Dental Practice Marketing Reality Check – Beware of All of the Hype About Social Media Marketing

Lately a growing number of dental practice marketing practitioners – from dentists-as-marketers to marketing and advertising agencies that specialize, or claim to specialize, in dental practice marketing – have been raising questions in online dental practitioner forums about social media marketing. Specifically, they’ve been asking their peers and others about whether or not they think that it would be a good idea to invest some of their dental practice marketing time, effort and money into establishing a presence – and marketing their practices – in social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

And why wouldn’t they be curious – especially when everyone is exposed to such big numbers:

Facebook has more than 500 million users
Twitter has had more than 24 billion – that’s right, billion – messages posted to it
YouTube gets an average of 2 billion video views every single day  dental marketing services

They’ve obviously also been exposed to the fact that a growing number of businesses are leveraging social media as part of their broader overall marketing efforts, and they don’t want to miss out on what could be the “next big thing” in dental practice marketing.

What Nobody Says About the Role of Social Media in Dental Practice Marketing

While the consensus among people in online dental practitioner forums seems to be that social media is worth the time, effort and money, it’s important to understand that many of the voices that are weighing in on the issue belong people who are in the social media marketing business. Therefore, they have a vested interest in promoting social media as an effective dental practice marketing method (the same voices are also likely being heard in other online professional forums where similar questions are being raised).

There are, however, a number of things they’re not saying -such as:

The “big numbers” like those listed above are absolutely meaningless at a local business level – the fact that Facebook has 500 million users globally has no value to a dental practice whose patient base is limited by geographical boundaries
Social media marketing takes a fairly significant investment of time, effort, and money (for dentists who need to outsource or use automation tools) – while setting up profiles in a few of the more popular social media sites takes only a few minutes, participating in the “conversation” can easily consume many hours every week
Social media sites are, by definition, “social” – as a rule, people visit social media sites to stay in touch with friends and family, not to find businesses to buy from; when they want to do that, they use search engines, online review sites, and the Internet Yellow Pages
Getting a lot of followers and fans can be totally useless – if the people in a dental practice’s social circles are not targeted, then they’re not going to do anything for the dental practice (targeted, in this case, means that they are the type of people who are “dental practice promiscuous” and that they live or work close enough to a dentist’s office that they’ll make the trip – which, for about 72% of people, is a 20 minute drive, according to a study on local consumer behavior by Nielsen/WebVisible )
Attracting “fans” and “followers” that are relevant to any local business is a long and hard journey – this is especially true of local services businesses like dental practices, law firms, real estate agencies and the like (and going the other route – asking people to become followers or fans isn’t altogether different from traditional interruptive marketing, save for the channel)

The last point is probably the most important consideration. Think about this from your own perspective. How likely are you, personally, to seek out a local business on a social media site and become a fan or follower – while being open to the possibility of ultimately becoming a customer of that business?

Probably not very likely – unless they’re recommended by someone you already know, like, and trust or unless their profile has somehow caught your eye. And this is what makes it a long and hard process. Standing out in a crowd isn’t easy.

Social Media Should Ultimately be Seen as One Part – of Many – in a Broader Dental Practice Marketing Program

In the end, while social media participation may add value to dental practice marketing, how much value it can add – and at what cost – remains to be seen. So rather than falling for the hype about social media marketing being the “next big thing,” dentists should set their expectations realistically and understand that social media is simply one in a number of different marketing channels – each of which should be seen as part of a broader overall dental practice marketing program.

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