By Jason Lipscomb, DDS
This year has been an exciting one for dentists. They have begun to embrace the use of social media. Even some of the most staunch opponents have found some benefit in its methods.
Dentists who barely have a Web site are learning terms like SEO, web optimization, Google Alerts, and Facebook fan pages. Dentists have never been "Liked" and "Followed" quite like this.
This atmosphere of social media exposure is not a static one; it will continue to change and evolve in 2011. Here are some of my predictions for the coming year.
More practices will go real-time local.
Sites like Foursquare and Gowalla started a new social media revolution earlier this year. The idea that you could "check in" to a location on your smart phone and tell your friends about it may not seem appealing to some, but millions disagree. Location-based social media is growing by leaps and bounds, so much so that Facebook joined the game with Facebook places. While many may not see the benefit of this, large companies like Starbucks reward loyal customers by their number of "check-ins." A check-in is an instant vote of confidence. What better word of mouth than "I am here right now." Dentists who register with Foursquare will show up under local businesses, and patients can leave reviews about your practice.
A few months ago, several of the geolocation social media sites formed a loose partnership with search engine local providers. The check-ins will contribute to the activity of local profiles housed in search engine local. Other social media sites like Flickr and YouTube have a geolocation feature that allows users to identify a multimedia object with a map location. So you can tag your YouTube videos with your exact location.
Social media outlets will further integrate with search engines.
Dentists who actively monitor their Web sites are very familiar with the benefits of search engine optimization. They will soon realize the benefits of properly placed social media marketing. Facebook is increasing its stake with the search engine Bing. Facebook's pilfering of Google personnel leads some to believe that they will further enter the search engine market. Search engines that once held social media posts at an arm's distance are now populating their results with relevant social media posts.
Facebook is strengthening its open graph system to spread the Facebook "Like" opportunity across the entire Internet. The Facebook search feature will begin to feature more "non-Facebook" items and Web sites. It will become easier to share dental Web sites, blogs, and posts even when they aren't on Facebook. Most Web sites can be added to the open graph system with simple changes. Check the open graph status of your Web site by using the Facebook link http://developers.facebook.com/tools/lint/.
Many dental offices will become part of the group buying or crowdsourcing phenomenon.
While the jury may be out on the true effectiveness of services like Groupon or Living Social, one can't deny their potential. These services offer a "one-day deal" or coupon to consumers for a percentage of the deal. These services are heavily integrated with social media sites like Facebook, thus allowing the deal to "go viral." Many of these services charge up to a hefty 50% for the deal.
Expect the mobile Internet, mobile social media, and mobile search to expand its footprint.
Internet-ready mobile devices are being produced in much greater numbers than those of laptops or other computing devices. More people access the Internet via a mobile device than ever before. Effective dental marketing and social media campaigns will gain visibility everywhere.
At some point, the dental governing bodies will recognize the proliferation of social media and search marketing.
Up until now, the dental community has pondered how local and HIPAA laws will be applied to the growing online usage. While we may not see a mandate come down the line, in the future online exploits may be placed under the microscope.
The upcoming year may see changes in technology or the simple availability of the devices that convey them.
The fact is, social media is here to stay and will continue to become an even bigger part of our lives whether we are aware of it or not.
Jason T. Lipscomb, DDS, is a general dentist in Virginia, where he operates two dental practices. He educates dentists on how to market a practice with social media. Dr. Lipscomb and his partner, Stephen Knight, have released a social media handbook for dentists, "Social Media for Dentists." Reach Dr. Lipscomb at [email protected] or visit www.socialmediadentist.com.