The Role of Social Media in Practice Marketing
Over the past several years social media has become the Rx for private practice marketing. A successful social media program will allow a practice to initiate a dialogue with its audience and maintain ongoing communication with existing patients in real time, resulting in:
patient education and increased case acceptance
improved patient loyalty
lengthened lifetime value of patients
generation of high-quality new patients
patient selection of high-profit elective services
recognition and understanding of practice identity
heightened practice awareness
Social media can give a practice access and visibility that was traditionally affordable only by companies with sizeable marketing budgets. It enables the doctor to leverage networks of thousands of people or connect with a small select target audience in an intimate way, within a focused geographic region. Social media has changed the marketing landscape and in many ways has leveled the playing field, because no longer are big ad budgets available or traditional means of advertising sufficient to reach the number of patients that can be captured through this medium. With the proper strategy, and a large measure of creativity and thoughtful information, a practice can propel its image not only in its community but also internationally.
In managing a practice's resources from both a financial and a staff perspective, it is important to acknowledge the time and effort it takes to maintain a successful social media plan; therefore it is essential to hire a firm or a dedicated employee who can develop, implement and maintain the program. The firm or employee will work with the doctors in formulating or refining their practice identity, determine the appropriate demographic to complement their practice profile, craft a unique message that will echo the practice's philosophy and set forth measurable objectives for the program.
Taking a customized approach to web and social media development is the most effective and cost efficient way to generate results. Understanding the particular objectives of a practice is key to ensuring that goals are met. It is important to note, however, that a stand-alone social media program will not achieve all your marketing objectives. A practice needs to have a comprehensive integrated marketing program in place with all the various vehicles you need to get you to your destination.
Regardless of budget or size of plan, a well-thought-out program that can be built out over time will allow the practice to achieve the results it is looking for. Remember, years ago, a practice having a website was a "nice to have," but today it's looked at by patients as equivalent to having a license to practice. The bottom line is that social media is a measure of credibility and allows a doctor to gain "G-CRED." The term G-CRED, coined by John Follis, a marketing industry leader, is defined as follows:
Web Content + Web Visibility = G-CRED which translate to your Google credibility!
The process in which to implement a social media program is fairly simple. It begins with an in-depth evaluation of the doctor's current internet presence, social networking engagement and alternative media usage. The next step is to identify the target patient and patient referral profile that the practice would like to reach and research the sites that are most effective in connecting with that audience. A program is then developed, creative and copywriting is produced and the plan is implemented. In constructing the "messages" it is critical not only to demonstrate that the doctor understands the patient's needs, but also to create a perceived need in the patient's mind that only that practice can meet.
The effectiveness of a social media program for a practice should therefore not be measured by just the increased number of "hits" to the website. What is far more meaningful to a practice is the number of patients retained, the number of new patients gained and a rise in treatment acceptance. Embarking on a social media program can be daunting, and many hours and dollars can go to waste, so it really is critical to work with a professional who can build a powerful and creative website that reflects the desired image of the practice and can demonstrate what the site can achieve after it's launched and engaged in the world of social media.
Social media provides a practice with the opportunity to reach and connect with patients, prospects and peers on a personal level and can positively impact a practice in a significant way. It is not the marketing direction of the future, it is here and now. On many levels a social media program can be considered the great marketing equalizer. Whether a program is implemented by a small private practice or a Fortune 500 company, it can work for everyone if properly designed and executed. If the message is meaningful, believable, deliverable and targeted to the right audience through the right channels, it will achieve results beyond comparison.