THREE THINGS YOU'LL GET FROM THIS ARTICLE
1. How to use social media properly
2. Why social media is different to "word-of-mouth"
3. What your Facebook page CAN and CAN'T give you
Many specialist and generalist medical and dental practices have a social media presence. But how many know why they have one? Is it to engage with their customers (whatever that means)? Is it to grow their patient base (which can come across as very pushy and ‘sales-y’, which is a social no-no)? Is it to publish or republish ‘like-bait’—gifs of cats or funny medical jokes that someone had emailed you? Is it because someone said you should be on Facebook, and you haven’t really figured out why yet?
All of those are bad reasons to use social media (which, by the way, is more than just Facebook, but let’s deal with that later). They lead to despair as your organic reach drops (following Facebook’s algorithm change earlier this year); which leads to ennui, as you stop trying to post stuff because fewer people respond to it; which leads to dark, foolish thoughts like ‘should I buy Facebook likes?’ And eventually, in the face of overwhelming indifference, it leads to ignoring social media at work entirely.
But there is one excellent reason to be on social media: to draw readers back to your web page, where you can begin a relationship with them. Everything your company does on social media should be done with that in mind.
It doesn’t matter if your funny cat video got 10 shares and 50 likes if none of those people have any intention of visiting your practice.
But if ten people visit your practice as the result of one smart and useful Facebook post, it’s the cheapest and most effective marketing you will ever do.
Why bother with social media at all?
There are some curmudgeons who question why they should bother using social media at all, and certainly why they should be wasting their time on Facebook. There are some analysts, including these guys, who say “Big companies like Coke have ignored their Facebook page, maybe there’s no point”.
The first response to that should be: you are not Coke. You will never be well-served by trying to appeal to the vast majority of the population around the world in the same way Coke is. You are a local healthcare practice. Organic reach in the hundreds of thousands is not your concern.
But also, Coke (and anyone else) isn’t ignoring Facebook because there’s no-one using it—quite the opposite is the case. The graph reproduced here shows that. If you can’t see it, let me spell it out: According to the Pew Research Centre in the United States, 71 per cent of the online adult population use Facebook.
No other social media site comes close to that (although the others are growing at a faster rate than Facebook). If your practice services consumers—and there are few practices that don’t—then having a Facebook presence is the basis on which you build any further social media. It’s where your patients are.
Isn’t social media the same as ‘word-of-mouth’? Because I’ve always relied on that…
No, it’s not. Firstly, word-of-mouth is NOT a marketing tactic. Marketing is something you can plan, control and measure.
You cannot plan word-of-mouth, because by its nature, it’s something that someone else volunteers to do on their own time.
You cannot control word-of-mouth, and to try to do so is seriously anti-social.
And finally, you cannot measure word-of-mouth, because you will never know for sure what your patient or customer is saying, and you will never hear about the patients who were disappointed or disliked you, and you will never know if someone has been persuaded or dissuaded either way.
Word of mouth is actually a lazy excuse for people who don’t think they need to market themselves, or don’t understand how to. If you think you don’t need to market at all, good on you—I hope you don’t practice in a suburb like the one I live in, which has at least 40 other medical and dental surgeries within a few kilometres of my house.
So why bother with social media if I have my own website?
It is precisely because you have your own website that you should bother with social media. Social media is one of the most important ways to amplify what you’re writing about on your own site. Other ways you can amplify that message include all the traditional ways you’ve promoted yourself—ads in the local paper, maybe sponsoring a local football team, direct-mail flyers and anything else you try.
But if you’re like a lot of people, those tried-and-true methods are a little less effective than they used to be (if you measure them, which you should).
If you have any doubt about where people are spending their time, catch a bus or a train. Look around the carriage. The majority of people will have earphones in, and will be interacting with their phone or a tablet computer.
And the sites they’re spending time on are Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, maybe the newspaper sites, BuzzFeed, Instagram, checking their email or listening to music.
If you want their attention—or anyone’s attention—in such a media-saturated environment, you need to be saying something of value to them. It’s not enough to turn your brochure into a website and stick it up online. So you need access to those groups in social media to join the conversation that they are already having. And hopefully add something worthwhile to it.
And why bother with my website if I’m putting this effort into Facebook?
Because one day Facebook will close. I know that sounds ridiculous now. Want to hear something even more ridiculous? One day, in the future, Google won’t be the dominant search engine. I know, you’re thinking, what kind of crazy talk is that?
But there was once a time when Google wasn’t the dominant search engine. And there was once a time when everyone (Rupert Murdoch included) thought MySpace was the be-all and end-all of social media. Remember MySpace? It’s still around. But it disappeared about 7 years ago under the weight of the Facebook juggernaut.
If you put all your efforts into building an audience for what you have to say in Facebook (or LinkedIn, or Google + or Twitter or anywhere else), that social media site owns your audience. If that social media site closes, or changes its rules and blocks your site, you have lost that audience you spent so much time cultivating.
It’s why you should publish first to your own website, and if you have a Wordpress site or a bit of technical know-how, find a way of capturing email addresses through a web-form or something similar. A percentage of that email list—not all of them, but a percentage of them—are well on the way to becoming your most loyal patients.
What not to measure
The great temptation of all social media—in fact, the great temptation of all media—is to chase ‘likes’ or ‘favourites’ or ‘plus-ones’ or any of the other ways the various sites use to indicate someone has interacted with you. You will always spot a contemporary on social media with more fans or followers than you have.
Do not pay attention to it. That way madness lies.
Of course, if you have a social media page with no followers, you may want to address the type of content you’re putting on it. But with a bit of thought and regular publishing to the page, as well as asking all your staff members to ‘like’ it, will give you a base to start building from.
But too many people see the engagement numbers on social media as an end in itself. The numbers are only meaningful in relation to the percentage of them who end up coming to see you as a patient. If you only have 20 ‘likes’ on your Facebook page, but each one of those 20 people come in to see you as a patient, then you have a remarkably powerful social media tool.
What will be more likely is a percentage of your social media followers will sign-up to reading your blog, and a percentage of them will end up as patients.
But they will be fiercely loyal patients, because they will feel they already have a relationship with you, which has been built through your website and your social media presence.
How to do it
Just joining Facebook isn’t enough. Social media (in case you haven’t figured it out) is social. It is filled with groups of like-minded people sharing interests and passions. Some of those interests and passions will be directly related to your job. They may be health and wellness groups, or healthy eating groups, or groups of people who are managing chronic diseases.
There are also many community groups, who are interested in their local communities (which may include interests in health issues, flu shots, stuff they hear about in the news and so on) and have started community groups.
Your priority on Facebook should be to find and join these groups. Not to spam them with sales messages about how they should visit your clinic, but to add helpful information which aligns with their interests.
You can find out what helpful information they need by reading the questions people are posting. And the answers should form the basis of a blog post on your website. You then post your answer, with a link to your blog post, on Facebook saying, “this is the short answer to your question, and I’ve written more about it on my site if you’re interested”.
Also, don’t rule out paying to boost your social media posts. You can do this quite cheaply through Facebook (we normally only spend $50 or so every now and again, and only to boost a post that is already getting a bit of attention). Boosting the post will mean the social medium will ensure your post is seen by particular groups or particular demographics, including friends of people who have already paid attention to your page. You’re not going to reach millions of people, but you will reach people who are more likely to want to interact with you than members of the general public.
There is a genuine and very valid reason to be on social media. That reason is that a fair number of your patients and most of your potential patients are already there. But you don’t want to join to interrupt them with your marketing—you want to join to add your particular knowledge to conversations they are already having.
When you do that, you’ll be pleasantly surprised how many of them will want to make an appointment to see you.
Do you struggle with what to do on social media? Why not tell us in the comments section below?