Exploring social media with author and dentist Dr. Jason Lipscomb

Jan. 21, 2010

Note: Kevin Henry, managing editor of Dental Economics, recently had the chance to visit with Dr. Jason Lipscomb, a Virginia dentist who is the co-author of the book, “Social Media for Dentists.” You can read more about Dr. Lipscomb and the book by logging on to www.socialmediadentist.com.

Kevin Henry: Dentists have been described as "slow adopters." Are you finding this is true with social media?
Dr. Jason Lipscomb: I have found that there is definitely a generational divide between dentists that are embracing social media and those who are not. Dentists who have been in business for a long time are immigrants to the digital age, while younger dentists were raised on technology.

The way that individuals are communicating has changed dramatically, and the fastest growing segment on Facebook is 55- to 65-year-old females. That may not seem like a dramatic figure until you realize that Facebook surpassed Google this year for Web traffic, and that eight out of 10 appointments are made by women.

Many doctors continue to use traditional advertising because it's worked in the past and it's what they have been told to do. As more dentists retire, and the 80 million strong Generation Y gets more of a foothold in dentistry, more dentists will realize that these Internet savvy dentists have a clear advantage.

Henry: What's the most surprising statistic to you when it comes to dentistry and social media?
Dr. Lipscomb: I am always amazed that the opportunity to communicate with the largest and fastest growing demographic is mostly ignored by dentists. Women are the key decision makers in the household when it comes to making appointments and spending money. Close to 85% of women will make financial decisions in their households. Women make the majority of appointments.

Where are women congregating and talking? Is it by e-mail? No, social media actually surpassed e-mail. They are talking online on social networking sites. About 34 million women go online each month to discuss everything from their purchases to — you guessed it — their dentists. About 70% of women made the decision to use a product or service online and then, according to Forrester research, 50% of them told their friends about it.

The number of women reading local review sites and using Google, Yahoo, and Bing local searches to find dentists is in the millions. I spoke with a cosmetic dentist recently who said a woman found him through a local search in his city and drove several hundred miles because she knew he was the dentist she wanted. Here’s something that rings true with many of us — a survey done in Canada showed that 1.4 million women had canceled dental appointments out of fear. Social media strategies allow us to engage and interact with people to help alleviate these fears.

Henry: You say it's important to have an action plan before starting down the social media path. Why?
Dr. Lipscomb: Social media is made up of many parts, however it has one consistent theme — conversing and listening. Social media is word of mouth on steroids, but if you dive into it haphazardly without a plan, then your chances of succeeding are very low. The good news is that since social media is made up of so many parts, you can pick two or three that fit your personality and values.

An action plan helps you organize your campaign more effectively. You need to address certain topics, such as how long do I want to spend each day on social media and what role do I want to take? What strategies do I feel will be the most effective and beneficial? How can I give back to the community and in return gain their trust? In which areas of implementation will I need help?

An action plan should have clearly defined goals that enable you to run a highly effective and efficient campaign.

Henry: What's your best advice to dentists just starting down the social media path?
Dr. Lipscomb: Take your time and don't try to incorporate every social media platform at once. One of the biggest mistakes dentists make is trying to be everywhere at once, and they immediately become overwhelmed. The best advice I can give is to pick one or two social networking platforms and start there.

As I said before, have a game plan with a clear and concise strategy. Also make sure that you are consistent with your branding. Your Web site, blog, Twitter and Facebook accounts should all help extend your message to the community. Also when you join a social community, don't start immediately talking about your practice and the services you offer. You wouldn't go to a friend's cookout and try to get new patients. Social media works the same way. When you start, make sure you give back to the community by offering helpful comments and linking to articles.

Don't underestimate the power of social communities. About 25% of tweets discuss a product or service. My Twitter campaign alone brings me an average of seven new patients a month and there is zero cost. I have also been on NBC and am being interviewed by ABC this month. How? Local journalists saw my posts on Twitter and thought they were interesting. Social media can definitely help grow your practice and give you a voice in your community.

Henry: I know some dentists are using their team members as their social media coordinators. Is this a good idea? Why or why not?
Dr. Lipscomb: Your team can be a powerful asset. The CEO of Zappos Inc., Tony Hsieh, has nearly 1.7 million followers and he is on Twitter every day. Tony always has something interesting to say and I always read his posts. Nearly 95% of his tweets are not about Zappos at all, they are just interesting tweets or articles, but followers have grown to really like him. Best Buy created Twelpforce, which allows customers to communicate with their team and ask specifics about products and services.

As long as you lay down definite ground rules, such as patient privacy, and acceptable language and behavior, using your team can be a great opportunity to communicate with the community at many different levels. Many of the young dental assistants and office staff have grown up using social media and understand completely what is acceptable and not acceptable. I would discuss using social media with your staff, and encourage those interested to play a part in helping you grow your practice.

One important point is your team does not have to be made up of your staff. Once you begin an online campaign and grow your community, you’ll find that people are actually glad to help you. My partner, Stephen, does not see Twitter as something he has to do; he has turned it into an exceptional tool that saves him over $100,000 a year.

How is this possible? He has nearly 10,000 people that subscribe to his monthly newsletter. Every month he sends out a newsletter that contains multiple articles, sample files, book reviews, and discounts from sponsors. Stephen was spending 40 hours a month creating this newsletter, and now he spends two hours. He has grown a community on Twitter that writes all of his newsletters for him, does research for him, and pays thousands to place sponsored ads. He has not written an article for the newsletter in six months.

Who else can your team be? Retired dentists who are following you online can write articles for you and help answer questions. Dental students are great as well. Get as many local dental students following you as possible, then have them write articles for your blog and do research for you. Check to see if your reps are on Twitter or Facebook.

Not only is social media an effective tool to communicate with others and become the voice of your local community, it is also a great tool that can save you hours of work if used correctly!

Henry: What's the most common misconception you find among dentists when it comes to social media?
Dr. Lipscomb: There are actually two main misconceptions that I hear over and over. The first is, "I don’t have enough time," and the second is, "My Web site is first on Google or high in the search engine rankings, so I don't need to do anything else."

A well-managed campaign takes about five to 10 minutes a day and is virtually free. The most time consuming part of a social media campaign is the original set-up. After that there are plenty of ways to send messages to multiple social media networks simultaneously with the push of a button.

Most dentists think, "I have a Web site and great SEO (Search Engine Optimization) so that’s all I need." This might have been true as recently as a year ago, but simply is not true anymore. Many dentists hire companies to get their Web sites to top ranking positions and believe this will bring in the traffic.

Unfortunately, many SEO specialists over-stuff Web sites with keywords and over-optimized text. Many Web sites I've seen are almost illegible because everything is written for search engine traffic. If your Web site is not attractive, not interesting, not engaging, and does not collect any information from the prospective patient, it doesn’t matter if your site is number one or number 50. You get seven seconds to hold someone’s attention. Seventy percent of people will not scroll down a Web site. Most dentists’ Web sites that I see do not have a call to action, do not collect any information from prospective patients, and completely fail to engage patients.

Social media is much more powerful because you are interacting with prospective clients. You have a voice in the community, and a personality. People are more likely to go to dentist who they feel relaxed and at ease with. Earlier I mentioned that 1.4 million women cancel their appointments out of fear. Social media is a way to interact, allay fears, and build relationships with prospective clients.

SEO is important, but it cannot compete with review sites, local search, and the fact that more tweets and Facebook posts are indexed instantly by the major search engines. I have spoken with several dentists who are spending between $30,000 and $40,000 a year just to maintain a top position in the search engines. Meanwhile they don't realize that Facebook actually beat out Google for visits this year, social media surpassed e-mail this year, and YouTube had more viewership than ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox combined.

Henry: How many times do you use social media in a day? Do you set limits or goals for yourself on a daily or weekly basis?
Dr. Lipscomb: I use social media more than most dentists because I’m constantly researching and working on ways to facilitate the growth of dental practices through social media. Even so, for my own practice, on average I may tweet three to four times a day, and I post on Facebook. I usually invest anywhere from five to 10 minutes a day on my own practice.

Dentists will have the best results if they use social media a couple times a day. Many times I'll get to the office a few minutes early and send out a few quick posts, and then after lunch I'll spend a few minutes again. I don't really set limits for myself, but I do set goals. I generally like to bring in seven to 10 new patients a month. To do this I engage my Twitter community with interesting articles, surveys, videos, and usually a weekly give-away. In our book I really go into detail on how to implement the above techniques in a matter of minutes a day.

Henry: You've said that time management can make or break a social media campaign. Why?
Dr. Lipscomb: It's human nature to want to see immediate results for something that you invested time creating. Many dentists will join a social community and give up after a week. Most dentists have no idea how to even implement a social media strategy and they feel they’re investing time without reaping any rewards. That's one of the main reasons we see dentists give up on social media.

To be effective you must have a plan, and you must also understand that you will have to initially invest some time. That being said, dentists still struggle with implementation. Most dentists are not marketers nor do they want to be. They want to be successful, but they want to continue using traditional techniques that are becoming less effective every day.

For a social media strategy to be effective, dentists need to implement just a couple of strategies. Realize that it will take some time to set up the campaign. For instance, if they are setting up a Twitter campaign they will need to have a professional background designed, a nice picture taken as their avatar, and a small bio written. Unless you are a graphic artist, I recommend you have a professional create your Twitter background and help you write your bio. Once this is set up and you have a professional presence, then you can create your community. Once this is finished you need to spend only about five to 10 minutes a day.

If done correctly, instead of investing thousands of dollars, a powerful Twitter campaign can get you in front of your local community EVERY day, many times a day. Once you have established a great Twitter campaign then you can establish other campaigns on other social networks. My advice is to take your time — it's amazing when you think about the ability to converse with your local community every day. And remember, when you tweet or post on Facebook, every one of your messages is being indexed by Google. Be smart, use keyword rich posts, and whenever possible add links back to your Web site or blog.

Henry: How should dentists balance social media with blogging?
Dr. Lipscomb: Blogs are very important as people expect to see valuable information in them. Their mindset is one of interest and curiosity. This is a great place for dentists to have how-to articles and videos, picture galleries, and procedure articles and videos.

Blogs are great because they lead to interaction with others. Dentists should be sure to ask for comments at the end of every blog. Search engines love comments, especially keyword rich comments. This is also true with videos. Make sure that you ask for comments about your videos. A potential client may want to know about veneers or implants and may have questions. Encourage visitors to ask questions — as a matter of fact, at the end of your videos ask them to comment.

Blogs also enable you to expand on topics from your Web site. You can post case studies and help patients understand such topics as billing or insurance.

There are thousands of plug-ins for blogs that will instantly add SEO optimization to your blog, protect you from SPAM, allow visitors to post your blog to social bookmarking sites, and manage comments.

Another concern that dentists have about blogging is, "Where do I get content for my blog?" Some dentists love to write, and some would rather bang their head against a wall. I enjoy writing articles and creating video testimonials, so using social media is a natural extension for who I am. However, in our book we discuss great ways for dentists to use industry experts to write their blogs and articles for them. We have created a group of expert research companies, dental students, and retired dentists to help dentists create content for their Web sites and blogs. Articles and blogs usually run about $50 to $100 for 15 expertly written articles. That’s a good 12 months worth of articles, which can then be advertised on press release sites, etc.

Blogs are another wonderful way, if used correctly, to expand your practice by making information available to patients and prospective patients. Once again, as with any social media campaign, make sure that your blog’s message and appearance is consistent with the rest of your social networks and Web site. Uniformity and consistency are extremely important in building a reputation.

Henry: What's the main thought you want to leave with our readers?
Dr. Lipscomb: I cannot begin to describe how powerful social media is, and the opportunities that will continue to grow for dentists. I encourage dentists to get started now and explore the options that are available. If all you send out are direct mail campaigns and use the phone book then you are really missing out. All your competition has to do is be a little bit more interesting than a phone book advertisement. Traditional advertising is moving online, and only 14% of people use phone books to find a professional. And 24 of the 25 largest newspapers are experiencing record declines in circulation. Almost 90% of people Tivo television shows to avoid watching commercials. Out of all TV commercials watched (billion dollar industry) only 18% generate positive ROI.

With the right tools, social media can grow your practice for pennies on the dollar compared to traditional advertising costs. It can establish you as a hero or local expert in your dental community. Social media also enables you to have a presence throughout the Web and not just rely on your Web site as the key selling point for your practice. Social media is here, it's not a fad, and 96% of generation Y is already heavily involved in it.

Social media is instant word of mouth to thousands of people at once, and it's a fundamental shift in the way we communicate. Your patients and prospects are already there. Are you?

Note: You can follow Dr. Lipscomb (@socialmediadent) and Kevin Henry (@kgh23) on Twitter.