We see the lecture titles, read the articles, and hear the calls from friends and colleagues. Yet most dentists are wondering, what is social media, and what can it do for my practice? The thought has crossed every dentist’s mind. Why engage on social media? Amid the jungle of articles written about the do’s and don'ts of Facebook, we forget to ask this simple question — Why?
Why connect, why spend time, why devote precious resources? Even as a social media trailblazer, I wonder as well. The frightening truth is that social media marketing takes time. It takes a leap of faith, discipline, and effort to recreate the ideal office environment online. I find that authors and experts miss the boat when they talk about and deconstruct social media. Too often we focus solely on how our online efforts convert to views, hits, and ultimately, a return on investment.
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Measuring the value of a phone call made to a patient after a tough procedure is impossible. However, we know that it builds trust, loyalty, and respect. Think of using social media in the same way. Just as with a care call, social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ cannot be quantified. I wish I could tell you that three posts a week equates to 800 followers, which means eight new patients a month. But I can't.
Which brings us back to the question — why social media? To understand why, it is important to study why your friends and neighbors are using social media. Most of them are forming and rekindling connections. People yearn for connection, interaction, humor, and hope. There are over 1 billion Facebook users. It is real and it is here. Doctors are the ultimate connectors because we touch people’s lives every day. The warm greeting and the always-too-brief conversation before we begin a procedure let patients know we care. This should be no different online. We all connect with our patients in our own unique ways. The goal remains the same — to create a safe community built on care and trust. Social media is an extension of that community.
Social media may not change your practice. It may, however, change how you practice. The few that embrace it fully will experience a bump in those coveted internal referrals. Internal referrals drive a practice to success. Patients who tell their friends and family about you tend to have greater trust and are more willing to learn, and they ultimately refer more.
All these open platforms of interaction may not be right for every dentist. So let’s explore why NOT social media for some dentists. People must engage on these new media platforms in a real way. You can't fake true engagement and connection. A lot of dentists don't want to be that vulnerable in the public eye. There is a professional image to uphold. It’s scary to show true emotion and share real passions outside of dentistry. Patients may be able to glimpse more easily into one’s private life. Worse, employees and patients have the ability to write something controversial and unauthorized on a Facebook page.
This is the paradoxical reality. Many patients are already close friends and neighbors, family members, and high school buddies. Typically they are the lifeblood of the practice already. They know your nondental secrets and still choose you as their dentist. You need to tell yourself that real engagement, however scary and messy, can be a win-win for your practice.
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Other reasons to hide from social media abound. There is a learning curve because it takes time to acclimate to new technology. Many companies are capitalizing on this fear of the unknown by selling a turnkey approach to social media. Let a company help you guide, not control, the discussion. Be careful as you navigate these new powers of the Internet because they can consume you. Fifteen minutes a day can turn into an hour a day checking statuses, viewing comments, and watching videos. At its worst, social media can paralyze you. It can ruin meaningful interactions with friends and family, distract you at restaurants, and even interrupt you at your own dinner table. Social media is not helpful if it forces you to choose. Disengaging from your living and breathing community is not an option.
But why choose social media over time in the "real" world? Time spent online can be as important as face-to-face interaction. My practice has seen a double digit increase in new patients since embracing social media. You are on the right track when you hear more new patients say things such as, “Jenny said you were great,” or “I work with John.” Before your online interaction, people like John in your practice had never referred a patient. Foster this avenue of new referrals and it will foster your practice.
You might not know if the new engagement is working. Patients will not come into your practice and say, “Oh yeah, my friend liked you on Facebook, so here I am.” The data is hidden. An interaction with John was facilitated online. A more meaningful and fun friendship was built. John unknowingly tells a friend about the office by liking or commenting on your page. Use social media to find and share your passions and it will reward you with more passion.
I’ve created a fulfilling network with many of my patients through Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, and the like. The secret is, be yourself, find your voice, and interact in a way that gives you a sense of comfort. The time spent interacting and engaging will be more exciting and meaningful than you ever thought possible. So get out there and show the youngsters how it’s done, and connect with me online to enhance our journey and to find a helping hand.
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After graduating from the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry, Dr. Samuel Weisz gained a spot at the VA Medical Center in Long Beach, Calif., where he completed postgraduate training in implants, sedation dentistry, and anesthesia medicine. With this unique training, he has continued using advancements in dental technology to increase the comfort of his patients in the chair. His main focus is on prevention, an area in which he lectures frequently. He can be seen teaching throughout the Chicagoland area at one of his sought after programs dealing with juvenile dental health and anxiety.