Are You Still on the Fence About Social Media?
New statistics suggest your practice needs a social media presence. Here are five tips to get you started.
BY KIM ROGERS, M.B.A., GRAND BLANC, MICH.
We’ve all been inundated by social media outlets. Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn represent just a few of the portals that capture Internet users. Most of us, at a minimum, have a Facebook account. A total of 72% of adults who go online use social networking sites (18% use Twitter), according Pew Research Center statistics from May 2013.
Marc Bloomenstein, O.D., optometric director at Schwartz Laser Center in Scottsdale, Ariz., says, “Having a presence in social media is becoming as essential as having a website. It’s an important part of the forward-looking, technologically advanced image we want to portray to our clients. How advanced will our patients think we are if we don’t even have a Facebook page?”
Social media is also a great way to show your patients transparency. “Current and potential patients can go online and see what other patients have said about us and our services,” comments Dr. Bloomenstein. “It’s an easy way to show our success with previous patients that doesn’t infringe on HIPAA regulations.”
Recent statistics suggest that optometric practices would benefit from a social media presence. (See “Social Networking by the Numbers,” page 62.) Yet the idea of starting a social media campaign can seem confusing and overwhelming, especially to those with limited experience in developing Web-based strategies for their practices. Fortunately, the reality is that implementing a social networking strategy can be quite easy and inexpensive. A Zoomerang. com survey of decision makers at small and midsize businesses (SMB) shows that nearly 60% of all SMBs spend less than $100 on social media. In addition, 74% of SMBs don’t employ anyone to manage their social media marketing.
“When you consider the exorbitant costs of print advertising or radio segments, even paying for staff time to manage your social media presence amounts to a very minimal expense to remain relevant,” explains Dr. Bloomenstein.
Consider the following easy steps that any practice can take to start creating a social media presence.
Five steps to success
1. Start simple. On your first foray into social media, create a Facebook fan page for your business. This is where your customers are. It takes 10 minutes to create an account and an additional 10 minutes to create a fan page. Once you have created the fan page, make sure everyone knows by including a link on your website. To create visibility for your presence, add the Facebook logo to receipts, posters, business cards, office stationary, etc.
2. Engage your customers. Don’t be afraid to ask your patients to become fans, and be sure to give them a reason to visit your page. The more often you post relevant information, the deeper your relationship with your fans. Offering time-sensitive discounts encourages fans to check your page often, but you can engage your fans in many ways. For example, links to interesting and relevant news articles, new services or products in your office and comments on community events are all possible news items.
Are you involved in sports or charities? Do you have a particular hobby? Patients like to see the doctor’s human side as well, and these kinds of status updates give them opportunities to comment.
Invite patients to upload photos or videos of themselves in their new eyewear. This enables patients to engage their own networks and do the updating and content posting work for you.
“We hosted a contest inviting patients to submit videos on the Phoenix Suns, and it was wildly popular with our patients/fans,” explains Dr. Bloomenstein. “It was a great way to generate activity and keep us in the front of our patients’ minds.” Update your fan page status with simple questions related to vision or eye health, the results of clinical studies or event announcements, such as trunk sales on eyewear.
Social media outlets, such as Yelp.com, offer the ability to rate a business. “Our practice has a listing on Yelp and encourages patients to visit it to ‘rate’ our services,” shares James Owen, O.D., optometric director for Encinitas Optometry and Coronado Eye Associates in Encinitas, Calif. “We provide a comment card to patients after their visit, and ask them to rate us on Yelp. If they take the time to review our services, we send them a Starbucks gift card as a thank you. The more positive reviews we receive, the better presence we get online, and we reach more potential patients.”
3. Enlist your staff. Start off your fan base by asking your employees to become fans. In addition to becoming fans and advertising it on their personal networks, staff members are also a great source for status updates. Showcase one member of your staff per week, give a brief résumé of their experience, and have him/her tell about their favorite product or service in your office. Employees can also share favorite holiday traditions, favorite activities/events in the community or favorite books. Again, fans like to see the personal side of medical professionals and like to see posts that they can share.
4. Maintain your social media presence. Assign a staffer to spend five to 10 minutes twice a day, when you open and when you close, to monitor your Facebook page, and post status changes. Creating a basic spreadsheet outlining how often you plan to post something and ideas on what to post keeps you organized and efficient.
Remember that social media is not stagnant like other forms of marketing — it is a constantly evolving space. This means negative comments are possible as well.
“It is necessary to regularly check your fan page, and if a negative comment does happen to appear, respond to it directly and quickly and offer an explanation,” says Dr. Bloomenstein. “Usually a direct public apology is sufficient. It’s always a good idea to also ask patients who have expressed satisfaction with your services to [share] comments.”
5. Maintain realistic expectations (a.k.a. appreciate a small fan base). No one expects an optometrist’s office to generate six million hits like the game “Angry Birds,” and you wouldn’t want to manage that large of a presence immediately anyway. What’s important is to build a community of local fans who maintain their loyalty to your business and bring in new referrals. If you are not shy about asking patients and employees to become fans, your growth will be steady and sufficient.
“Creating a social media presence is like building a tribe, the more followers you get the more well-known you become,” explains Dr. Owen. “It’s inexpensive and easy to start, and brings your practice to the forefront.”
Social Networking by the Numbers
The latest numbers demonstrate the extent to which your patients and customers are already embracing social media as a part of their everyday lives. Consider:
► 72% of all U.S. adults use a social network.
► A total of 27% of online time is spent on social networks, according to data reported by Experian Marketing Services in April.
► There are now 1.15 billion active Facebook users, according to an August posting on Digital Market Ramblings, a website that reports digital marketing statistics and trends.
► 38.2 million U.S. citizens use mobile devices for social networking, according to the firm comScore.
More than the bottom line
It’s difficult to produce exact metrics on how a Facebook page impacts a practice’s bottom line, but it’s increasingly important to a business.
“I don’t have exact data on Facebook and Twitter ROI, but they demonstrate that we’re forward-thinking, relevant, and we’re busier than we’ve ever been,” claims Dr. Bloomenstein. The customers are already online everyday — you just have to reach them. And with the simplicity and low economic investment, there are no more excuses to getting out there and becoming part of the social media landscape. OM
Ms. Rogers is a manager of business development at AMO. She received her MBA from the DeVos Graduate School of Management at Northwood University. E-mail her at Kimberly.Rogers@amo.abbott.com. To comment on this article, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.