January 2015
Volume 11, Issue 1

Social Media Strategies for 2015

Tips for engaging with patients and boosting your online presence

Naomi Cooper

In 2015, the idea that social media should play a role in a dentist’s marketing plan is not a new concept. As social media has exploded in popularity and influence over the past few years, it has become increasingly common—even necessary—for a dentist to have profiles on websites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Unfortunately, many dentists who have adopted social media as part of their overall marketing strategy have done so under the mistaken belief that social media’s only purpose is to attract new patients. While new patient acquisition is certainly one of the central benefits of being active in social media, it is not the whole story.

Social media plays a significant role in a variety of different areas of a dental practice’s overall marketing plan. Social media visibility is not only an integral part of helping prospective patients find their way to the practice online, it also serves to improve communication with existing patients—and even reinforces existing word-of-mouth referrals.

Enhancing Patient Communication

Social media certainly helps dentists connect with new patients, but its strength lies is in enhancing communication with existing patients. With technology today, staying in touch with patients year round has never been easier or faster.

Patient communication used to be limited to the one to two times a year a patient would come into the practice, possibly with the addition of a practice newsletter that was distributed once a quarter. Now dentists have the opportunity to stay in touch with patients in an ongoing manner, providing little bits of information on a daily or weekly basis. Social media is like a drip marketing campaign, consistently keeping dentists in the minds of their patients.

Posting relevant updates to social media profiles positions the dentist as the go-to community oral health expert. It reminds patients that oral health should be a daily priority for the entire family, and can also serve to reinforce overall and procedure-specific patient education conversations dentists may have with their patients while they are in the practice.

Social media also keeps dentists connected with patients on a more personal level, allowing dentists and dental teams to share openings in the schedule, personal and practice milestones, practice promotions, participation in continuing education, and even facility or equipment upgrades. It also enables patients to easily pass along a dentist’s message or to simply share the practice’s location with their friends and family.

Increasing Online Visibility

The terms “social media” and “engagement” go hand in hand. Nowhere is it easier to interact with patients on a consistent basis than through social media sites. Marketing guru Seth Godin once famously said, “Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell.” Sharing stories and experiences through social media creates rich engagement with audiences online, fostering strong and lasting connections with patients and the community at large.

What some dentists may not realize is that social media engagement is also important when it comes to search engine optimization, commonly referred to as SEO.

As increasing numbers of prospective dental patients turn to search engines when looking for a dentist; in fact, according to Pew Internet Research, 93% of all online activity begins with a search.1 As a result, the process of maximizing search engine results for relevant keywords—eg, “dentist in Chicago” or “dentist 60601”—has become one of the main components of a dentist’s marketing plan.

Meanwhile, search engines like Google, which owns more than 67% of today’s US search market,2 are looking to produce the most relevant results for their users. How do they gauge relevance? Search engines quantify the number of users visiting the site itself and measure the length of time spent on the site and the number of pages visited.

Search engines also evaluate a site by rating its level of social media engagement—ie, how many users visit, “like,” “favorite,” or otherwise engage with the brand or company through social media. The more social media engagement, the more authority that website is deemed to have, and search engines reward relevant and authoritative websites with higher rankings on the Search Engine Results Page (commonly known as SERP).

Search Engine Algorithms

The influence of social media in search engine results continued to grow throughout 2014, and the trend is expected to persist through 2015 and beyond. While search engine algorithms once valued backlinks from other authoritative websites above all else, relevant social media interactions now appear to be just as, if not more, important.

Dentists who are able to successfully and consistently get patients to interact via social media demonstrate to the search engines that their content is of high interest to their audience, which positions the dentist as a subject matter expert.

That’s why simply creating a Facebook page or a Twitter account for the dental practice will not have an impact on SEO. It is only when the profile is updated regularly with content that is of such interest to the audience that it elicits an ongoing back-and-forth dialogue that the search engines take notice, search engine results improve, and more patients are likely to find the dentist online.

What does high quality engagement look like? Earning “Likes” and “Shares” on Facebook, “Followers,” “Retweets,” and “Favorites” on Twitter, and “+1s” on Google+. Patients can also “check in” to the practice through Facebook or Foursquare or post photos of themselves in the chair and tag the practice. Activities like these show the online world, search engines included, that patients like and are engaged with the practice.

Video

Video is an incredibly important tactic in increasing engagement, and one for which both search engines and patients have a strong preference. Videos are highly engaging, which contributes to the SEO strategy, and studies show that in general, online users would much rather watch a 30-second video than read a long blog post.

According to Cisco, online video users are expected to double to 1.5 billion in 2016.3 And where do most users view video? On YouTube, the online video powerhouse. The fact that Google owns YouTube contributes to the incredible influence that highly rated YouTube content can have on a dental practice’s search engine results. Remember, Google gives preference to content on YouTube, making videos posted to YouTube instrumental in terms of SEO.

Social Proof and Social Search

Cultivating a cache of promising information about the practice on a variety of third-party websites around the web—including positive comments on social media profiles and favorable online reviews—is critical to maintaining the practice’s reputation in the digital age. Ensuring that patients find consistently encouraging information about the practice when they conduct a search for the dentist name or practice name is often referred to as “online reputation management.”

Word-of-mouth patient referrals may be the best and most cost-effective form of marketing. However, while word-of-mouth marketing used to be made up strictly of in-person, one-to-one communications, with the growing popularity of online patient review sites, word of mouth is now a one-to-many model.

Healthgrades.com, Yelp.com, and AngiesList.com are popular sites consumers often turn to when researching a new dentist and looking for reviews from their peers, which can often serve to validate (or invalidate) a word-of-mouth referral. That is why positive online reviews are sometimes referred to as “social proof.”

In recent years, social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest have been refining the search functionality within their sites. As a result, users can now go beyond seeing what the general public has to say about a particular dentist; they can now find out which dentists their friends specifically recommend and/or have visited, making social media engagement—as well as patient reviews—on these sites all the more valuable.

Final Thought

Make it a goal to leverage the power of social media to spread a consistently positive message about your practice—to both prospective and existing patients—in 2015 and beyond. If you don’t have someone on the dental team with the time, energy, and expertise to fully and consistently engage in social media on the practice’s behalf, seek out an expert in the field who can help take your practice’s social media messaging to the next level.

About the Author

Naomi Cooper is president and founder of Minoa Marketing and chief marketing consultant for Pride Institute. She is a respected dental marketing strategist, consultant, author, speaker, and industry opinion leader. Naomi teaches Pride’s groundbreaking marketing courses and works with individual dentists to craft and implement a customized modern marketing plan. She also consults for leading companies across the dental industry, developing a cohesive marketing approach and creating momentum for their marketing efforts. She can be reached via email at naomi@minoamarketing.com, and she blogs regularly at www.minoamarketing.com. For regular updates from Naomi, including dental marketing/social media tips and tricks, follow her on Twitter (@naomi_cooper) or “like” Naomi Cooper – Minoa Marketing on Facebook at www.fb.com/minoamarketing.

References

1. Bianchini D. 10 Stats to Justify SEO. Search Engine Journal website. www.searchenginejournal.com/10-stats-to-justify-seo/36762/. November 21, 2011. Accessed December 12, 2014.

2. comScore Releases August 2014 U.S. Search Engine Rankings. conScore website. www.comscore.com/Insights/Market-Rankings/comScore-Releases-August-2014-US-Search-Engine-Rankings. September 14, 2014. Accessed November 18, 2014.

3. Cisco’s VNI Forecast Projects the Internet Will Be Four Times as Large in Four Years. Cisco website.

http://newsroom.cisco.com/release/888280/Cisco-s-VNI-Forecast-Projects-the-Internet-Will-Be-Four-_1. May 30, 2012. Accessed November 18, 2014.

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