By Steve Vargo, OD, MBA
Twitter lets you stay in constant touch with your patients using brief targeted messages. Use this free tool to engage your patients in a healthy lifestyle conversation.
Twitter, a social media tool that offers what can be a constant stream of messaging to “followers” via 140-character messages, gives you the chance to remind your patients of your presence everyday. Disseminate marketing messages such as news of sales and promotions or new services offered or ask for patient feedback regarding a recent practice change. Here are some tips for making Twitter a useful tool for your practice.
What is Twitter Anyway?
Twitter is an online social networking service that enables users to send and receive messages up to 140 characters, called “tweets.” Tweets go out to your followers who follow you because they are interested in you. When you follow another Twitter user, their tweets appear on your main Twitter page. By prefixing words or phrases with a hashtag “#”, users can group posts together by topic or type. Similarly, the “@” sign followed by a username is used for mentioning or replying to other users. The retweet function “RT” allows users to share a tweet with all of their followers. Twitter is one of the top 10 most visited web sites on the internet and is a very efficient way to reach a lot of people in a short amount of time with minimal effort on your part.
As with other social networking sites, the ability to easily share information creates massive opportunity to market and publicize your practice. You can use many channels to invite current patients to follow you on Twitter (office signage, web site, e-mail newsletter, etc.), and then your current patients can share your tweets with their followers (potential new patients) by retweeting.
Broaden Reach of Marketing Efforts
I would recommend using Twitter to broaden the reach of the marketing you are already doing. If you’re thinking “I don’t have time for another social network,” you can use a social media management system like HooteSuite which allows you to manage multiple social media accounts from one dashboard. For example, you could create one message and simultaneously deliver it to multiple social media services (ie. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+). You can also pre-schedule messages to go out at different times or days. This is typically a more efficient way for a busy OD to maintain a presence on multiple social media accounts.
What Do Twitter Messages Look and Sound Like?
While 140 characters does not seem like a lot, you might be surprised how much information you can pack into 140 characters. Often, Twitter is used to direct people to another site where they can access more information. State your purpose and include a link in your tweet that re-directs users to your practice web site, blog, video, or other online message.
Example 1: Eagle Eye Care: Ever wondered how to choose #sunglasses? Watch this video http://goo.gl/6Y89R
Example 2: Eagle Eye Care: The 10 best foods for your eyes: http://goo.gl/4CqLS via @todayshow
Avoid Being Too Self-Promotional
Good Twitter messaging, similar to other social media platforms, aims to provide more value to your followers than to yourself. Focus on the needs and interests of your patients. Bad Twitter messaging is being overly self-promotional, boring or posting anything inappropriate or controversial. If you’re not interesting and likeable, people will not want to follow you.
So, in other words, avoid commenting on anything political such as a local mayoral race or national hot button issues like abortion or prayer in school and also avoid offering only messages about promotions and sales and practice upgrades. Mix in retweets of messages from local businesses that your practice supports, news of upcoming community events like fundraisers for charities and maybe even offer a tidbit about yourself to give patients a sense of who you are such as a tweet about an upcoming vacation or your interest in a new hobby.
Let Patients Know they Can “Follow” You on Twitter
You can post “Follow Us On Twitter” (or some variation of that) in multiple places such as at the end of all e-mails, including your own and that of your employees, sent from your office, at the top of your practice web site, your Facebook page and any other social media pages such as on your professional blog or Yelp page. You also can ask patients to follow you at the top of e-newsletters and on other practice e-blast messages. Offline you can post messages to follow you on Twitter on in-store signage, print newsletters, educational materials and recall postcards.
Note that when you follow others, it’s common etiquette for them to follow you back. Once you start to build up a following, Twitter will start recommending you to others based on common connections or similar interests. Following other businesses or individuals within your industry can be a great way to stay informed and educated. By retweeting or commenting on their tweets, it can also be a good way to build relationships with others in your industry. Also, if someone you follow tweets something that would be valuable to your followers, you can also share their tweets with your followers.
Twitter Handle Should Be in Practice’s Name
I would recommend the Twitter handle be in the practice’s name, even if it’s a group practice. Most tweets will reflect the brand identity of the practice, so it’s probably more efficient to streamline your tweets under one Twitter handle. Similar to having a separate personal and business page for Facebook, it may be more professional and appropriate to direct patients to a Twitter account under the practice’s name.
Launch a Practice Twitter Account: Action Plan
Tweet on a regular basis (two to five times per day). Social media experts might recommend five to 10 tweets/day, but realistically not many ODs have this much time to devote to Twitter.
As a rule, limit self-promotional tweets to around 10 percent. Most of your tweets should offer more value to your followers than to you. In addition to messaging about upcoming sales and promotions, include retweets of messaging from other local businesses your practice supports, news of worthy local charities and even details about yourself from time to time such as a new pet you’ve adopted (with a link to a photo) or news of the graduation of one of your kids from college.
Include links in your tweets where followers can get more information (e.g.,web site, blog, video). Include links to your other social media sites and practice web site.
To improve efficiency, use social media management systems like HooteSuite or TweetDeck. These tools allow you to plan out in advance your Twitter and other social media messaging and schedule it in advance for deployment. It streamlines the process so you don’t have to visit multiple social media sites throughout the day.
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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. He is also a consultant for the EyeXam mobile application. Dr. Vargo also is an associate with Vision Quest Eye Clinics, a private practice group in the Chicago suburbs. To contact him:svargo@iMobileCommunications.com.