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Advertising in the Snake Pit

by Grace Rizza

It takes a lifetime to build your reputation and only a moment to destroy it. This fear may have many dentists avoiding social media platforms, and in turn, missing the biggest opportunity for practice growth since Google.

When surveying a room of 300 dental professionals, 40% agreed with the statement “I don’t like social media, and I find it to be a waste of time.” These same people had registered for a course on the topic of social media marketing. Despite many dentists’ distaste for social media platforms, there’s also a strong demand for guidance on how to best leverage today’s quickest growing media, such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter and (the emerging) TikTok. That demand for guidance is well-founded and comes from the knowledge that social media is becoming increasingly central to our lives.

Of the estimated 4.5 billion active internet users in 2020, studies done by GlobalWebIndex, a market research company, found that 43% used social media when researching products or services. The same study also found that 92% of Instagram users claimed to have followed a brand, clicked on a website, or made a purchase after seeing a product or service on social media. As dental professionals, we need to be celebrating and leveraging this amazing tool to grow our businesses.

However, part of what makes social media great, also makes it dangerous. It’s built, driven, and fueled by user contributions. There’s no gatekeeper between your business and your jealous competitor, an ex-employee or even your exspouse. When posting content, (even the most innocent in nature) inappropriate, false, and slanderous comments can emerge.

Traditional marketing methods such as TV, Radio, Postcards, and Billboards carry far less vulnerability. The most cringe-worthy TV ads would be mocked in the privacy of one’s home, yet they don’t allow for real-time criticism like social media. With the power to connect in real-time with your audience comes great responsibility to protect your brand and your reputation.

Digital advertising can seem daunting to the untrained professional. The rules of each platform change constantly. In 2019 alone, the changes to algorithms and advertising rules changed dozens of times on the major platforms (Google, Facebook, Instagram).

Dentists hear stories and attend lectures showing the best case scenarios of dentists becoming an overnight sensation, setting unrealistic expectations for the available free exposure to the lucky few who have humor, wit, charm, dance skills and the ability to put out non-cringy content. It makes for a fun presentation but leaves the audience with more questions than answers. When leaving motivated to generate their own content, the dentists taking action often learn quickly that internet snakes can be quick to share their venomous commentary on both paid and organic content.

This discomfort with confronting negative commentators has many dental business owners avoiding some of the most powerful ways to achieve practice growth.

Instead of avoidance, dental business owners should create a branding style guide, rule book, and content mix.

Let’s first start with the components of an effective branding style guide. When you, your team or your marketing agency is creating content, make sure they have a deep understanding of your brand. Your brand is simply the reputation you desire to create. Make sure you define your brand as simply as possible. The general population will only remember one important thing about you. Consider a brand that connects on a deeper level than the services provided.

For instance, Nike’s brand is not great gym shoes, it’s motivation. Every marketing message delivered by Nike has to do with taking action. Taglines just don’t get better than Nike’s famous “Just do it”.

When creating your own brand, it can be tempting to change your core frequently every time a new idea or angle comes to mind. However, consistency in branding is key for making a memorable message resonate with your target market.

Once you’ve defined your brand, you’ll have the ability to work with a dental marketing agency to create your style guide. This should include the fonts, colors, symbols, photography, and layouts for social media designs. This guide will allow anyone contributing to your online presence to operate with consistency and ensure all marketing materials work to reinforce your desired reputation.

Once your style guide has been created, you’ll want to create a rule book for your marketing team. The rule book will advise the team on how to handle given situations on social media. It will advise on the frequency of posts, platforms utilized, as well as legal agreements for those working on your social media marketing. It’s not fun to learn that an ex-employee has taken ownership of your social media profile or vital local listings. It can also be a nightmare to have a marketing agency lose track of your brand, post photos that don’t match your intended demographic or miss the mark altogether. Having a rule book will allow you to set the expectations properly for anyone assisting with your online presence.

Your content mix is arguably one of the most important tools for allowing contributors to assist you in social media marketing and is created by writing the specific goals of your social media marketing plan. For instance, your main goal may be to educate your community on the importance of oral health and its role in overall health. You may decide that 30% of your content should be educational, 30% motivational content, 20% team photos, and 20% patient testimonials. However you break up your content mix, make sure your underlying message always has absolute consistency in tone and style.

It can be tempting to want to research what people in your area are most concerned with and build your brand around that, however, we don’t advise altering who you are to fit what you believe people in your area are looking for in a dentist. Instead, be completely true to who you are, and in doing so you’ll attract the kinds of patients that appreciate you and your team. Remember, it’s ok to not be for everyone.

Once you’ve begun your social media marketing program, expect occasional negativity in the snakepit. Don’t let it slow you down. Create your rule book in a way that your team knows exactly how to handle negativity with poise and professionalism. The tone that you use to reply will reflect the true nature of your brand even more than the original marketing you’ve created. When attacked, your response defines your character. Keep in mind you’ll have thousands of eyes reading comments and judging you based on your replies. There’s true opportunity in any obstacle.

I recently saw a comment on an ad for a dentist whose entire brand is centered around openness and non-judgment. The comment attacked the advertising dentist, claiming that “Dentists just want money and don’t really care about their patients”. The brilliant doctor replied, “We’d welcome you at our practice with open arms.” It’s hard to say if that patient took him up on the offer, but we can be sure that social media spectators were impressed by the poise and kindness of the reply.

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