It seems like the rules and trends for marketing in orthodontics changed overnight. In 2009, orthodontists were first exposed to the “new” marketing paradigm of social media engagement by way of Facebook and Twitter, the orthodontic journals abuzz with “how to’s,” “who’s who,” and “what’s what” articles showing up monthly. Orthodontists charged headlong into the world of social media with less of a blueprint for marketing success and more of a “let’s get there first” approach only to find themselves in 2010 asking, “What now and how do I measure ROI?”.
Most orthodontic practices charged into the revolution without any ammunition and no clear objective, so it would seem obvious to question the social media engagement a year in. Many decided to delay their foray into the revolution because they have no idea how to even fire the first shot. Either way, you are not alone if either of the above applies, and that’s good news. While the majority of orthodontists have some form of social network presence, very few have seen their participation pay off. And most fall short by simply not grasping the fundamental objective in a practice’s participation in social media; increase patient based referrals by giving your “network” reason and incentive to introduce the practice to their “network.” This concept is beautifully summed up by Ford CMO James Farley, “You can’t just say it. You have to get the people to say it to each other.”
Pre-Planning Your Social Media Marketing Plan – Understanding Your Practice’s “Brand” and Creating Objectives
Before delving into a discussion about social media marketing, it is imperative to understand and clearly define your practice’s “brand” and its place in the local market. The importance of starting with this exercise will help you to keep the plan focused on delivering an easily repeated message, one that patients and the community at large will associate with your practice. You have to give the practice a “voice” and “personality” that can be communicated easily. Social media is, after all, social. So you must begin with humanizing the practice. In the social media world, the practice itself is the “person” with whom visitors, colleagues, friends, and patients will be interacting. And as such, if your posts are purely clinical, “How to care for your appliance, etc.”, the practice will be perceived as lacking personality, being “uncool,” and will therefore fail in terms of social interaction. To the point made earlier, you have to provide the “it” that people will say to each other. Ask yourself, or your team, this question, “Why would someone choose my practice over another in town?” Answers may range from “expertise,” to “friendly,” to “cutting edge,” to “best terms.” Then put yourself into the shoes of a potential patient or parent. Aggregate the answers into the creation of personality traits with which you can endow the practice.
Once you’ve established those traits, write them down and share them with your team. The team member(s) tasked with posting need to be keenly aware of the practice personality that you’ve created. He/she will need to become schizophrenic when making posts; he/she is no longer a team member, but rather “the practice.” This is very closely mirrored in your scripting for case presentation. The most successful practices in terms of case acceptance rate, are usually those that invest effort in humanizing the practice by promoting comfort and familiarity. They take the would-be patient on a tour of the facility, introduce him/her to the team, and establish confidence in acceptance because the practice as a whole cares “personally” about the patient’s outcome and the benefits it will yield throughout his/her life. This is the same message that you will convey through social media. Congratulations, you have your “brand.”
Creating the Plan
The social media marketing plan can be as simple or broad as you deem fit. Most practices will find that staying “narrow” will not require adding staff or outsourcing the plan’s execution. A “simple” plan executed properly can and will yield growth. Broader plans simply expand the social footprint of the practice and can increase ROI. Either way, the fundamental parts of the social media marketing plan will follow this outline.
- What to say: All posts should exemplify or stand testament to the personality, or “brand,” of the practice that you have defined. Thinking in terms of this personality will make it easier for the posting team member to find worthy topics. All practices should have some form of “patient-focused” as one of it key personality traits. Encourage your team to digest and relay positive patient stories during your huddle. Make yours a “wall of accolades.” “Congratulations to Brittany for making all A’s / being elected student body treasurer / 1st chair clarinet. Not only will such posts endear you to the patients and families, but it will also convey to the message that the practice is, itself, sincerely interested in the successes of its patients. If your practice is “community-invested,” then follow local prep sports in the paper and talk about key games, congratulate local teams, and mention exemplary student-athletes whether they are your patients or not. Link to your local paper’s honor roll. Post funny stories from the paper. If the practice is “cutting edge,” subscribe to Digg’s RSS feed for technology and make posts about new devices and social network “tips.” Of little concern is that your posts are orthodontics specific. The practice’s brand is invariably connected to orthodontics already, so your task is saying something from the “voice” of the practice in which the reader finds value. This value is in turn reciprocated by the reader when their positive perception of the practice is affirmed and they communicate that forward throughout their “network.”
- What not to say: If the goal of your social media marketing campaign is to get people to tune into your brand, then the antithesis of your efforts will be to have them tune out. Obviously, any post that could be considered negative, inappropriate, or unprofessional can tarnish the practice’s brand perception and must be avoided. But so too should posts that yield complete ambivalence. Those in the practice’s network already know that you are an orthodontist and expect an occasional post regarding “braces friendly foods” and “mouthguard awareness month.” But without more substance offered in the way of practice personality, they may tune you out entirely.
- When to say it: The optimal frequency of posting is a much debated topic. Too many is oftentimes worse than too few. As a general rule of thumb, posting more than once daily to any given network, unless in response to a comment or post string, is too much. Once weekly is about the minimum, but such infrequency necessitates that the posts be meaningful. The strategy that is optimal is to make posting part of the schedule. For example, Monday is patient accolades, Tuesday is events and announcements, Wednesday is media posts (pictures and video), and Thursday is sports and/or weekend events. Once created, stick to the schedule as strictly as possible. Continuity is just as important as content.
- Where to say it: Many practices have embraced Facebook and Twitter as their two networks of choice. But let’s delineate the two in terms of orthodontics. Facebook is a social network whereas Twitter is a microblog. As such Facebook is far more capable of reaching potential patients in your market, while Twitter is simply a way to improve your website’s search engine rankings. For simplicity, you may opt to link the practice’s Twitter account to its page on Facebook, thereby keeping both current by simply posting to Facebook alone. But some additional social media outlets exist that are worthy of consideration. Foursquare is a location-based social network that lets people “check-in” to your practice on their smart phones every time they come in. When they “check-in,” a post is made on their Facebook wall that announces where they are. With as little effort as putting up a sign in your practice, you may receive dozens of check-in weekly, translating to dozens of posts made by patients on their walls about your practice. Consider Flickr as the preferred location to post all photos about, for, and by your practice. Flickr is itself a social network. Link your Flickr account to the page on Facebook and your practice’s reach has grown two-fold.
- How to incentivize it: If your practice has spent any time participating in social media, you’ve probably found that the most profound way to increase participation is to incentivize it. But a stringent word of caution is offered if you do such on Facebook. Facebook has a particular set of guidelines that specifically disallow many of the most common types of promotions offered by orthodontists on their pages. Contests such as “make a post on our wall and you’re entered to win” and “upload a photo to our page on Facebook to enter,” are violations for which Facebook would, if discovered, remove your page altogether. All the work spent in developing the page would be for nought. Search on the web for “facebook promotion guidelines” to find the full version. In order to properly (and legally) run an orthodontic contest or promotion through Facebook requires the use of 3rd party applications. Few companies exist that specialize in creating such, but Ingenuity Orthodontic Marketing is unique in that it works exclusively in the field of orthodontics.
- How to simplify it: A few applications exist that allow you administer all your social media accounts in a centralized “dashboard.” Perhaps the most popular of these is HootSuite. The free version should suit the vast majority of orthodontic practices’ needs, and will save considerable time and effort in administering your social media marketing plan.
Carleton Wilkins is President of Ingenuity Orthodontic Marketing, an orthodontic marketing firm that brings a unique and fresh point of view into the world of orthodontics. By creating, managing, and hosting web-based orthodontic contests and launching strategic social media marketing campaigns, Ingenuity helps its client orthodontists to better communicate with its community, and thus increase patient referrals and dental referrals. For more information, visit http://www.ingenuity.cc
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