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September's Monthly Tip: How to Run a Successful Practice Part VII

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This is the seventh in a series of articles outlining How to Run a Successful Orthodontic Practice. In the previous six articles, I emphasized the importance of the receptionist, hygienist, treatment coordinator, and the orthodontic team, plus I presented some simple and cost-effective internal marketing tips and how to communicate more effectively with your team and patients. (1) In this article, I will discuss the importance of social media and give some external marketing tips. I covered internal marketing, and I touched on the use of Facebook in my fourth article, but I want to delve a bit more into how to use social media effectively and what steps you need to take to implement a social media presence in your office. Using social media is no longer an “add-on” or “afterthought.” (2) It had been the wave of the future, but the future is now. Any of you who currently do not have a Facebook page should pay particular attention to this article.

The definition of the word social is: Communal, group, relating to human society, relating to activities in which you meet and spend time with other people. (3) In other words, it takes more than one person to create a social interaction. This interaction is what makes social media so effective. We all know how important word of mouth is for our practices and how word of mouth referrals generate new patients for us. Multiply that by hundreds, or even thousands, and you have the importance of social media. Before I go any further, I need to say that I am far from an expert in the field of social media. I have worked with several individuals and companies that provided services for my practice, and I have deciphered which services have worked for me and which services I feel do not work in my particular office setting (which again is an orthodontic/TMJ practice in a rural community). You need to take into consideration your office location, the make-up of your office team, and what it is that you hope to accomplish.

I have found that the first thing you need to do in searching for a company or individual to help you with your presence in social media is that they have to have worked with dental and/ or orthodontic offices. (4) This is of utmost importance. Dental offices are a completely different demographic than other businesses that you see online. We have the flexibility to offer so much more to our patients than typical medical offices. Companies that have worked with dental offices know that, and they also know how to market their skills and what their patients are looking for. Even though you may have a good friend involved in social media marketing or you feel your 14 year-old child can do a good job on your Facebook page, you really need a professional who can help bump you up to the next level.

There are some definite do’s and don’ts when it comes to social media marketing. A good social media company can guide you on what is appropriate to post and what may be inappropriate. Probably one of the most important things you need to do is appoint a team member as your “Social Media Coordinator” (SMC).  Forbes magazine in 2015 listed some of the qualities needed in a SMC. I feel the most important quality on their list is a customer service mindset. Everything your SMC posts online is a reflection on you and your practice. They are representing your brand, and it is out there for the world to see. The SMC has to feel that the customer is always first, and any difficult situations are professionally channeled off line. It is extremely important that the SMC has a good command of the English language in terms of grammar, spelling, and being able to graphically represent what they are trying to communicate. Images are viewed up to 94% more than written descriptions (5) and are especially important when trying to target women, millennials, (6) or teens for your practice.  Nothing is worse than having a post from your office appear in social media with several of the key words misspelled and with poor grammar. Even though people tend to sometimes use poor grammar and leave out certain vowels or syllables when using Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms, it is not acceptable to have a professional office use that same type of “text” language.

Your SMC has to be consistent with his or her posts and spend time answering any posts. A common theme you will see throughout this article is the importance of interaction. I will digress here for a minute and try to succinctly explain the importance of why interaction and engagement are so important when it comes to social media.

It used to be that certain key words were invaluable to use within the content of your posts in order to increase your search engine optimization (SEO). This was also true with your website content. Your SMC needed to use words such as braces, orthodontics, bleaching, cosmetic, and veneers to ensure that potential patients will find you when searching the Web.  So how does this work? Patients would go to their search engine (Google, Internet Explorer, or others) and type in a key word such as braces and the name of your town. Any content that has been on the Web with the word braces and your town would pop up. The more times it is listed on the Web, the higher it pops up on the page, and the first two or three listings on the page are what our patients will usually click on. In the past, it was important to list as many of those key words on your web page or in any Internet postings that you would do, in order to have you listed high on the search engine page. The exceptions are paid advertisements which often appear on the right side of the page or can be listed at the top of the page. These usually are noted as paid ads.

This type of SEO was common in the past, but now Google and other outlets rely more on interaction by the users with the businesses in order to drive the businesses to the top of the page. For example, the more reviews you get from your patients (I’ll discuss reviews later), the higher up on the page you are. The more shares you get from your posts, the higher up on the page you are. SEO words are still important, but interaction has replaced a lot of that importance. There are certain formulas for Google and Facebook, which are difficult to understand, but what is known is that they both now place more importance on interaction rather than the use of key words.

Your SMC has to be creative in order to come up with interesting posts that will engage and solicit interaction from your readers. One way to do this is through contests. We have monthly or quarterly themes in our office such as beach month, sports month, or pet month. For our recent pet month, we ran a contest on Facebook asking our patients what would be their ideal pet and why. We then drew names from the entrants and awarded great prizes. This was one simple way to engage our patients, and we even received several new Facebook followers due to our patients sharing their posts.

It is actually more important to have a post or photo shared rather than to have it liked. If a patient simply likes a photo or post, you are alerted as to the like, and other patients visiting your page see that the photo or post has been liked. On the other hand, if a photo or post is shared, all of the sharer’s friends see the photo or post that was shared, not just your patients who saw it. Simply put, a whole new group of potential patients are seeing what you posted on your page when it is shared (and will be posted) on the sharer’s page and seen by all of their friends. People like to share personal things. When our son, Mitch, received his Master’s degree, we posted a picture on our Paschen Orthodontics page. Our usual posts are seen by approximately 400-500 people (there is some type of algorithm that Facebook uses, and not all of your Friends see all of your posts). That particular post of our son was shared by several people, and approximately 3,000 people saw the post. That is the power of sharing.

I recently asked the social media company that I work with, My Social Practice, (7) what is the best way for a practice to get started using social media. They stated a few simple steps:

  1. Designate an in-practice social media director (I have already outlined some of the duties). You need a point person on your team who is willing to put in extra time, answer inquiries on your Facebook page, and make proper and regular posts. 

  2. Create a Facebook page and get the page verified (you can Google “how to verify Facebook,” and there are simpledirections to guide you through the process). By verifying your page, it can increase your exposure and show that you are an authentic business (this adds credibility).

  3. Develop a social media policy for your team and create a HIPAA consent form for your patients. You need to make sure your team members are on board, and they constantly have to be taking photos and helping with any contests that you may be posting on social media. More importantly, you have to make sure your patients consent to having their first name and last initial used, along with having any photos of them posted on social media. Parents need to get involved with this if your patient is a minor. This needs to be a written form and signed and dated.

  4. Take a lot of team photos, post them on your Facebook page, and then have every one of your team members share the photo. That way, all of their friends, who may not be patients, will see the photo and see all of the fun you have at your office. Videos are even more effective.

  5. Get a Google or Facebook review while the patient is still in your office. As I had mentioned earlier, social media works best with patient interaction. Reviews are huge when it comes to your position on the Google page. Patients also pay attention to the number of reviews a practice has and also the scoring of the reviews. I have tried several methods for having patients do Google reviews and have come to the conclusion that you need a company to help you facilitate this. If reviews are not easy for your team to relay to the patients, and if they are not easy for the patients to complete, they will not happen. We also add rewards, gift cards, and/or Paschen Bucks, (8) for patients who do reviews while they are still in the office. Getting a Facebook review is as easy as having the patient go to your Facebook page (using their phone) and having them click on “reviews” and then click the stars. These are very important, especially when patients use Facebook for finding a dental practice or an orthodontic practitioner. We also reward patients with Paschen Bucks or gift cards for completing these while they are in the office.

marketing tips. I would highly recommend health fairs. They are a simple way to get a lot of exposure and to attract new patients. We did a Women’s Health Fair for several years and had a Coach purse as a give-away at our booth. We had attendees simply fill out a form with their name, e-mail, and  if they were interested in us contacting them for orthodontics. Due to the Coach purse in full view, we were the busiest booth. We would also give away packets with floss, toothpaste, tooth brushes, gum, and some information on our practice. Attendees love give-aways, and they are a must. From the entry forms, we would usually generate 4-5 new patients, which is well worth the three hours of work.

Another great external marketing tip that worked very well for us when starting our satellite office were direct mail postcards. (9)  We used oversized colorful postcards (see Example 1) which had a call for action and a “reward” if they came in by a certain time. We used demographics such as zip codes, ages of patients, and even household incomes to narrow down the mailing list. Companies that offer direct mail services have all of these statistics readily available. These postcards are inexpensive (we paid about a dollar each), and we sent out 500 every other week for 2 months and then repeated the process three times, so our total cost was approximately $6,000. For the $6,000, we generated 16 new patients. You may think that only 16 responses out of that many postcards sent is not a tremendous response, but in terms of orthodontic production we put in $6,000 and generated close to $80,000! I’ll take that return on investment any time.

Lastly, we get asked a lot for contributions to silent auctions or other causes. Instead of giving a gift certificate to a local restaurant which doesn’t do anything to promote your business, give away a basket with a year’s worth of dental products. A bleaching kit with a Sonicare brush is also a great silent auction item. Be sure to get stickers with your office logo and phone number on them which can then be applied to each of your auction items.  A popular donated item that we do several times a year is an oversized wine glass filled with dental supplies (see Example 2) along with a bleaching kit. This wine glass is especially popular at an annual wine tasting fundraiser. Give something useful and promote your practice at the same time.

In summary, you need to have a social media presence, and you really should work with a company that is in the dental field to help you develop that presence. You need to be consistent in your posts, show that your practice is a fun place to be, and then you will find that social media will pay for itself. It’s all about showing the “culture” of your practice. I encourage you to go to the Paschen Orthodontics Facebook page, “like us,” and feel free to use whatever ideas you would like from our page. We are happy to share anything. External marketing does not have to be expensive. If you do well with social media, and you are able to generate a lot of in-office referrals, you really do not need to concentrate much on external marketing. I view what we do for external marketing more as maintaining a presence in the community. One main rule for external marketing is that you want a lot of exposures for a minimal cost. Find things that will get your name out there but that do not cost a lot of money. TOMA (top of mind awareness) is the key to successful external marketing. If someone asks another person about orthodontics, your office should be the first one that comes to that person’s mind. That is when your marketing is successful.

This article currently concludes my series of How to Run a Successful Orthodontic Practice. If you have any questions concerning this article or any of my previous articles, please feel free to contact me via e-mail (listed in my bio) and put IAO Journal in the subject line. I went through a lot of trials and errors when building my orthodontic practice, and one of my goals in writing these articles is for you to avoid some of the mistakes that I made. My other goal is that I sincerely hope that ideas presented in these articles will guide you on the road to a successful, profitable, and fun orthodontic practice.

References:

  1. Please contact the IAO if you would like copies of past journal articles.

  2. Jack Hadley, “My Social Practice,” Patterson Education Day, Lake Geneva, WI, November 2016.

  3. Merriam-Webster, Cambridge English dictionary

  4. The company that I currently am working with is My Social Practice. I have been very happy with their suggestions, expertise, and willingness to help in any situation.

  5. Jayson DeMers, Forbes magazine contributor, online article, September 28, 2015.

  6. Millennials – these are people born after 1980 and before 1995. That puts them at 6 years old at the time of 9/11, the first significant world event to be remembered at the cut-off (according to Jason Dorsey, expert on Millennials). They are coming of age and will outspend baby boomers by the year 2020. Millennials are computer savvy and are becoming key patients in our dental/orthodontic offices, which is why new technologies and the use of social media is so important for us to know.

  7. My Social Practice, 877-316-7516. There are several levels of involvement that you can choose from. No pressure, very professional, easy to work with.

  8. Paschen Bucks were reviewed in a previous article. These are given out to my orthodontic patients as rewards for good brushing, being on time, not losing bands, participating in our monthly themes, etc. The Paschen Bucks can then be redeemed at the Paschen store for prizes, much like at an arcade.

  9. Orec professional marketing systems, 800-624-5517.

Dr. Mark D. Paschen graduated from the Marquette University School of Dentistry in 1983. His “passion” has always been practice management, giving his patients extraordinary service. After years of incorporating orthodontics into his general dentistry practice, his practice is now focused solely on Orthodontics, TMD, and Sleep. He credits much of the success of his practice not only to furthering his clinical skills but also to his close attention to practice management implementation. Dr. Paschen has lectured extensively in the United States and also in Sydney, Australia. He is a Senior Certified Orthodontic Instructor for the IAO.

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