SOCIAL NETWORKING: A FIVE-STEP STRATEGY

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An effective Web site is the foundation of any practices’ social media pressence. Unique-optique.com is shown here.

Social media. Have you been putting it off? Figuring you will get to it next month? Overwhelmed by the idea? Scared of what is out there? Thinking you can wait?

Many optical offices are unhappy with their practice’s direction and are looking to drive new business or ways to connect with and maintain their current patient base. For these businesses, social networking is a must. Yes, that word is must—not “maybe,” not “someday,” not “when I get around to it.” So what should you be doing with social media?

TAKE A LOOK BACK
Let’s start with the past: You ran an ad in the one real Yellow Pages book that was available. Everyone had a copy on the desk next to their phone. Maybe you ran ads in local newspapers, had a storefront sign, mailed out yearly check-up reminder postcards, and then had that brief one-to-one social interaction at the patients’ visits. Chances are good that local competition for patients was minimal and your patient loyalty was quite high.

Today, all that has changed. We live in a world of instant information and instant gratification, and we are overwhelmed with choices for everything. Our handheld electronic devices enable us to search for and find information about everything in a matter of seconds.

CONSIDER THE PRESENT
Many businesses’ Yellow Pages ads have evolved into Google ads. Web sites may be practices’ first point of contact. For a number of eyecare professionals (ECPs), monthly reminder postcards are being replaced by e-mails or electronic notifications (such as text messages). Brief social interaction with the patient can be—and should be—augmented by social media. Competition for patients is fierce and ever-growing, and patients’ loyalties can change in a heartbeat.

To position yourself in the best possible way to capture and hold your patient base in this digital age, it’s critical for ECPs to be connected to them in ways you may have ignored or overlooked in the past. Here are some steps all ECPs need to consider taking.

STEP ONE: SHOP AROUND

Facebook is a great, free way o fstayin gin touch with your patients and maintaining their loyalty. Donelson EyeCare is shown here.


Creating and implementing a complete and professional social networking program should not be cost prohibitive as there are literally thousands of people and businesses who provide such services. Check out the Web sites and social media presence for other local businesses. When you find one you like, ask them who did it for them. It also can’t hurt to ask colleagues, patients, and friends for references. Consider posting an ad on your local Craigslist, where you may find a student or freelance designer who is proficient but not expensive. Once you think you’ve found someone, check references and take a good, hard look at their online work. Make sure you connect with someone you will be comfortable working with and whom you can reach with little trouble.

STEP TWO: ESTABLISH A WEB PRESENCE
All social networking starts with a great Web site. You may not think about a Web site as social networking, but, in fact, it is the foundation of it! You may have one already, but when is the last time you actually looked at it? Remember, your Web site is the modern version of your storefront sign.

It’s worth having someone from outside your business look at your site and provide honest feedback. If you are older, then have someone younger look at it, and vice-versa. Be open to constructive criticism. You can improve your site and it can make a real positive impact on your business.

A Web site doesn’t have to be complicated or contain many pages. Be sure that the person who designs it uses a format that you or a staff member can edit. It is no longer necessary to know HTML or use any special software packages to make changes to your site.

As for your homepage, don’t underestimate the power of a well-made video spotlighting your business. Even a small single-doctor practice homepage video can benefit from video content on its homepage. Keeping the homepage fresh and updated will keep people coming back.

ARE YOU LINKEDIN? In messages or ads that include social media links like Twitter and Facebook, you may also see an “L” button, or the name “LinkedIn.” Known as a B2B (business to business) site, which is different from a B2C (business to consumer) site, LinkedIn is a valuable way to connect with other business professionals.


STEP THREE: SET UP A FACEBOOK PAGE
That’s right, Facebook. Take a deep breath and table what you may think about Facebook. This is not about you; it’s about your business and connecting with your patients. It is about the appearance of your business in today’s virtual world.

A business-based Facebook page is important, as is its upkeep. If you don’t want to do this yourself and don’t have a staff member who can do it, then hire someone to do it. This may even be the teenage son or daughter of a patient or friend. (Although it’s not a bad idea to teach yourself or a staff member to do it.) Facebook is a great, free way of staying in touch with your patients and maintaining their loyalty. It also provides a great way of letting your patients know about special events and your products and services. And gives them the opportunity to share information about your practice with their own networks.

Benefitting from Twitter is easy, free, and time-efficient. @TSONetwork (Texas State Optical) is shown here.

STEP FOUR: HAVE A PRESENCE ON TWITTER
As with Facebook, put aside any preconceived notions you may have about Twitter. You don’t need to “tweet.” Benefitting from Twitter is easy, free, and time-efficient. You can set up your Facebook account to automatically tweet each Facebook post as well. Think of Twitter as a weekly reminder to your patients of your presence. And once you’re set up on Facebook and Twitter, be sure to link to both of those pages from your primary Web site.

STEP FIVE: RETHINK APPOINTMENT APPROACH
No one seems to listen to voice mails anymore! You can avoid this becoming an issue (and save tons of time) if you collect patients’ e-mail addresses or send out notifications via text message. Most people monitor their e-mail over their smartphones or other electronic devices. E-mailed updates also enable you to send carefully timed announcements to your patients about upcoming sales, trunk-shows, and flex-spending reminders.

THE BIG PICTURE
Social media is all around us, and while it may be intimidating at first, the benefits can be immeasurable. It’s absolutely crucial for businesses to take advantage of all the resources available to them and social networking can play a huge role in keeping any practice afloat or, better yet, ahead!

John Seegers is a licensed optician at Ryan Vision Center in Henrico, VA, and the creator of opticianworks.com.

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