Get More of the Patients You Want
How to use micro-targeted digital marketing to grow your practice.
There is a saying in digital marketing: When you try to reach everyone, you impact no one. Why does this matter to a busy dermatologist? Because this rule offers the key to acquiring new patients through social media and other digital platforms.
Even if you already promote yourself and your practice on Facebook, use Instagram to show before-and-after photos, and interact with other dermatologists on Twitter, you may not be reaching potential patients in today’s fast-paced social media world. I will walk you through specific steps to help you influence the patients you want using social media.
“Billboards” vs. Micro-targeted Social Media
When social media platforms first gained popularity, marketers applied traditional advertising tactics to reach users. These tactics were less than effective. Gross Rating Point (GRP) based advertising relied on maximum reach and frequency, an approach that created the desired high-quality impressions, but also produced quite a bit of waste. For example, an advertiser would buy a billboard on a highly trafficked interstate, guaranteeing maximum reach and frequency among thousands of local commuters repeating the same daily route. But it’s easy to imagine that 80 percent of the people who drove past the billboard were not part of the advertiser’s target audience—and that many others in that audience took a different route to work.
A traditional “spray-and-pray” approach does not apply to social media, which works by targeting sequences of ads to individuals based on interests, actions, and behaviors. Micro-targeted social media campaigns are exponentially more efficient and effective when the marketer has an intimate understanding of his/her target audience(s). Instead of maximum reach and frequency, one can specifically target audiences most likely to purchase his/her product or service. Unlike the billboard on the highway, with social media you reach only the people you want with multiple messages based on data and insights, resulting in virtually no wasted impressions.
By micro-targeting your audience, you also can tailor your message to different sub-segments of that target. For example, if your aim is to reach new patients interested in rosacea treatment, you could create an ad to target working women ages 35 to 50 interested in skincare, who live in the same zip code as your practice. Read on to learn how.
Knowing Your Audience
Your audience isn’t everyone. Who is it?
To determine your target audience, first look at a breakdown of your current patient demographics, diagnoses, and the services they receive. For the purposes of this example, let’s say your patient base is evenly split:
• 25 percent acne treatment (median age 20)
• 25 percent aging and other cosmetic concerns (median age 53)
• 25 percent skin cancer (median age 60)
• 25 percent other skin conditions, such as eczema and rosacea (median age 36)
Which one of these groups do you want to expand? Do you offer a new treatment for rosacea? Do you want to grow your reimbursed treatments, or your out-of-pocket procedures? Let’s say, for example, that you want to see more young adult acne patients (ages 21 to 26). To target these individuals on social media, think about your conversations with your existing adult acne patients and outline common characteristics, such as:
• recent college graduates joining the workforce
• feeling self-conscious about skin appearance
• view acne as a hindrance to career advancement and ability to appear professional to colleagues
• single with good friends and busy dating lives
• active in sports, cycling, or other outdoor activities
If you need more information about your patients, ask staff members who spend time with them. You also can list common characteristics of people in your community you want to target for adult acne services, such as students at a university or employees at a local firm.
The Right Message and Platform
Once you have a clear picture of your target audience, you are ready to craft a message just for them. For example, you might pair an image of a young professional with the text, “Acne doesn’t always go away when you grow up. Take your first step to clear skin by visiting ABC Dermatology.”
So how do you know which platform to start with? To choose the best social media platform for your target audience, consider the platforms’ demographics. (Sprout Social’s article titled, “Social Media Demographics to Inform a Better Segmentation Strategy,”1 may provide all the information you need.) Choosing the right platform is about testing a mix of images and graphics. Despite all the research and data in the world, you should always allocate a budget and test each platform to determine the best medium for your product. The best way to approach this is to begin with your strongest network (say Facebook) and test three to four images and messages, wait seven days, and determine the one with the highest clicks, click through rate, and relevance2 score. Then, take that image and text and promote it on your secondary networks (say Twitter or Instagram.)
Social media platforms also serve different purposes. Facebook is best for overall brand awareness. Instagram is designed for users to share and engage through images and video. Twitter is most useful for sharing industry news and presenting yourself as a thought leader. LinkedIn, aimed at professionals, works well for highlighting positive product and clinical trial news. To target your adult acne audience, you might create a compelling video or animation that evokes an emotional response from the patient. You want them to think “Hey, I feel that way,” “Ugh, I know that feeling” or “Yes! I need to try something new.” When you craft ad copy, you want to consider how you want the audience to feel. It is less about you and more about them.
Once you finalize this ad copy, you can reach these patients through strategic targeting. Each network has its own features for targeting. On Twitter, you can target followers of acne support groups, competitor products, and key #acne hashtags. You can also add location and age restrictions to your ads. On Facebook, you target by interests. You can start by targeting those with demonstrated acne support and awareness interests. Further, Facebook has a category called “health and wellness buyers,” which may be a good segment to add to the mix, but remember, you have to test! You are always measuring your cost against your results.
Optimizing Free Social Media Efforts
If your social media presence is incomplete or out of date, you should update it before using it to target new patients. This means, updating the banners to be consistent across all your networks, and having the same profile photo on all networks.
If you aren’t sure about what to post, start with these examples:
• With patient consent, post before-and-after photos on Instagram and/or Facebook.
• On Twitter or Instagram, post pictures of company events and show employee personality.
• On Facebook, post reminders for routine exams and other services you offer.
• Update your LinkedIn profile so potential patients can learn more details about your professional history.
• Use LinkedIn and Facebook to share exciting practice news, such as receiving a community or industry award.
• Share research and technology news with others in your profession on Twitter.
On Twitter, hashtags are an easy way to reach your audience. For example, research conducted on social media platforms during the month of January show #dermatology had a potential reach of 20.2 million, 10,000 tweets, and 9,200 contributions. You can develop a hashtag to use in all of your tweets (Hashtag Helper3 is a great resource). For example, if you practice in Los Angeles and focus on treating signs of aging, you could use the hashtag #youthfulLA. Before you use your hashtag, search for it on Twitter to make sure it is not already being used.
On Facebook, you have the option to pin an important post on your wall, which will keep it at the top of your wall for up to 7 days, even if you add more posts. Facebook users will see the pinned post before other content on your wall.
Reviews, Interaction, and Monitoring
Interaction has a role in all aspects of digital marketing. On social media platforms, followers can reply or comment on your posts or create their own posts that mention you. For example, you can read comments on your Facebook page as well as search Facebook for mentions of you or your practice name. You can check your mentions in the Twitter activity tab, as well as search for your name or hashtag (if you created one). When people use your hashtag, they help boost your brand, spread the word about your practice, and drive in new patients.
To reach out to potential patients on Facebook, you can get involved in healthcare community forums. There are plenty of private Facebook groups focused on specific health conditions, such as Skin Disease Support (Eczema, Psoriasis, Vitiligo, Acne, Skin Cancer, etc.), Acne No More Group, and Skin Care and Hair Care Tips for Men and Women. You can request to join these groups and get involved in the conversation. After being accepted, make sure to read the group’s guidelines, which might prohibit promotional posts. You can also create an account at Realself.com to engage with patients who are documenting their medical journeys. Most importantly, be your authentic self when interacting in these communities.
One very important type of digital marketing interaction is the review. Reviews are a crucial part of a successful social media and web presence. Facebook allows users to leave reviews of businesses, and many reviews are posted on Google and Yelp. Whether reviews of your practice are positive or negative, it is important to respond to all of them. This is an opportunity to engage with a happy customer or reconcile a patient’s less-than-perfect experience. (Yelp does not allow responses to positive reviews but encourages reconciliation of negative reviews.)
Responding to reviews can be a time-consuming task. I suggest creating a response protocol to make the process as easy as possible. List potential reviews and how you want to respond to them. Common positive reviews might include how you helped someone look or feel better or really listened, whereas common negative reviews often involve long wait times, issues with billing/insurance or dissatisfaction with treatment. Add to the list as you receive new reviews.
For example, let’s say that Jane Doe writes a review that says, “Dr. Smith is a great dermatologist. She is very personable and takes the time to talk with me during each of my appointments. Thanks to her, my acne is gone!” You can respond to this and other positive reviews by writing, “Thank you for your kind words!” Conversely, Jane Doe might write, “At Dr. Smith’s office today, the front desk staff acted like they couldn’t care less about helping me schedule my next appointment.” A generic response might be, “Hi, [name]. Thank you for reaching out. We are sorry to hear you had a less than ideal experience. Please send us the best way to contact you via private message and we will be in touch soon!”
For Google reviews, I recommend that you include in your response a request to take a short demographic survey, which you can create on SurveyMonkey. This will enable you to capture reviewers’ email addresses, which you can use to conduct email marketing and create custom audiences to target on Facebook. Disclaimer: make sure to follow the FTC’s laws on digital advertising consent when creating custom audiences for social ads. Once you receive patient consent, you can create custom audiences on Facebook with Facebook Ads Manager. You will have the option to remarket your ads to a custom audience made up of individuals from your email list.
Yelp and Google My Business listings are a great free way to help search engine optimization while appealing to your patients. These listing platforms offer detailed analytical tools that directly illustrate your listing’s return on investment. On Google My Business, you can monitor the number of search results your listing appeared in, the number of listing views, your reviews, and valuable customer actions like consumers who visited your website, requested directions or called. Yelp analytics offers the same details, but the platform allows you to assign a value to each conversion. For example, you can assign a higher value to a customer who calls your practice than you assign to someone who looks at your website. This allows you to see the estimated return on investment for your Yelp conversions without doing the math yourself.
Paid Digital Marketing
When I take on a new digital marketing client, I often hear, “I took the time to build out my social media pages and I post engaging content frequently, but I am not seeing the results I want.” I always ask if the client is sponsoring the content. The answer is often no.
Put simply, sponsoring posts on social media is the act of putting advertising dollars behind high-performing content. First things first: do not feel intimidated about creating sponsored social media posts, also known as paid media. The easiest way to sponsor a post on Facebook is a process called boosting. (For a short video that walks you through boosting, visit https://vimeo.com/241195793.) During the Facebook boosting process, you can select a demographic you want to target and choose how long you want your boosted post to run. You can also define your audience by fencing around your location. For example, you can choose to reach people in Cleveland and a 5-mile radius around Cleveland.
You can take engagement to a higher level by creating strategically sponsored ads for Facebook and Instagram. For example, you can create an ad about acne treatment and have it reach only those who have expressed interest in acne treatment. At the same time, you can create an ad about the benefits of injectables for aging and target those who have demonstrated interest in injectables. These strategically targeted ads allow you to reach multiple specific patient populations, without cluttering your web page or Facebook feed. Creating strategically sponsored ads is more involved than boosting a post, but you will get better results.
Experts Can Help
For a busy doctor, using digital marketing to reach new patients can be a major undertaking. An agency can help define your target audiences and messaging, as well as conduct research to ensure that anyone searching current dermatology trends finds you. An agency also can help you build a brand that differentiates you from competing practices.
My team is always thinking of new ways to bring creativity to our clients’ social media channels as well. Photos are great to post, but video and infographics are even better. Through our MD Accelerator platform, we get to know physicians and their social media objectives (conversions, engagement, local awareness or page likes, for example), and ensure that our social media strategy achieves those objectives. We coach physicians who want to boost their profiles among peers, teaching them how to film and post videos with their phones, create custom infographics and maintain their brand on social media. Essentially, MD Accelerator is a social media boot camp for physicians—after spending six months with us, managing their own social media presence is a breeze. All of these efforts contribute to a larger digital marketing plan that helps grow practices by delivering more of the patients physicians desire.
1. York A. Social Media Demographics to Inform a Better Segmentation Strategy. 2017, March 6.
2. Showing Relevance Scores for Ads on Facebook. (n.d.). Retrieved from
3. For Display Purposes Only. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://displaypurposes.com/