboratories’ costly marketing efforts, and you don’t need to cold call potential clients.”
Marketing efforts also can extend to recruiting potential employees. LinkedIn is completely centered on hiring, but job postings can be publicized via other social media, and Facebook recently added its own jobs section. Many technicians want to be associated with a laboratory that has a positive image, so a strong social media presence can help attract top talent.
The general tone of a laboratory’s social media presence can be important in marketing to potential clients as well.
“Having an interesting and engaging Twitter or Facebook page might not directly convince someone to try our laboratory,” says Savannah Thompson, Client Services/Marketing for Drake Precision Dental Lab in Charlotte, North Carolina, “but it can give people a sense of what type of business we operate, and first impressions are important.”
Bobby Williams, CDT, owner of Synergy Ceramics Dental Studio in Plano, Texas, says that he always thought nothing good came out of Facebook but that once he created a business page approximately a year and a half ago, he began receiving two or three calls per week from interested dentists almost immediately.
“It has been a tremendous marketing tool for my laboratory,” Williams says.
Existing Client Relationships
Marketing includes more than simply acquiring new clients, however. Social media can be a useful tool for nurturing relationships with existing clients in various ways, as well.
“We have not received many direct leads for new accounts from social media yet,” says Evan Jaffe, MBA, CEO and owner of Mabel Dental Lab in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. “Our primary goal is to use the various platforms to drive product awareness and increase engagement with current customers, even if it is with their hygienists, assistants, or office staff.”
One way to increase that engagement and also directly impact the laboratory’s working relationship with a dentist is to post helpful tips or instructional videos.
“Dentists’ time is very valuable, so if we are discussing a case and we can refer them to photos or videos that we have posted on our social media pages, that can be very useful,” Thompson says.
Williams notes that several years ago it was necessary to notify each client individually when he had a new product to offer. Now, with the push of a button, he can share new developments with a large portion of his client base.
“I used to have to ask clients to try a certain product,” Williams says. “Now, they are the ones calling me because they saw it in one of the cases I posted on Facebook.”
Banos uses social media to check on his work. Rather than calling dentists to ask if the restoration was successful upon delivery, he can post photos on Facebook and get his answers based on the responses. This also helps foster relationships with the dentists.
“Dentists love when I tag them in posts,” Banos says. “When they have a nice case, they ask, ‘Jose, are you going to post this one?’ Then they share the cases on their own pages.”
This practice also helps with the dentists’ own marketing efforts for their practices, which they typically appreciate.
“Any time we share case photos, we always include the name of the dentist or the practice we worked with because that creates marketing exposure for them,” Adar says. “One of the great things about social media is you can co-market your efforts and your teamwork. It’s a relationship business.”
Building those relationships include posting information about CE or meet-and-greet events for their clients, and offering incentives to share the posts or bring other dentists to the events. It can be as simple as posting resources that may help clients with their own business, or mixing in some fun, humorous posts.
“Even if people do not engage with a post on Facebook, we often encounter situations when we are on the phone with a client and they mention that they got a laugh from a cartoon we posted the previous Friday or something else like that,” Jaffe says.
While building client relationships is important, interacting with fellow technicians is just as significant for some laboratories.
John McMillan IV operates a one-man laboratory, Spitfire Ceramic Arts, in Portland, Oregon. Approximately 3 years ago, when he was working as general manager of a larger laboratory, he was introduced by Bill Marais, RDT, to several Facebook groups in which dental technicians were sharing their work with each other and offering constructive tips. Now, those interactions have taken on even more importance.
“I work by myself, so I can only count on my own skills and knowledge, which can be scary at times,” McMillan says. "Sometimes if you are closed off, you are only as good as the best technician in your laboratory. Through the influences of my friends and technicians throughout the world, however, my work has improved tenfold.”
It works both ways, also, as McMillan shares his own knowledge with fellow technicians on social media.
“I saw people sharing their work,” McMillan says, “and I thought, ‘I can do that. I even have this technique that might help them a little bit more.’ I had been very shy, but I found a voice. There is this huge world out there of technicians who are hungry to share knowledge with each other for a mutual benefit. When you get a message from someone saying, ‘Hey, that trick you shared really saved a case for me,’ it is extremely gratifying.”
The global reach of social media provides round-the-clock access to input from fellow technicians.
“I can post a question in the Dental Technicians Guild group at any time of day and have five responses in five minutes,” Deutsch says. “Being able to tap into that pool of knowledge is really helpful.”
These forums have fostered a growing sense of community among dental technicians to help each other improve their skills and advance the profession.
“You need to share your knowledge,” Banos says. “There is enough work for everyone. As much as your competitors are learning about your work, you are learning about theirs as well.”
Indeed, attitudes about competition appear to be changing somewhat.
“When I started in this business, nobody wanted to share anything,” Williams says. “Everyone had their own secret formulas. Now, it is quite the opposite. We all want to share information and make our profession better.”
Reasons for Caution
Even as the environment continues to move toward one of sharing and helping each other, it is important to keep in mind that not everyone subscribes to these philosophies. Williams says he has received calls from clients alerting him to other laboratories soliciting business after seeing their names in his Facebook posts.
“There are lurkers out there who look at your Facebook page and contact your clients,” Williams says. “We learned our lesson, so I strongly suggest not naming your dentists on social media. At the same time, however, if your relationships with clients are not strong, hiding their names on Facebook will not prevent them from trying other laboratories.”
Deutsch echoes the sentiment that a strong relationship with clients is most important in that regard.
“The mentality that people are out to steal your accounts or copy your work is becoming less common,” Deutsch says. “If I have a client who is willing to share a great case, and that case can inspire people and open their minds as to what we can do, then it is worth sharing. If you are worried about that relationship, it will be a concern regardless of social media.”
Other concerns should be noted, however. Laboratories that use social media to attract new accounts should keep in mind that those new dentists could switch again at any time.
“If you are attracting dentists who want the flavor of the month,” McMillan says, “you probably are not gaining loyal clients.”
Those dentists also will expect the same level of quality that they saw in the photos, so laboratories must be prepared to offer that every time. In particular, if the laboratory’s posts promote the owner’s skills, dentists likely will expect that person to handle their cases personally.
“It is easier to brand yourself as an individual than it is as a business,” Fine says. “There are some benefits to that, but there are also some pitfalls.”
Additionally, as the word “social” implies, these platforms sometimes tend to lack professionalism.
“Oftentimes there is a lot of drama and manipulation, even within groups that were formed for professional purposes,” McMillan says. “You just need to weed through it, find the right people, and develop your own personal strategy.”
Various reputable sources claim to have zeroed in on best practices for social media. Facebook engagement rates are said to be 3.5% lower from Monday-Wednesday than Thursday-Friday; 1 pm is said to be the best time to have posts shared, and 3 pm is said to be best for garnering clicks. Twitter is said to offer 14% more engagement on weekdays than on weekends for B2B purposes, but 17% higher on weekends for B2C. LinkedIn posts are said to yield the most clicks and shares on Tuesdays from 10-11 am.1
Best practices depend heavily on each individual situation, however—how each business wants to be portrayed, and what its target audience wants to see.
“We have a specific strategy that we try to do something different every day,” Jaffe says. “One day we might post dental news, another day we show a new crown or denture that is available, and other times we just post facts about our laboratory.”
Fine suggests humor and throwback-themed posts to keep people engaged.
“It is critical to mix it up so you are not posting nonstop cases,” Fine says.
One resource to draw upon for inspiration is one’s own personal preferences, because most people use social media for non-business purposes as well.
“I try to think along the lines of posts that would catch my attention personally,” Thompson says.
The consensus seems to be that one person should be designated to handle all social media outputs for a laboratory. Microsoft Outlook or smartphone reminders can be set to post consistently, or Facebook’s scheduling feature and third-party applications such as Hootsuite and Buffer can be used to ease the burden of posting on a regular basis.
Several technicians also stressed the importance of photography.
“If you want to post images to use social media as a marketing tool, mastering photography is critical so that your work can be appreciated,” Deutsch says. “There are some great courses available for photography.”
Banos says simply dedicating a sufficient amount of time for high-quality photography is key.
“I need to show my work the way it needs to be seen,” Banos says. “It requires more time and effort, but it pays off.”
Not all laboratories will see a dramatic payoff from using social media. Results vary based on several factors specific to each laboratory, and luck can also be a factor.
“If you are counting on Facebook to be a major sales channel for you simply by posting, you might be sorely disappointed,” Fine says.
Conversely, a poor or nonexistent social media presence can be damaging to a business if clients or potential clients notice.
“If nothing else, you need to keep your social media pages up to date, because you cannot validate how much business a static or stale Facebook page is costing you,” Fine says. “That definitely happens. When a dentist is ready to try a new laboratory and he or she visits your page for the first time, it is important to have a presence.”
Thompson stresses the importance of first impressions on potential clients.
“If someone discovers us on Google and we have inactive social media accounts,” she says, “they will wonder how much we care about our image. And if we don’t care about our image, how much will we care about the work we do for them?”
Whether the goal is to merely have a presence or to dramatically impact your business via social media, it is clear that developing some sort of strategy is essential.
“We do not tell laboratories that using social media will have clients knocking doors down with new cases,” Fine says. “Do you need to devote an inordinate amount of time to it? No. Should you be there, though? Absolutely.”
1. Patel N. What Are the Best Times to Post on Social Media. Quicksprout. https://www.quicksprout.com/2015/01/02/what-are-the-best-times-to-post-on-social-media/. Posted January 2, 2015. Accessed May 5, 2017.