Liking Your Laboratory
Build your social media presence by joining the online conversation.
Some people shine in the spotlight while others are more comfortable in the shadows. Vincent Van Gogh created over 2,100 paintings before his early death in 1890. During his 37 years, he was not known for his artistic abilities, nor was he financially sound—Van Gogh sold only one painting a few months before his death. Now he is an icon and has become one of the most famous artists in the world.
Many dental technicians create beautiful and patient-pleasing results but do not or choose not to remodel their business-marketing plan. The times are changing at a pace where it is crucial to stay ahead and not be left behind. The world is living on a cloud, and Internet-based communication tools are what we are thriving on personally and professionally. Take advantage and make your dental laboratory flourish before it is too late.
All of these new virtual tools used to connect and engage each other require careful planning and new ways to communicate your message. This month, Inside Dental Technology asked experts in social media and dental laboratory marketing how technicians can dive into the world of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social-media outlets, but, more importantly, we asked these experts to give us good reasons why laboratory owners should take the plunge. Here’s what they told us.
Introduction by Matt Ingram, Editor
Since its launch in February 2004, Facebook has grown into an online community of 845 million active users.1 Twitter, launched in 2006, has acquired more than 100 million tweeters.2 LinkedIn connects over 135 million professionals in at least 200 countries.3 Social media allows individuals all over the globe to network with others with similar values, interests, and professions. By giving users access to a huge audience in a space that encourages participation and interaction, social media facilitates information exchange and allows said users to gather data in real time. This data could be anything from what their friends think about their new haircut to if anyone knows where to download a good, free word processor online. Today, people rely heavily on social media for staying up-to-date and informed about current news and trending topics, and for getting answers to any and all of their questions. Importantly, social-media users also expect to find their friends, colleagues, and favorite businesses in this social space.
The dental community has yet to really embrace the social-media experience, and being under represented on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social-networking sites is doing nothing to help businesses and reputations. Social media offers a wealth of opportunities for business owners to directly connect with their clients and other professionals in the dental field, while providing a forum to discuss their experiences, share tips and tricks, and generally interact with each other. People build online communities and have online “friends” that play a big part in their everyday lives. If the dental community were to become more active in social-media space, it would give them the chance to expand their client base and forge deeper, more meaningful connections with their colleagues.
Why You Need to Jump on this Bandwagon
The Internet and social-media outlets have become integral parts of most people’s everyday lives. If someone is scouting for information about a new store or restaurant, the first place he or she goes is online to search for a company website and customer reviews. It stands to reason that the same process occurs when a dentist is searching for a laboratory. In some cases, patients are even searching out the technician they want to complete their case. In order to make the most educated decision possible, dentists and patients alike will do extensive research and will expect lab technicians, like all professionals, to have an online presence.
A business website is no longer enough, and a Facebook page, a blog, a Twitter handle, and even YouTube channels are commonplace for all types of businesses. The idea is to disseminate as much information across as many online platforms as possible, and there are a number of benefits that business owners experience when they create and maintain a spot for themselves in the social-media space.
From a traditional marketing standpoint, social media has the ability to improve the search engine placement of a business’ web presence. If a potential client were to use a search engine to search for laboratories in a particular geographic area, the laboratory with the largest web presence would be the first return in the search results. Therefore, a laboratory with a business website, a Facebook page, a Twitter handle, a blog, and a YouTube channel would be high up on the list. The more active the laboratory is on these websites, the higher he or she would climb.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is only a small piece of the marketing capabilities of social media. Holly Rountree, social-media manager at Splash Media, a social-media and Internet marketing firm, says that social media has caused marketing to turn from a one-way avenue of promoting products and services to a two-way conversation. “Today, it is not only possible to put your message out there, but you are capable of getting feedback from your audience in real time,” she says. This ability to interact back and forth with potential clients allows dental professionals to provide a personalized marketing experience for each individual.
The ability to create a personalized experience for existing or potential new clients is an important aspect of social media that sets it apart as a marketing device. This personalized experience creates a connection between the client and the laboratory, which is extremely important. Howie Horrocks, CEO of New Patients, Inc., a dental marketing company, believes that connecting through social media can have a profound effect on how clients view that laboratory. “Social media is a participation sport,” Horrocks says. “If dental professionals are going to get into social media properly, they need to be aware that their participation is necessary to the ultimate success of their efforts.”
Horrocks’ colleague, Mark Dilatush, who is the president of New Patients, Inc., agrees that social media pages can be integral to bringing in new clients. “If your sites are set up properly, integrated properly, and populated on a relatively consistent basis, social media can connect with clients that have never used your laboratory before,” Dilatush claims. For example, if a laboratory has a Facebook page and gets its existing clients to “Like” the page, those clients’ Facebook “Friends”—patients and peers alike—would then be aware of that laboratory. “It is about creating awareness; awareness that your business exists, and awareness that clients are already pleased with the work you are doing,” he says.
Social Media 101: The Basics
There are plenty of reasons for laboratory owners to get involved in social media, but it can be daunting for someone who has never done it before. Owners looking to start carving out a place for themselves on social media should keep a few things in mind.
Do it to Build Community
Unanimously, social-media experts agree that community building is the number-one benefit to business owners having a social-media presence. Elizabeth Curran, CDT, RDT at Ahwatukee Dental Laboratory, believes that social-media communities are created in the interest of sharing knowledge, both with peers and potential clients, “Many social-media communities are created purely for sharing knowledge and communicating with other people in the industry. You’re not trying to sell anything, just promoting fellowship and creating an environment where everyone can become involved.”
Curran uses a variety of social-media platforms, and has specifically tailored her approach to each in order to get the best results from each distinct community. She uses Twitter to tweet news stories and give coverage to issues that, while relevant to the dental industry, do not get the same level of media attention as other areas of dentistry. She uses Pinterest, a new “virtual pinboard” that allows users to “organize and share all of the beautiful things” they find online.4 Some people use Pinterest to plan weddings, get decorating ideas, or find new recipes. Curran uses her Pinterest account to compile pictures of teeth. “I’m very visual, most technicians are, and Pinterest provides an opportunity for me and other lab technicians to see beautiful artwork done with teeth,” explains Curran, who says that she is able to share these pictures with other technicians via Pinterest, as well as through her juggernaut of a Facebook page.
Curran’s Facebook account differs from her Twitter and Pinterest accounts in that she uses it to communicate specifically with people in the dental laboratory community, and she has created a flourishing community. Curran’s Facebook page is overflowing with pictures, jokes, and information, all relating to the dental technology industry and teeth, and she has over 2,200 Facebook “Friends” from all over the planet. Curran is aware that her perseverance on social media has created something special. “On Facebook, there is so much input from so many different sources. I think it is a great way to nurture a community and integrate the sharing of knowledge across a very broad spectrum,” she says.
Have a Clear Goal in Mind
Having clearly defined goals is integral to having a successful social-media presence. Stephanie Williams, social-media manager and a colleague of Rountree’s at Splash Media, says, “Anyone using social media for business purposes should be aware of what their goals are and what they should look like when they are achieved.” Some laboratory owners use social media to grow their already-existing communities, while others may be more focused on bringing in new clients. Williams suggests that business owners take time every quarter to evaluate their goals and see if they are being met.
Maximize Your Marketing Efforts
Once a laboratory owner decides to become active on social-media sites, it is important that he or she recognizes that success with social media means integrating social-media marketing efforts with overall marketing strategy. Laboratories need to provide a path for users, leading them to their social presence, and incorporating it with traditional marketing tactics. Websites and marketing materials such as invoices, case stuffers, mailers, etc., should tie in with and direct clients to the laboratory’s social-media sites. Offline interactions should be strengthened online, and online interactions should be nurtured offline as well.
Along with marketing integration, there is social integration. If a laboratory is generating content by writing blog posts or developing videos, it should use various social networks to distribute links to these posts and videos. Tweeting a link to a previously recorded video is a great way to bring new life to existing content. Integrating social-media presences increases the reach of content and is a great way to get a laboratory’s message across a larger audience.
Update, Update, Update!
Michael Ventriello, public relations manager at Lanmark360, a professional healthcare advertising, marketing, and communications agency, believes that it is critical for laboratories to realize that if they choose to establish themselves on social-media platforms, they must maintain their accounts. They should be consistently updating Facebook, Twitter, and blogs with current information that would be interesting and valuable to their clients, as well as interact with people who reach out to them. “Creating a social-media platform and then abandoning it could potentially be more harmful than not starting one at all,” he says. Ventriello’s colleague, Marisa Tranchina, social-media coordinator at Lanmark360, adds, “You can end up giving your client the impression that you’re available and then any questions they may ask will be left unanswered. That will leave a bitter taste in their mouths. It’s like calling a help line and being left on hold.”
Tranchina also stresses that engagement with your online community, or followers, is what makes a successful social-media campaign. It is not worthwhile for a laboratory to acquire huge numbers of “Likes” and “Friends” on Facebook if there is no content that promotes interaction and discussion. “You must always be providing value to your clients and always thinking socially,” says Tranchina. A social-media platform provides a means for clients to learn more about the laboratory, and share that information with colleagues. Updating social-media pages does not have to take a long time. Most social-media experts suggest checking social-media sites a few times throughout the day to make sure that any questions being asked are being answered promptly.
Engage Your Clients
Establishing a presence and keeping it populated with relevant and interesting information is only a piece of what can be accomplished with social media. Laboratory owners should be using their social-media sites to foster communities and encourage communication with their clients.
Social media gives clients a means of showing their support for their laboratory, whether it be “Liking” the laboratory on Facebook or “Following” the laboratory on Twitter. It also gives the laboratory a quick and convenient way to communicate with clients.
According to Joshua Polansky, CDT, MDC, of Niche Dental Studio, the most important way social media works for his company is through its ability to show the dentist what he and his team and can do. “The reason everything looks so good on our web pages is that there’s a great team that worked behind it, and I can explain then to my clients, with visual aids, what exactly our team does to accomplish these goals,” he claims. Polansky also says that having a Facebook page is a lot like having a business card. “People are able to find me through my social-media presence. Clinicians and patients reach out to me online at least a couple times a month because of my social-media presence.”
Thomas Taylor, marketing director of Albensi Labs, also uses social media to engage potential clients. “We can tweet an article from a website like Dr. Bicuspid, and dentists who find that article pertinent to a recent case will re-tweet it, and oftentimes they will mention that they first found this information through our Twitter feed. It’s amazing the sort of exposure you can get from simply tweeting information that your clients find helpful,” says Taylor.
Social media can also help engage a laboratory’s clients in other ways. Even something like notifying clients about a CE course being offered by a laboratory can be accomplished on social media. If the laboratory has a large following on Facebook and Twitter, the laboratory owner can post or tweet when the course will be presented, the topic and speaker, and suggest that clients call to register. The post should also include a phone number to call or an online link to the registration page. Russell DeVreugd, CDT, ceramist, technician, educator, and owner of DeVreugd Dental, has been using social media this way for years. He uses it to share upcoming seminars, courses, and lectures with his peers. “I do a lot of case presentations and lectures, and when I travel to a certain area to give a presentation, I am sure to mention that on my Facebook page or my Twitter feed. That way, if I have any Facebook friends or Twitter followers in that area, they are aware of the presentation and I might have a few more attendees. I’ll even mention the lectures I’m attending on social media— I’ll do anything I can to help promote these wonderful educational programs.”
Connect with Colleagues
Laboratories that use social media should not limit themselves to interacting only with their clients. Sites such as LinkedIn have the capability to connect industry professionals from all over the globe in one place so that they can share ideas, swap case reports, ask for advice, discuss recent innovations, and take in industry news. These connections can be invaluable. Before the age of social media, correspondence between laboratory owners was limited. They saw each other at trade shows, symposiums, and conferences, often briefly and without much of an opportunity to discuss cases or industry and professional news. Now they can create forums within their online communities to submit inquiries to be answered at their colleagues’ earliest convenience. The responses are typically thoughtful, informed, and available for all dental professionals who belong to that social-media site, not just the technician who posed the question. The ability to share knowledge online is a major benefit of being involved in social media, and the number of people who stand to benefit from this knowledge is considerable.
George Endler, vice president of marketing at Henry Schein, believes that social media provides professionals in the dental field the opportunity to become “thought leaders.” If a technician wants to be considered a leader in his or her field, social media provides a platform to find an audience and share his or her knowledge. Before social media, technicians were limited to writing journal articles or presenting their research before committees. Now, they have access to a huge—and immediate—audience of people in the dental community. Technicians can blog, participate in communities on sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn, or even, Endler says,
actually contribute to the sites. “They should watch the communities, topics, and articles that are interesting to them—and feel free to comment or pose questions; as experts, they will be concerned with helping move the profession forward.” Endler describes that in the past, writing or being sourced as a reference in academic articles allowed dental professionals to gain notoriety in the dental field, whereas today, they can gain the same sort of notoriety and recognition through being referenced on social-media sites. “You have to be a participant to be recognized,” he says, “but social media provides many exciting new platforms and opportunities.”
In the past, collecting information about new procedures, materials, and even policies and laws that could affect the dental industry was limited to the dental profession’s various print publications, and maybe an occasional quick spot on broadcast news. Now, there are vast numbers of dental-specific news sources being updated constantly by thought-leaders across a broad spectrum of fields covering a broad range of topics.
This interconnectedness means that if a technician finds a dentistry or laboratory blog and really enjoys the content, then he or she can choose to follow the blogger on Twitter and “Friend” him on Facebook. If the technician then links his or her smartphone to the Twitter account, text alerts will be received whenever the blogger posts something new. The Twitter link can then be followed to the new blog posting, and after reading it, the follower can go to the blogger’s Facebook page to discuss the entry with other technicians and clinicians who read the article. Everyone is kept in the loop, and the blogger has done his due diligence to keep his followers informed and engaged by creating a social-media space where readers can interact with others who enjoy the same kind of content.
Social media is also capable of breaking news long before traditional media outlets. Almost every large company in the dental industry has a social-media presence, and when they release a new product, have a change in leadership, or reach a milestone, not only are they sending press releases to all the major dental publications, they are also posting links on their social-media sites. Any technician following these companies on Twitter or Facebook will see a tweet including the headline and a link to the full story, and they can choose whether or not to continue reading. Technicians following these companies and reading press releases online are distinguishing themselves and their businesses as the most up-to-date in the profession because they are seeing everything first. Social media provides a convenient way for laboratory owners to remain educated about topics that interest them without having to check each and every source separately, because they can all be seen together on a Facebook profile or Twitter feed.
Find Your Best Fit
Not every laboratory owner or technician will want the same thing from social media. Not everyone is comfortable providing high levels of interaction, and some professionals just want to be flies on the wall and use social media to keep tabs on the goings-on of the dental profession. Others do want to be active participants, and connect with their peers and colleagues through these online communities. Social media has something to offer for everyone. John Pohl, president of 14th Floor Solutions, Heraeus Kulzer’s marketing agency, recognizes that there is a surplus of options for people looking to make the leap into social media, but believes there is one common thread that ties them together. “Social media is about providing the people you’re connected to with beneficial, insightful, entertaining, and involving material. The best content on social media inspires lots of response, and that interaction is what drives these sites to succeed,” he says.
Once a laboratory owner can clearly define what he or she wants to achieve via their social-media presence, it is time to start experimenting. Some platforms work better than others, and business owners must discover through trial and error what works best for them. It is clear, however, that social media provides a vast forum for creating and spreading information, and any dental professional who is not taking advantage of the vast array of opportunities available online is missing out.
1. Facebook Newsroom. Fact Sheet. Available at: http://newsroom.fb.com/content/default.aspx?NewsAreaId=22. Updated 2012. Accessed February 1, 2012.
2. McMillan G. Twitter reveals active user number, how many actually say something. Available at: http://techland.time.com/2011/09/09/twitter-reveals-active-user-number-how-many-actually-say-something/. Updated September 9, 2011. Accessed February 1, 2012.
3. LinkedIn. About Us. Available at: http://press.linkedin.com/about. Updated 2012. Accessed February 1, 2012.
4. Pinterest. What is Pinterest? Available at: http://pinterest.com/about/. Updated 2012. Accessed April 19, 2012.
Social media has become such a widespread phenomenon that some fields have taken to creating their own, industry-specific, social-media sites for networking with their peers. Dentistry is no exception. Dentoo.com is a social-media site for dental professionals, connecting laboratories, dentists, hygienists, assistants, orthodontists, dental students, and everyone else in the industry. A community in and of itself, Dentoo is frequented by a number of this article’s contributors, as well as the editorial staff of Inside Dental Technology.