I’ve been practicing dentistry long enough to have seen some significant and provocative changes in the marketing of our dental businesses. Because after all, for most of us, our practice is our business.
Back when I was in dental school, we really didn’t have a course to teach us how to manage a business. We didn’t learn about how to finesse personnel issues or techniques in efficient hiring and painless firing. We came out with little-to-no knowledge on how to best market our business for maximum return on investment. We probably weren’t even sure what ROI meant!
Equipped with no formal training, we were left to our own devices to create a marketing strategy that would bring patients to our door. And to further complicate things, back in the day, marketing and advertising were dirty words in the dental and medical professions. You were deemed tasteless if you advertised your business because we all knew that word-of-mouthwould speak to your exceptional reputation and that should be enough.
But then suddenly, it wasn’t.
When the field of dentistry became oversaturated, particularly in urban settings, suddenly good old fashioned word-of-mouth wasn’t enough. And while, even to this day, word-of-mouth continues to rank as the most reliable form of marketing, it became clear that we would need something more to get people to become aware of our fabulous offices. We needed a strategy.
The evolution was slow and somewhat painful to many. With no idea as to how to create a marketing budget, we tried, understandably, to keep the costs down and dip our toes into traditional marketing vehicles, like the yellow pages, newspaper ads, church bulletins and mailers. To improve our credibility, we joined our local Chamber of Commerce. There was such a willy-nilly method in our marketing strategy that we had no concrete way of knowing what our reach was. How effective were our marketing attempts? Were we throwing money away? But, with a dose of blind faith, we continued.
Then, about five years ago, a new marketing term was being bandied about: digital marketing. Most of watched from the sidelines while digital marketing and social media just exploded.
I decided to jump on the social media bandwagon about four years ago, which was very early for someone in the dental profession. I had no background; I just had passion and curiosity. I knew that in this increasingly competitive market, I had to think outside the box. I didn’t want to compete, but I wanted to be different. My crowns were most likely as good as your crowns and my fillings were similar to yours. My office was just a slightly different version of your office. So, how could I compete? I couldn’t. But I could strive to speak to an audience that hadn’t heard many dentists speak—the digital world.
I started with a homemade rudimentary website. I wanted to control my website so I didn’t buy into the canned versions that were just starting to appear. I did my homework and saw that blogs were becoming all the rage. I started following tons of blogs in all different industries, reading what they posted and watching how often they posted. I wasn’t savvy enough to know how to connect my website to a blog, but I knew I had to have a blog. So I created my first WordPress site and started my first dental blog. I loved blogging, but I didn’t know how to get a potential audience to see and read my blog. One of my lovely patients helped me with that next step. A young woman (with a fabulous blog of her own) told me that I should get on Twitter and Facebook. And, well, the rest is history.
I have become a sort of social media evangelist for the dental profession. Nothing brings me more satisfaction than coaching dental offices on how to harness the power of social media to increase online visibility. I know that digital media is not going away. It will continue to evolve and mature but, it is not going away. In an industry where it is difficult to provide hugely different services from each other, getting ourselves recognized comes from putting ourselves out there. It’s not hard. In fact, it’s fun. Engagement is the key and credibility is the result. It is an intuitive equation.
While many small businesses are dabbling with social media, not very many of them are using it to its fullest potential. So, next week, I am hosting a Social Media Night at my office for all of the local businesses in my area. We will make it fun because, it is fun. I will help take the business owners from dabbling to empowered when it comes to social media. Because, if used correctly, social media is word-of-mouth marketing, just with a much larger audience.
Take a look at your marketing strategy. If you don’t have one, get one. Start simple and start slow. Look at your website. Does it wow you? Are you able to edit and tweak your own website? If not, consider a content management system (CMS) that allows you to take control. Remember, your website is your digital home. You work really hard at keeping up appearances in your office. Why would you be any less diligent with your website home? Once you have a website presence that you are proud of, start a Facebook page. Engage with your followers. Be a real voice, your real voice. Don’t post pictures of your latest implant because people really are not interested. They ARE interested in fun and clever posts that they can comment on.
If you are already a social media evangelist, host a Social Media Night for your local businesses. Get them to understand that with social media, we can not only help ourselves but we can help our community, thereby increasing our own reach! I am really looking forward to our Social Media Night next week. It’s a great opportunity to network and to share knowledge.
Are you using social media? What is your strategy? Do you struggle with what to do next? I’d love to hear about your experiences.
Claudia Anderson, DDS