|Setting up a YouTube channel can give patients a whole new look at your business.|
It’s easy—and amazingly cost effective—to harness the power of social media and promote your eyecare practice.
Social media has become a defining force in 21st-century life, shifting the focus of information sharing from a top-down broadcast paradigm to an interactive, “audience participation” model. According to a 2010 study by Simmons New Media, two-thirds of Americans currently use Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites, with 43% visiting those sites several times a day. It is most definitely worth your time to explore the possibilities in the social media arena.
WHAT IS SOCIAL MEDIA?
In many ways, social media has transformed the Internet from a largely impersonal medium to a virtual public square—a place where ideas are shared, expert advice flows freely, and users connect with people and businesses based on shared interests, common goals, and mutual relevance.
Sites like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and MySpace have made it easy for small business owners to “hang out their shingles” in entirely new ways. You create a profile that explains who you are and what you do. After acquiring “friends” or “followers,” you can interact by sharing links and videos, engaging in one-on-one conversations, or participating in group discussions.
WHY IT WORKS
The power of social media as a marketing tool lies in its ability to connect a customer with a product or service in a very personal, immediate, and direct way. It allows small business owners to dramatically expand the reach of their marketing efforts, appeal to new and existing patients, and establish themselves as experts.
Your reach as a small business owner grows as you connect
with people and begin sharing information they’ll find interesting
or useful. They, in turn, share your information with their friends and followers. As these “friends of friends” learn about you, they may choose to connect with you directly, increasing your own follower base and
|Use Facebook to provide customers with information they’ll find useful and interesting.|
expanding your online community. There are virtually no limits to the amount of information you can share or on the number of people with whom you can connect. In short, the marketing potential is astonishing.
Beyond that, social media provides an incredible opportunity to gather feedback—essentially a free focus group in real time. For the consumer, social media provides direct, immediate access to business owners and company representatives. Your patients have valuable information and opinions to share.
Ironically, the most powerful marketing tool for your practice may be the one you spend the least amount of time and money to create. The beauty of social media is it’s fast, free, and simple to set up. While you can invest in fancy backgrounds and layouts, today’s social media users care more about substance than style. When it comes to attracting and keeping friends and followers, content is king.
For the most part, creating a Twitter, Facebook, or MySpace page requires very little tech savvy and only a few minutes of your time. Enter a few key pieces of information about your business, add a photo, and you’re ready to go. Again, there’s no need to spend money on a consultant or designer. If you’re not technically inclined, there’s a good chance someone in your office is. As a last resort, consider hiring a local high school or college student to get you started.
What’s next? Get social. Start by connecting with existing patients, family members, old classmates, and other people you already know. Encourage discussions and information sharing by posing eyecare questions, offering advice, and soliciting feedback. Building a following can be a bit time consuming, but the results are well worth it. As your existing connections interact with you, their friends will want to interact with you as well. A community is born.
MAKING IT WORK
The unwritten codes of social media conduct require that
business owners take a certain “something for nothing” approach. Businesses that come across as too greedy for followers or “likes,” may alienate the online community. This rule is particularly true for eyecare professionals—use social media to establish yourself first as a trustworthy professional dedicated to serving your patients’ needs, both in and out of the office.
COMMUNICATE, DON’T PONTIFICATE
Building meaningful relationships requires a significant exchange of ideas. Use social media as a way to talk to your friends and followers and learn from them. The most valuable interactions can be those in which you learn what new and potential patients are looking for in an eyecare practice.
So how do you turn Tweets into appointments? Respond promptly and personally to inquiries and comments. Give friends and followers a sense that you’re available and listening. And don’t be turned off by requests for free advice—it’s this very type of interaction that often translates directly into new or continued business.
INTERESTING AND RELEVANT
Viral marketing only works if your message is worth sharing. Make sure your content and updates are relevant, timely, and valuable. They can include seasonal eyecare tips, new research findings, special offers, coupons, and more. In the world of social media, boring content is worse than no content at all.
Update regularly, but exercise restraint when it comes to volume. Instead of overwhelming friends and followers with constant posts, focus on becoming a valuable resource to them. Consider yourself and your practice helpful experts, and select information to share with them accordingly.
Continuously look for ways to do the following for your online community:
• Teach them how to better care for their eyes.
• Demonstrate how to save time.
• Show them how to save money.
• Let them in on a secret.
• Make them laugh.
Each time you encounter an eyecare article or product offer that piques your interest, get into the habit of sharing it with friends and followers. Also consider offering Facebook-only or Twitter-only incentives.
STAY ON MESSAGE
Cultivate an online “persona” for your practice. If there is an “X factor” in social media, it’s the ability to conduct yourself online in such a way that your followers feel personally and emotionally connected to you.
Consider the message you want to send about how you and your staff care for patients and conduct your business. Shape your social media interactions around that message and never lose sight of your goals—to attract new patients and to make lasting connections with existing ones.
Embracing social media is more than just advantageous for eyecare providers—it’s fast becoming a must. If you haven’t put yourself out there yet, it’s time to go for it.
Jeff Lewis is in private practice at Orinda Optometric Vision Center in Orinda, CA; he also provides practice marketing advice through Best Eye Care Marketing.