By Jennifer Jabaley, OD
Nov. 25, 2015
Something interesting happened in the last couple of months. I received Facebook friend requests from both my mother and my 92-year-old grandmother. Aside from the obvious humiliations like my mother using my childhood nickname in her posts, and my grandmother signing her comments like a letter: “Much love, Grandma,” this brings about another issue: The world has truly gone digital.
If my elderly grandmother is using her smartphone to check her Facebook page, I think we can assume that in this day and age, just about every current or prospective patient is online, too. So how can we establish a digital footprint that makes our practices more accessible to patients searching online?
Optimize Your Web Site
Millions of prospective patients search online to find eyecare. Most every optometry practice will have a web site, but do you have an attractive and unique web site that stands out from the competition? Aside from listing your doctors and services, does your site offer current eye health information, such as the necessity of UV protection year round, or the importance of safety goggles for children participating in athletics?
Does your web site have appealing graphics, including practice or staff photos? Have you confirmed that your web site content resizes properly when viewed on a tablet or mobile device? It is essential that, when viewed on a small screen, your office name, address and phone number are easily accessible.
Claim Your Local Listing
The Pew Internet Research Group in 2011 showed that nearly 80 percent of internet users, specifically 60 percent of all adults, have searched for health care information online. No matter how professional and gorgeous your web site is, it will do you no good if a prospective patient can’t find it. To give yourself an idea of how your practice fares in an online search, do a test Google search with your city, or area, with the word “optometrist.” Do a second search including the name of your practice. If you set a goal to appear in the first page of a potential patient’s search result, it will give you a huge advantage over the other doctors in your area.
To increase the chances that your web site will be found by a search engine, include relevant keywords in the text of your web site. For example, if your practice is in Atlanta, Ga., make sure to have the words “Atlanta optometry office” included in the text on your web site homepage.
Since patients typically search for health care within their local area, have a listing linked to Google Maps. If you’re listed on Google Maps, when someone types in the name of your city and “optometrist,” your practice’s name and location will appear on the map. This is beneficial because most people use a GPS device to locate destinations.
Additionally, submitting your practice information to other online directories, such as Yahoo local, Bing Places, Yelp, YellowPages.com or Mapquest, will help increase traffic and search engine rankings.
Monitor Online Reviews
When patients are searching for a new eye doctor, they many look for online review sites such as Heathgrades.com or Doctor.com to vet their options. Of course, we all hope for glowing reviews of our practices and staff, but it is now so easy for a disgruntled patient to hide behind the anonymity of their smartphone and leave a negative comment. We hope it never happens, but if it does, the best thing we can do is be aware of the review and determine if the comment is valid and needs to be addressed, or if it was just a hasty action from a person having a bad day, a fight with their insurance company, or self-pitying that they need bifocals.
You can set up a Google profile and choose to receive a message after an online review is posted. This allows you to stay on top of your digital reputation, as well as promptly respond to any comments that require feedback.
Build a Social Media Presence
Establishing a social media presence for your optometry practice is rapidly becoming a necessity. Why? Here are some current facts about social media, technology and our current population. The Pew Research Center posted a social media update in 2014 with the demographics of key social networking platforms:
• 58 percent of the entire adult population uses Facebook, and71 percent of all adult internet users, use Facebook.
• The fastest growing segment on Facebook is females over the age of 55 (hence my mother and grandmother’s new accounts).
• One-in-five Facebook users look for health care information through Facebook.
• 23 percent of adult internet users use Twitter. The largest segment of users are college graduates earning over $50,000 who live in urban areas.
• 26 percent of adult internet users use Instagram.
• Instagram had the largest usage in the young adult category: 53 percent of young adults age 18-29 had Instagram accounts.
• Pinterest had the largest jump in account set-ups for females across all age ranges.
Optometrists who use social media for their practices are able to leverage this huge user base as a way to stay connected to their current patients and attract new ones. The key is to pick which platform would be most represented by your patient demographic, and then to use that particular platform to build personal connections.
To build a connection in social media, you must show up, connect and contribute. You want people to know you, like you and trust you. Allow the real you behind the brand of the practice show up. Engage in conversations. Post pictures of your participation in community events. Engage in conversations. Interact with patients by posting articles and tips. Keep patients informed about new services, new products and any changes in office hours or holidays. Do not use your social media platform simply as an advertisement tool.
There are so many benefits to building a social media presence, but many practice owners are hesitant, particularly concerned about patients commenting and posting private or inappropriate material. If that is a concern, you can always create a disclaimer about what is appropriate and post it prominently on your page.
In this era of digital media, practices can increase their online presence with an up-to-date web site, optimizing search engine results, monitoring appropriate online reputation through reviews and establishing a social media presence. At its heart, online interaction is effective communication, building relationships, educating patients and growing your audience.
How do you ensure that your online presence is strong enough to keep in touch with existing patients, and to draw in new patients?