By Steve Vargo, OD, MBA
Integrate social media messaging in your overall marketing strategy–and harness the practice-building benefits of social media.
There are many reasons for ODs to have a social media presence, but not all do. Whether or not your practice is on social media, your patients are, and they’re having conversations. We already have the ability to influence the conversations that take place about our practices. For example, encouraging patients to “like” your Facebook page (which their friends will see), write a positive review, or post a picture wearing their new eyeglasses. Some practices even record video testimonials of their patients and post to their social media sites. An active social media presence allows you to facilitate this free, word-of-mouth advertising.
Social Media-Marketing Integration ROI
James Shumate of OD Social Net, which markets social media services, offers the following guidance on the indirect ROI to be gained from use of social media in marketing.
Return on Investment is directly related to your stated social networking goals. A properly constructed campaign is built to satisfy the goals. It is helpful if the practice already knows its basic metrics such as:
• How many new patients are you getting per month?
• What is the ROI of current advertising?
• How well do you track your patients?
• Is your database current?
Now, what is your marketing budget? Consider that your time and your staff time have different hourly rates, but add that into your budget. If you are using an agency, your costs will be fixed and you will receive monthly reports against your goals.
Once your monthly baseline is established, then you can create measurable objectives. Early on, you will be looking at how many new followers were created each month. How many mentions, re-tweets and likes did you receive? How much web site traffic was directly created by social marketing?
How many new patient and returning patient appointments were booked from your Facebook page appointment tab? Your staff will want to measure how many phone calls for appointments were received by people finding you through social media. Did your overall revenue increase relative to the same period the prior year?
Are you attracting the type of patients you want? While this is a qualitative measurement, it is vital to understanding the value of your social networking.
Not many marketing campaigns have an instantly positive ROI. Direct mail is easily measured, while social media, an attraction strategy, will take longer to produce numbers but is typically a lower cost, consistent expense.
Implement an Organized Social Media Messaging Strategy
A disorganized and erratic effort is not worth starting. Selecting the right social networking platforms is directly related to the target market. Men and women, older and younger, use different platforms to some degree. So know your target market.
First decide on an overall marketing goal, such as staying better connected to patients so they think of you more than just when a vision or eye health concern arises. This goal can be achieved by distributing content that gets high levels of engagement from patients and viewers. Creating a forum where patients can comment and ask questions helps solidify the professional relationship and strengthen the bond between the patient and the practice.
A Q&A with a raffle on Facebook for all those who submit questions or answer an eye health trivia question, or a daily health tip on Twitter, can do the trick–provided you also remember to drive patients back to your practice web site. Similarly, a blog that is promoted on Facebook and Twitter in which you or one of your associates offers tips on everything from selecting the perfect eyewear to preventing conditions like macular degeneration and glaucoma can be effective.
Link Social Media Accounts with Other Digital Accounts
It’s easy these days to link your social media accounts with other digital media channels. For example, you could include social media icons in your e-mails that link to your social media accounts, or share buttons so people can share your e-mail messages with their friends or followers via their social networking sites. Vice versa, you could include links in your social media updates that direct people to sign up for e-mail or text updates. Give patients the choice of how they would like to stay connected with your practice.
What Kind of Time Commitment is Necessary?
In the beginning, you will be building your following so there is a lot more effort at the start than will be required later. You need your staff to buy into the entire program as they are very helpful in building your Facebook fans.
With oversight from the doctor, I would recommend at least partially delegating social media marketing to a staff member. Unless it’s a very slow practice, a doctor’s time is better used for things other than status updates, uploading videos, and responding to comments and questions. Make the staff member a page administrator, so the posts will be from the practice, not the individual. This alleviates the concern over inappropriate content on their personal Facebook page.
Social Media Time Management Tool: Free Online Tools to Organize Your Effort
There are free online tools that enable you to create a post that then can be set up to post on multiple social media sites at the same time. You can even set up the posts to go up on these social media sites at pre-appointed times.
Hootsuite is an excellent multi-network platform with the added advantage of connecting you to Google+ as well as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare and WordPress blog. You can create all your posts for the month at one setting and schedule them out. For a small fee, you get the Publisher function that allows for mass uploads and has an approval process. This is handy if one of your staff or an agency creates the status posts but you want to maintain control. You also get a weekly status activity report.
You may want to check out Bufferapp.com which is a simple status post calendar app. We use it for spacing out our re-tweets, a function missing in Hootsuite. It’s free for up to 12 scheduled posts.
Tweetdeck is great if your primary platform is Twitter. ManageFlitter.com has a free version that helps you manage your Twitter followers, cleaning out the deadwood from time to time. There are also tools for automatically following new followers, but these tools lack the personal feel of an honest follow.
There also are professional tools used by agencies such as SproutSocial, Sendable and Google’s Wildfire which vary in price and functionality.
Create Compelling Social Media Content
This is where the rub comes. If your goal is to connect with your patients, then you should not be concerned with creating a viral campaign. James Shumate, founder of OD Social Net, suggests keeping your Facebook posts to one to four per day with a mix of useful eyecare information, links to other sources of healthcare information and local interest. Remember your audience. People like to see their name in print.
Shouting about your end-of-year sales and the need for patients to use up flex-spending account dollars will not win you followers the first time you post.
Since most optometrists find Facebook the most appealing platform, they need to understand the monetizing efforts of Facebook management. Facebook wants you to pay for promoting a post in order to be at the top of your fans’ feed. It’s just not as easy as it was two years ago to get a viral spread of your post.
Create and Spread a Brand Image
E-mail is much more like direct mail in that you are typically selling something. In marketing circles, it’s referred to as an attacking strategy. Social networking is more about creating your brand image and letting people decide they like you. It is an attracting strategy.
Regardless of the medium, the message must hit the hot buttons of the reader. The art is in writing a post that is interesting to the reader with content that is not self-serving. For example, omitting names and identifying information, you might send news of a recent treatment success story. You want your brand (your practice) connected to a story. The brand connection is where the payoff is.
Which Social Media Sites Should I Be On?
With one billion users and counting, Facebook is the social media site with the most eyeballs. However; the worst thing you can do is dedicate time to creating a presence on Facebook that no one ever sees! A good strategy to use with Facebook is to post interesting content that gets a reaction. Facebook uses an algorithm called EdgeRank to determine which of your updates will appear in a user’s news feed. This is largely influenced by how often a user interacts, comments or likes your posts. A few ways to get people to engage with your posts is to ask questions, conduct a poll or ask them to “like” statements they agree with.
How Do I Encourage Patient Participation in My Social Media Sites?
Research by the CMO council found that 55 percent of people visiting fan pages were looking for product information, and 65 percent were seeking promotions or savings. To attract followers and then keep them interested, focus on providing content that is interesting and valuable to the receiver. For instance, you could share tips for keeping eyes healthy or fashion tips (with help from your opticians) on choosing the perfect eyewear. If patients find your social media updates interesting, they will be more likely to opt-in to other communication channels such as e-mail or text messages.
Don’t Forget to Integrate Your Practice Web Site
For many businesses, the primary goal of social media and digital marketing is to drive viewers back to their company web site where they can make a purchase. Since a practice web site often operates an online storefront, it’s important to direct online viewers back to your web site where they can get more information, make an appointment, or maybe even make a purchase if you sell eyeglasses or contact lenses online.
Integrated Social Media Action Plan
Connect. Include social icons in your digital marketing (i.e. e-mail, web site, blog) that connect to your social networks.
Share. Include share buttons in your e-mail marketing campaigns.
Promote. Promote e-mail sign-ups via social networks. This could be in the form of a link or a sign-up form.
Provide incentives. If you want people to connect with you on other social networks, sometimes you need to provide an incentive. For example: “Like us on Facebook to be entered to win a free pair of Rayban sunglasses.”
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Steve Vargo, OD, MBA, is president of iMobile Communications in St. John, Ind., a company that specializes in mobile communication and marketing for doctors. Dr. Vargo also is an associate with Vision Quest Eye Clinics in Merrillville, Ind. To contact him:svargo@iMobileCommunications.com.