Article Date: 4/1/2011

Social Networking: How Much Is Enough or Too Much?
o.d. to o.d.

Social Networking: How Much Is Enough or Too Much?

Create an online marketing presence that uses the best of what the Web has to offer your practice.

By Walter D. West, O.D., F.A.A.O. Chief Optometric Editor

Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you know that online marketing is where it's happening. And much of the buzz centers around social networking sites. Gone are the days when eyecare professionals considered these sites (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Four-square, LinkedIn etc.) as passtimes purely for their kids, not sites that help their practices. Now the question has become:

How much social networking is enough?

It's about your business

Let's start with the basics. You are first and foremost in the eyecare business. You provide eye exams. You diagnose disease and prescribe medications. You sell eyewear and fit contact lenses. You manage employees. You pay your vendors. You pay your rent. And you answer phones, e-mails and questions from patients all day long.

Do you really have the time to do your job and actively participate in hundreds of social sites? I don't think so. So, here are a select few worthy of your attention:

Facebook. This site boasts more than 500 million members. Remember, Facebook contains personal pages on which you add friends and business pages people follow by pressing a “like” button. Make your business page about business, not what you had for breakfast.
Twitter. Twitter has more than 145 million users sending some 1.2 billion tweets (messages of 140 characters or less) each month. Use these messages to promote your business, events, website and so on.
YouTube. Do you advertise on TV? Put your commercials on your own YouTube channel. Do you create any video within your practice? Upload these to YouTube. Provide links to the videos on your practice website.
Yelp. This is a social review site where people read and write reviews about businesses. Find your business on Yelp (as well as the other social review sites, such as Foursquare) so you can see what the online world has to say about you. Encourage your patients to write reviews. After all, more than 60% of consumers do online research before visiting a business.

A blessing and a curse

Both the blessing and the curse of the Internet is that it's always changing. What's popular today may not exist in five years. And in five years, that which doesn't yet exist may be the next Facebook—the darling of Wall Street. While you can't expect to keep up with every trend, be agile enough to command a presence among patients, both today and tomorrow.

If you're able to develop this agility, you'll find the Internet and social media are friends of your practice. Just be sure to scrutinize your return on investment of time, energy and money. Just like anything else, if you're not seeing a return on your investment, it might be wiser to market in a different medium. The important thing is that you continue to market not only within but outside your practice. OM

Optometric Management, Issue: April 2011