Dr. Edward Zuckerberg talks about the rules of “engagement” for promoting a practice page on Facebook.
After more than 30 years of “catering to cowards and dental phobics of all ages,” Dobbs Ferry, New York dentist Edward J. Zuckerberg, DDS, FAGD, is known to his patients simply as “Dr. Z.” His practice has just about every implementation of the latest and greatest in dental technology and materials—laser caries detection, digital radiography, same-day CAD/CAM crowns and veneers, Zoom!® and Invisalign®, just to name a few—all to make his patients’ dental experience as painless as possible. Together with two other dentists, two hygienists, three dental assistants, and a patient-relations/financial coordinator, his practice cares for a patient base of more than 3,000 people in the greater Westchester County area, about a 30-minute ride from Manhattan. In addition to all of the state-of-the-art equipment, the operatories are outfitted with everything an anxious dental patient could possibly need to relax, such as flat-screen televisions, Apple iPods, nitrous oxide, and a view of his built-in 200-gallon saltwater aquarium.
One of his three daughters designed his practice website (http://painlessdrz.com), and it offers an interesting and informative mix of practice newsletters, staff biographies, announcements, completed case examples, dentistry-related links, and blogs written by Dr. Z himself. But what really catches a visitor’s eye is the big box running down the left side of the website’s home page, right underneath a clean-looking block of practice contact information, which invites people to “Find us on Facebook.” And right underneath the now-familiar thumbs-up “Like” button is a small yet startling statement: “2,265 people like Edward Zuckerberg, DDS, FAGD.”
Admittedly, Dr. Zuckerberg knows that number probably has something to do with a certain relative of his. In addition to his grown daughters, he also has a 20-something-year-old son who you may have heard about. A few years ago the son very smartly designed a website to help his Harvard classmates connect in the virtual world. Now, not even a decade later, that website has gone on to connect an estimated 1 in 5 people all over the real world. Credited with everything from starting viral Internet jokes to starting social and political revolutions, Facebook—with more than 845 million active users worldwide as of February 2012—has profoundly and permanently changed the way the global village relates to and communicates with each other.
Anyone who is still trying to avoid Facebook might want to reconsider the benefits of joining the 21st century. More than being able to update your “status” and upload photos of family vacations, the biggest social networking site on the planet now has plenty to offer everyone—from the college students for which it was originally intended when Dr. Zuckerberg’s son launched it in 2004, to dentists trying to market their practice today. As part of our extensive coverage this month on how to leverage your practice-marketing efforts through the use of social media, Inside Dentistry sat down with Dr. Zuckerberg (quite the social-media guru himself, he now gives talks all over the country on the subject) to ask for his advice on how dentists can get the most out of Facebook. He spoke with both candor and humor not as a proud dad (although he clearly is), but as a practicing dentist who has made this medium work for him and his dental practice. His keyword? Engage.
Inside Dentistry (ID): Dr. Zuckerberg, is it true that dentists aren’t taking full advantage of the opportunities offered by social media? Why do they seem so reluctant to embrace it?
Edward Zuckerberg (EZ): Oh, I think that is absolutely true. When I started giving these talks about a year ago, we thought that we would have a very limited audience, and that it would be quickly depleted because we thought that everyone was up to snuff on Facebook; who would need a class in this? But we found that, actually, the opposite was true. While I like to keep the classes small so that the learning is more intimate, we can have as many as 100 dentists in a class learning how to build and maintain an effective Facebook page for their practices.
Many of the dentists coming to my classes are at least a little bit tech-savvy, and yet many still have some very unrealistic expectations in terms of how fast they’re going to find a following on a social-media outlet or, especially, how much time is necessary to dedicate to something like a Facebook page to grow it and keep it populated with fresh content once it’s launched. Then there are dentists who are afraid of all the stories they’ve heard about private information being made public, and don’t fully understand that other people can see only what you choose to put on your Facebook page. So, for various reasons, I would say that dentists are definitely missing a huge opportunity to do some fairly easy—and totally free, I might add—marketing for their practices.
ID: What do you see as the single biggest mistake dentists are making in their use of social media?
EZ: I think the biggest mistake is to expect amazing things to happen just because you now have an online presence—that people are just going to find you on the Web and your practice will grow like magic. But it doesn’t work that way; you have to put some very careful thought and effort into making a social-media campaign successful. Which means that you need to be prepared to put some time into it because you’re actively engaging your audience, and that audience can be a mix of existing patients, potential patients, and even other people who may someday refer potential patients. You’ve got to make it worth their while to like you on Facebook, because everything you post is going to show up in their News Feed.
You can certainly do this yourself, but you should be prepared to spend at least a few hours a week updating your page and responding to what people post on your page. If you feel like that it’s going to be too time-consuming or overwhelming, maybe someone else in your practice would love to be your social-media guru. Another option is to hire a firm that specializes in web-based marketing strategies to find things on the Internet that you think your patients will be interested in, and that firm can post those things to your page for you. For dentists who are already putting in many hours a week running the business side of a practice and providing clinical care, this is an excellent option.
ID: How can a dentist with no social-media experience start promoting their practice on Facebook? Do you think it’s important for all online initiatives to have a consistent feel or look for “branding” purposes?
EZ: If you look at my office Facebook page (www.facebook.com/painlessdrz), you’ll see there’s a post almost every day during the week about something related to dentistry. That gets pushed out to everyone who likes my page. Unlike a traditional website, which is great, Facebook offers what is essentially free, targeted marketing. A lot of dentists spend a lot of money having a website professionally built and designed, not to mention the monthly fees to have a company host the site on the web—which could run anywhere from $50 to $100 a month after you’ve paid possibly thousands of dollars to create the site. You might get people to visit your website, but is it really going to be on their list of places to visit regularly as they surf the Internet? I don’t think so. You’ve got to have fresh content all the time, like announcing new equipment you’ve rolled out in your office, sharing that you won an honor or an award, or letting people know you’re giving a talk or lecture about something that would interest them—which all make excellent Facebook posts. Unless they’re seeing that new content regularly, they’re not going to find out what’s going on your web page no matter how beautiful it is. Add a Facebook page into your marketing mix where, once you get them to “Like” your page, you can push all of this content to them—with a link to your website—and they can’t help but see it because it comes through their News Feed.
Take my own practice, for example. We no longer have letterhead; paper is so dinosaur now. But sometimes we still do mailings and when we do, all of my practice contact information—which includes my physical address, my phone number, my website address, and my Facebook page URL—is printed on the return envelopes. It’s all on my e-mail signatures. It’s all on my website, and it’s all on my Facebook page, too.
If you’re still doing print advertising, or Yellow Pages (and honestly I don’t see why you would do that anymore), certainly you want your website and social-media addresses there. Wherever you would put your contact information out there for patients to find you, you would promote your online presence as well. A physical address, a phone number, and a website address are the bare minimum pieces of information you should be providing, and there really should be two website addresses—your practice website and your Facebook page website. Then, in your waiting room, you should have something prominently displayed that announces your online presence with a call to action for your patients. I have sign in my waiting room, and I have decals that I give out to dentists at my talks that say, “Like us on Facebook” with my page’s URL.
ID: How important is it now for dentists to have an online presence? Is it a practice maker or breaker?
EZ: Make no mistake: Dentists are really hurting themselves if they don’t have an online presence. Can you have a successful practice without being online? Sure you can. But you’d better be so good that the people who come to you are so impressed by your clinical skills that they would never think of leaving you to go somewhere else.
You’re really limiting the ways you can attract new patients if you’re not online and participating actively in social media. You’re also limiting the ways you can reinforce your relationships with your existing patient base. You really can’t do proper internal and external marketing without a social-media or electronic presence, and the real question is, why wouldn’t you?
The goal is to engage users. The only limitation is that only people on Facebook can see your page. But, realistically, who’s not on Facebook now? There are more than 160 million users in the United States, so that means that out of a population of 300 million, 75% of the computer-literate and age-eligible [Facebook policy is that users have to be at least 13 years old] population of the United States has a Facebook account.
Now keep in mind that there are some limitations on what you can do with Facebook until you have an established user base. Certainly, you’ve got to do whatever you can to direct people to your page—whether you offer discounts on certain services, do a giveaway for a gift card or movie tickets, or just share interesting or valuable information with people—they’ve got to get some benefit out of liking your page. Even if someone never uses you as their dentist, a Facebook user is a valuable commodity to a practice, because if someone “Likes” your Facebook page, you now have access to their network of friends, which can be a couple of hundred or, in some cases, several thousand people.
Some dentists might be thinking about using Facebook strictly as an external marketing tool to attract new patients, but until they build up a fan base of 300 people who like their page—the point at which an external marketing program tends to start paying dividends—hopefully what they’re doing is creating a new way to engage their existing patient base by providing value-added content for the purpose of reinforcing their relationship with those patients. That falls more under the realm of internal marketing, where you’re reinforcing the idea that your existing patients have made the right choice in selecting you as their dentist. You’re also keeping yourself on their radar, so that when it’s time for their hygiene appointment and com>prehensive examination and they see your office update its status on Facebook, it may be the push they need to make that call. They click on your page, and right there you have a link for them to click that will contact your office directly to make an appointment. You can’t make it any easier than that.
ID: Is mixing personal and professional interests on a Facebook page always a mistake?
EZ: I see this a lot in my classes. I see a lot of dentists who mistakenly set up their practice page to be a top-level Facebook page. The easiest way to tell if your page is set up as a top-level page is whether you have a friends list; remember that business pages don’t have friends, they have people who “Like” the page, also known as “fans.” On Facebook you can have one top-level page, and that should be your personal page, and then you can have a business page. You can’t have both of them be top-level pages, because that’s a violation of Facebook’s terms of service.
Let’s say you only want a business page to promote your practice, and you’ve set that page up incorrectly. How do you post information on the page that is sort of personal, that you don’t necessarily want out there for your patients to see, but you no longer have a venue to share it? If I want to share photos or links or something I find interesting but I don’t want to share it with everyone, I could select certain people to see those things, but it’s really a pain to do that. I’d rather have people that I want to share personal information with as friends on my personal Facebook page.
The other big problem with having a top-level page as an office page is that you can’t advertise on a top-level page. If you have a business page, you can pay for one of those little ad boxes that run down the side of every Facebook page, and those spots are great vehicles for getting your word out to the networks of your existing fans. But you can’t do that from a personal page; you can only advertise from a business page. So, ultimately, getting your patients to be friends of your personal Facebook page is not doing anything to help you use Facebook as an external marketing tool, so why not just set up a business page for your practice, and keep your personal life separate?
As one more side note, the other great reason to have a business page and not a personal page on Facebook for your office is because the business page will actually generate analytics for you that go beyond the people who comment and like your posts. If someone clicks on an article you post, the analytics will tell you how many people clicked on the article, which gives you feedback about what kind of content is attracting your patients’ attention, so you can thoughtfully choose what to post in the future. If someone takes the time to click, that tells me that they found the content worthwhile—even if they didn’t comment on it.
So, with all that being said, in terms of sharing personal details I think that a business Facebook page is a great way to selectively share non-practice–related details and information about yourself that will help you to create relationships with new patients and strengthen your relationships with your existing patients. On my practice page, I post photos of my new grandchild with some details about my monthly trips to California to visit him. It’s a great way for you to really connect with your patients, to show them that you’re a person too, with a real life and a family and interests outside of the dental office where the visit is strictly business, whether because of time constraints or because the patient is anxious about being in the chair. Of course, hopefully, you’re not going to post your drunken-boys’-night-out pictures on your practice page, but certainly you can show your patients and the others who like your page that you’re a well-rounded, interesting person outside of the dental office. Maybe you share interests with your patients and they’ll feel that much more of a bond to you. Any kind of bond that you can form with your patients is just going to make that doctor–patient relationship even better.
ID: What is your advice for dentists who are afraid to “take the plunge” because they don’t want to open themselves up to possible negative criticism on a public forum like Facebook?
EZ: One of the questions I am almost always asked in my lectures is: What do you do when someone posts something negative about you on your Facebook page? Facebook gives you the ability to delete any post on your page, so you really need to have someone looking at your content on a daily basis for a couple of reasons.
Facebook is such a great engagement tool, and when someone is taking the time out of their own busy life to engage you, whether by asking a question on your page or commenting about something they saw on your page, it’s really important to respond to that in a timely fashion—whether it’s positive or negative. If someone is writing something negative about you on your page, you definitely want to know about it so you can deal with it quickly. Facebook can alert you via e-mail or text message when there’s a new post on your Wall, so you’ll know immediately what the post says and who posted it. You have much more control over negative comments being posted on Facebook than you do on sites like Google or Yelp, because you can respond to those comments and, ultimately, if you really need to, you can delete them, whereas you can’t on Google or Yelp. It’s much easier to protect your reputation—and defend it if need be—on Facebook than on the Internet at large.
However, it is extremely important to judiciously decide when and even if you delete a post on your Wall that someone else put there. If your Facebook Wall is the vehicle a patient has chosen to air a grievance with you, I think that if you delete it you’re going to upset that patient even more and that will most likely be the end of that relationship, because they’re going to think that you’re not receptive to criticism. It’s much better to address the complaint or criticism head-on, have a constructive dialogue about it, and work to assure the patient that their concerns are being heard. If it’s something that you did wrong and there’s really no explanation for it, apologize, assure the patient that you’re going to address the matter with your staff, and thank them—yes, thank them—for the comment or the criticism so that you can make sure that it doesn’t happen again.
You can’t meet the expectations of every patient. You just have to realize that. You have thousands of patients, and not all of them are going to like you. Some people just don’t like dentists. Some people are just going to be disgruntled no matter what you do. While you hope it won’t come to a point where they use the Internet as a vehicle to vent their frustrations, most likely if you stay in practice long enough in this day and age, it will happen at some point. Every day people are recognizing what a powerful medium the Internet really is, and the likelihood of these kinds of incidents happening exists whether you have a Facebook page or not.
However, you can use your own patient base, the ones who are a fan of your Facebook page, to help you refute this kind of attack. When you’ve got a good reputation with your patients, and someone does post something negative about you, you will have other people chiming in and coming to your defense, which can actually help you turn a negative into a positive. Post a question on your Wall like: “Have you ever had this happen to you? What’s been your experience in my office?” Then you’ve proactively started a conversation and are enlisting your patient base to help you solve a potential problem, if one actually exists.
Of course, as we all know, there are bad practitioners out there, and they’re using social media too. We’ve all had patients come in and you know as soon as you look in their mouths that their previous care wasn’t good. While it’s important to maintain a professional attitude and to make things right for the patient while restoring the good name of our profession in their eyes, if a dental practitioner is not performing up to the standard of care that is expected, they should be careful that the Internet could just be the thing that brings them down, and perhaps rightly so. Maybe the dental profession isn’t doing a good enough job of policing our own wayward souls who are not delivering care to the public the way they should be, and Facebook offers a way for the public to act as sort of a consumer watchdog.
ID: What do you do if a patient starts to seriously ask for treatment advice on your Wall?
EZ: I get that sometimes, usually more from prospective patients than from current patients. You can do one of two things. You don’t want to have someone reveal too much about a personal medical condition on the Wall because that’s open to the public, so if a topic is getting sensitive I’ll direct them to my office e-mail address, telling them that I’ll answer them in confidence. But a lot of times I’ll get general questions from patients like, “My wisdom tooth is hurting, there’s a gum flap covering it, it happens two or three times a year…what’s your opinion on wisdom teeth?” If someone is not my patient and they start describing a situation that sounds like it needs to be looked at right away I’ll say, “This sounds like something that needs to be looked at immediately. If you’re in the neighborhood and you want to become a patient of my office contact us, or if you’re not local please go see a dentist or specialist in your area for a consultation.”
As long as it’s not abusive, I certainly will provide that information as a service. It hasn’t gotten to the point where anyone has uploaded their radiograph to my Wall—yet.