By Naomi Cooper2011 is over and the Internet will never be the same. Over the past several years, the Web has become increasingly interactive. Browsing has shifted from a passive experience to an active one. People are no longer content simply to read information on the Web; they want to participate in the discussion. It’s a shift that’s had a profound effect on dental practice marketing, and it’s largely due to the popularity and prominence of social media.You’ve heard about social media. You may have seen the movie about Facebook, and you likely have a profile on the popular social networking site yourself. You’ve probably even given some serious thought about social media as a marketing tool, and contemplated whether it might be appropriate for your practice. If you haven’t yet made the jump, there’s never been a better time to do it. We’re starting a new year. Patients are resolving to improve their health, and for many of them, that means going to the dentist. They’re going to be looking for you. Why not use social media to make it easier for them to find your practice?You can start by making a few resolutions of our own. No matter your age, geography, or social media experience, here are seven social media resolutions for 2012. #1 — Create a practice profile on Facebook.You may already have a personal Facebook profile. If not, it’s time to create one. There’s no better way to figure out what social media is all about than to dive right into it, and Facebook is inarguably the place to start. With more than 800 million active users, more than half of whom log in on any given day, and 350 million mobile users, it’s by far the single biggest social network in the world. Once you’ve created a personal profile, as a professional and a business owner, you’ll have to make a decision. Do you keep your personal profile completely private, or do you also use it to keep in touch with business associates and patients? Ultimately, it’s up to you, but it’s important to note that it’s against Facebook policy to use your personal profile for a group, organization, or business. So whether you choose to be “friends” with patients or not, your practice should definitely have its own Facebook business page, or “fan page.” Just as with your personal profile, you can use your business page to build an online network. But instead of connecting with “friends,” like you do on your personal profile, people will connect with your practice by “liking” your page. You can also decide just how interactive you’d like your business page to be. For example, you can allow others to post messages on your Wall, or you can adjust your privacy settings so that only you can post on the page.Whatever you decide, make sure you update your status regularly — at least weekly. The updates can be informative, educational, promotional, or just plain fun. #2 — Take up tweeting.Twitter is a product of today’s fast-paced society, where much of our information is absorbed in small bits while we’re on the go. We live in an era where many people no longer have the time to sit down and read a full news article or blog. Twitter enables information to be distributed, read, and absorbed within a matter of seconds, from a computer screen, laptop, smartphone, or even a standard cellphone via text messaging. Setting up a profile takes only a few minutes. The bigger challenge with Twitter is finding followers. Unlike Facebook, following someone on Twitter doesn’t mean that they also automatically follow you. Instead, the best way to gain followers is to tweet and retweet (repeating other people’s tweets) regularly. Mix up the informative with the fun. Tweet links to interesting oral health articles or post brief tips of the day. Make sure all of your patients know that you’re on Twitter and encourage them to follow you. Consider running informal contests with prizes for all of your Twitter followers, such as giving away an electric toothbrush to one of your patients who retweets a particular message about your practice.Even if you never plan to consistently tweet yourself, it’s still worth having a profile on Twitter. You can use Twitter (and its 175 million registered users who tweet 95 million times per day) to follow industry leaders and stay up to the minute on breaking news, or just to keep tabs on your friends, patients, and personal heroes.#3 — Combine and conquer with social media aggregation.So you’re on Facebook and Twitter. Maybe you’ve even taken things a step further and signed up for LinkedIn, MySpace, or Google Buzz. Now you’re faced with keeping them all up-to-date. It’s simple to connect your Twitter account to your accounts on Facebook and LinkedIn, so that whenever you tweet something new, that message gets posted to your wall on Facebook and becomes your latest status update on LinkedIn.An even better solution is to sign up for a social media aggregation site such as TweetDeck, HootSuite, or FlipBook. These display all of your accounts on a single page, allowing you to update your status and easily read others’ posts on all of these social media sites in one place. #4 — Be a better blogger with RSS.The blogosphere is an increasingly important part of the social media landscape. It’s well-established that if you ever want your blog to get any traction, it’s critical to reach out to other bloggers. Why? According to Technorati, there are more than 133 million blogs, and the Web automatically confers more respect and authority on blogs that receive more interaction from other reputable bloggers. That means regularly reading and commenting on other people’s blogs, which will hopefully encourage them to read and comment on yours. But whether you’re an aspiring blogger or just a blog reader, how can you find the time to follow the blogs that interest you without wasting your whole life on the Internet? The whole process is made quite a bit easier with an RSS reader account.RSS stands for “Really Simple Syndication” and an RSS reader, or news aggregator, enables you to view updates from a variety of different websites and blogs in one place, eliminating the need to check each individual website regularly. Like most social networks, RSS reader accounts such as My Yahoo! and Google Reader are free to set up and easy to use. #5 — Invest in the right tools for the job.For social media to be effective, you have to update your profiles regularly, and that’s not always easy. Consider investing in an iPad or a smartphone, such as an iPhone, BlackBerry, or Android. Most social media sites can be viewed and updated on devices such as these, which frees you up to check them on the go. Think about how often you find yourself killing a few minutes here and there as you wait for a plane or a tardy patient. Those are moments that could be put to good use and spent blogging or updating your Facebook and Twitter accounts.#6 — Take control of consumer reviews.When was the last time you Googled yourself, and what did you find? It’s time to take the bull by the horns and complete your practice’s profile on the more popular consumer review sites such as Yelp, Google Places, Yahoo, Angie’s List, Yellowpages.com, and Insiderpages.com. You should also consider adding your practice to the medical and dental-specific sites such as Dr. Oogle, Healthgrades.com, and Zocdoc.com. It’s certainly a little scary that anyone can post a review of your practice online. However, your patients — and prospective patients — love using the Internet as a source of information about health, and they also give particular credence to online reviews. In November 2010, the Pew Research Center published findings that 80% of Internet users have searched online for health-related information, and 24% have posted product reviews or comments online.The fact is that you can’t ignore the review sites or pretend that they don’t exist. So why not embrace them and take charge of your online reputation by encouraging every patient who pays you a compliment to write an online review of your practice? #7 — Social media is a team effort.Marketing is a team effort, and social media should be as well. Encourage your employees to get involved in social media, whether it’s creating their own Twitter account, starting up a blog about dental hygiene, or just helping you keep the practice’s page updated on Facebook. Ask your staff — and your patients — to link to your practice’s page from their personal Facebook profiles or to tweet about the practice. Tell your patients about your blog. And make sure that everyone in the practice understands the importance of encouraging patients to write an online review whenever they have a positive experience.Social media is all about connecting with people online. 2012 should be the year that you resolve to harness the power of social media to strengthen and expand your relationships with your patients, your dental team, and your entire community. Author bioNaomi Cooper is president of Minoa Marketing, a health-care marketing and social media firm based in Los Angeles, Calif. She is also chief marketing consultant for Pride Institute. With more than 15 years of marketing experience, Naomi is a published author, a sought-after speaker, and a dental industry opinion leader. She holds a B.A. in political science from UCLA and earned a Certificate in Business Management from Loyola Marymount University. She can be reached via email at [email protected].To get information about Naomi’s innovative marketing course, The Complete Dental Marketing Plan, being given across the country in 2012, click here or call Pride Institute at (800) 925-2600.