By Steve Vargo, OD, MBA
This free social network tool offers distinct marketing advantages, like organizing your contacts into discrete “circles.” Here’s how best to use this no-cost tool to promote your practice.
For those ODs still trying to figure out Facebook and the many review sites now available for consumers to share their views on healthcare providers and offer feedback to each other, here is another site to throw into the mix: Google Plus. Some of you have heard of this social media tool and some of you are even using it. For those who still don’t understand what Google Plus is and why you would want to use it, here are tips to get you started.
Integrate Google Plus With Other Marketing Efforts
If you have a practice blog, post your updates to Google Plus.
If you have a YouTube channel, post videos about your practice to your Google Plus page.
If you create a Google Plus “Hangout” demonstrating your products or services, you can archive it and upload it to YouTube seamlessly. It looks very professional and doesn’t take much effort.
Make sure you have a link from your Google Plus profile to your practice web site.
Put a Google Plus badge on your web site. Google will see the unique connection between your Google Plus Page and your web site, and will give your site preference in search results when people search for the services you offer.
What Is Google Plus?
Google Plus (Google+) is Google’s completely free-of-charge social media network. Since most people are familiar with Facebook, Google Plus has many similar features. All members have their own network, and all activity within your network will show up in your news feed, or “stream.” Google Plus has a “+1” button which is the equivalent of Facebook’s “like” button. Clicking the +1 button gives a post your public stamp of approval, and when your contacts search on Google they can see your +1.
Google Plus’s unique features include Hangouts, which allow you to video chat with up to nine people at one time. This could entail group meetings, discussions or demonstrations. Facebook and Twitter do not have this. Google Plus also offers Circles, which allow users to segment their audience and share content with specific groups. And the Communities feature allows groups to form around particular interests.
Why Does Google Plus Matter to My Practice?
While Google Plus recently surpassed Twitter to become the second largest social network, the Google Plus audience remains relatively inactive. Engagement and activity levels are much higher on other social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. To get the best results with social media marketing, you want to spend the most time, money and resources where your audience is. But since it is Google, and this is a deeply integrated piece to their overall platform, it should not be ignored.
Maybe your patient base isn’t currently on Google Plus, but who’s to say they won’t be there in a year or two? Since it is still early, being on Google Plus and growing your network will put you ahead of the game as more people continue to adapt to this network. It’s also important to understand that even if your patients are not in your network, or even on Google+, you still have the ability to elevate your search ranking for anyone and everyone searching for the services you provide by being a high-authority Google Plus user. Building the authority of your profile and pages and interacting with other Google+ influencers is a great search engine optimization strategy for your practice.
How Does Google Plus Differ from Facebook?
Each social network is unique in its own ways, with its own personality and set of best practices. Google Plus is more focused on user content (i.e. pictures, video and long posts), while Facebook focuses more on driving personal interaction (likes, status updates and comments).
As for marketing, Google has yet to launch an advertising tool for Google Plus that can rival the established advertising tools of Facebook, such as Facebook Ads.
Tailor a Message for Google Plus
Keep in mind that Google Plus is more content-driven than Facebook, which is geared more toward personal interaction. Pictures, video and article posts are best suited for the Google Plus format, and more likely to be +1’d or shared. Since more people are active on Facebook, it tends to be more suited for shorter messages that inform and spark conversation. Also, consider that your Google Plus audience is skewed toward a young, male “techy” crowd when deciding what content to post. For example, a video or article discussing Nike’s Vapor Strobe Eyewear for athletes might be well received by your Google Plus audience.
Because social media sites are constantly updated, formats like Google Plus are more dynamic than a practice web site. However, your Google Plus profile should definitely include links to your web site where people can get more information or schedule an appointment.
What Do Google Plus Marketing Messages Sound and Look Like?
Leveraging the features of Google Plus, you could start by using Circles to separate your patients into different groups (LASIK candidates, dry eye patients, etc). This way you can tailor your information and promotional messages for patients who would be most interested. If you want to send a message to all of your Google Plus contacts, such as news of an upcoming trunk show, you can assign that message to be visible to all your Circles. Your updates on that topic will then be received in the “stream” of all of your contacts. A practice stands to gain from this feature because upcoming events such as a trunk show or special offer can be conveyed to interested parties. Your contacts can then +1 these posts, giving their stamp of approval, or share these messages, in turn, with their contacts extending the reach of the message. When your friends see that you have +1’d something, it is modern word-of-mouth publicity.
Since Google Plus is very content driven, it is a good practice to include pictures or videos with your posts. It is easy to upload photos and video to your stream, or news feed. Like most other forms of social media marketing, limit self-promotional messages. The 80/20 rule is a good guideline. Make 80 percent of your posts about your patients and how your practice can help them with their vision problems. Share articles, blog posts and pictures or videos that your patient base would find valuable. Limit overt marketing messages such as coupons and special offers to 20 percent.
Google Plus Participation Can Boost SEO–with a Little Work
Just creating a Google+ profile or page will not magically elevate you in search listings, but sharing posts on Google Plus, and receiving +1’s on the material you post, are effective SEO boosters. Posts or sites with a lot of +1’s tend to have higher click-through-rates and are more likely to be shared, a good way to rise in the search engine listings.
It’s generally a good practice to make friends and interact with influencers. As your Google Plus network continues to grow, the more likely your content will be shared, +1’d, or linked to–providing a powerful boost to your search ranking.
Optimize Google Plus: Action Plan
Create a powerful profile. First impressions are important. Choose a nice profile picture that reflects your practice identity. Include all the relevant information about your practice, products and services in your profile.
Link your Google Plus page to your web site and other social media accounts.
Share new content from your other sites (blog, Youtube, etc.) with your Google Plus page. Google loves fresh content, and Google Plus is a great way to get your content crawled and indexed quickly.
Build relationships with other Google Plus influencers. Having a good number of +1’s, shares or links to your profile or brand page from authoritative web pages can quickly build the page rank and search authority of your profile or page.
Frequently post blog-quality or newsworthy content that’s worthy of being shared and linked to.
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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.