Dana Jacoby, M.B.A., M.H.S.

Social Media At-a-Glance
Social media refers to the grouping of online resources people use to share experiences, opinions, and insights with each other. According to Wikipedia, Web 2.0 is the “second generation of web development and web design that facilitates information sharing, interoperability, user-centered design, and collaboration on the World-Wide Web,” citing such examples as social-networking sites, video-sharing sites, wikis, and blogs. Whereas traditional marketing media methods consist of a process where messages are developed, edited, and delivered by a public relations person or group, this pyramid-of-influence model is now being fine-tuned with Web 2.0, and the results are impressive. For example, Facebook's population is currently larger than Russia's; the MySpace following is close in size to the population of Mexico; and, considering Twitter's strong growth, its membership soon will be bigger than the population of Sweden.

Consumers Trusting Their Peers
Given Web 2.0's dramatic growth, within your practice, every patient has the potential to become a spokesperson. Studies show that information from peers is becoming highly trusted in the online marketplace. For example, Edelman's “Trust Barometer” study found that, for the first time in the US, trust in “a person like me” increased from 20 percent in 2003 to 68 percent today. Additional information by Forrester, Intelliseek, and Compete show similar trends, with more than 50 percent of consumers turning to their peers and information online to form their opinions.

Data for the advancement of social networking is in the numbers. For example, in “The Decline of Traditional Advertising and Rise of Social Media” Brian Solis maintains that, "Social Media spending will increase to $3,113 (in millions) in 2014 from $716 in 2009, representing a compound annual growth rate of 34 percent—the highest percentage gain in the marketing mix."

Insights from an Expert
Many practice managers know their target audience can be found online but are confused by the numerous options for utilizing Web 2.0 successfully. I discussed these issues—and how to best manage Web 2.0—with Erin Glass, co-founder of Viziun Media, a company that specializes in website design, go-to-market strategies, and social media marketing. Following are her responses to my questions.

How should a medical practice best use social media today? The best tactic for using social media requires that you pick one or two social media platforms with which you are comfortable and focus on “growing” them, meaning engaging people or adding followers and friends. Get to know the demographic data of those with whom you are creating a relationship, find out what interests them, and share your expertise without immediately trying to "sell them something." I view social networking as an online networking meeting.

For example, how would you react if the first time you met a marketing representative he or she shoved a business card in your face? You would probably run the other way! Such behavior would be considered offensive. The same goes for online marketing. Although you are not physically meeting people when you are online, you are still networking, and similar etiquette applies.

Provide value to your online network first, before you begin to sell to them. For instance, if you are a cosmetic surgeon who wants to discuss your latest surgical procedure, you may want to explain the process and recovery to your online audience. Your online following will appreciate your information and think of you first for their future aesthetic surgery needs.

How can you measure the effectiveness of social media?
There are a number of ways to measure the return on investment (ROI) of your social media. At my company, Viziun, I personally use a software system to tell me each day how many visits to our website come from social media. This information specifically tells me who visits my site from Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Meetup.com. In one month, fifty percent of our traffic came from our social media alone—great results for a free advertising medium!

You also can set up a bit.ly account. Bit.ly is a site that shortens URLs to share on other websites, social media platforms, affiliates' websites, etc. Your account will tell you where people who are “clicking” on your links are finding you. While not as detailed as specific software, it can give you some basic statistics and can tell you how many times a particular link is “clicked on” or accessed. This information will allow you to identify which topics tend to get more responses. For example, when I've posted links to articles I have written or topics I want to share, there is definitely a noticeable trend in which topics are “hot.” This helps me narrow my focus and identify my target audience for my next post.

Can you give a brief overview of the best current sites and tools for Web 2.0?
These are the major players:

  • MySpace: While definitely considered a “professional social media site,” MySpace may not be the best medium for business purposes. Initially created for musicians to upload their music and share it with their friends, MySpace was regarded as more of a fun, whimsical, non-serious outlet to find and reconnect with lost friends. From that concept, the social media craze was born.MySpace's reported target market tends to skew younger than most target market demographics. However, a dermatologist with a product focused on teens and early-20-year-olds could effectively utilize MySpace as a marketing site.
  • Facebook: For medical practices seeking a broader demographic, my first choice is Facebook because it has more professional appeal than other sites. There seems to be a unique understanding in the current online marketplace that Facebook is being used for business, so the quality of people joining tends to be better for networking purposes.
    With this site, you can educate, introduce, promote businesses, and advertise at more affordable rates. With a couple of clicks, you can arrange company events and invite your database to attend. One of the best benefits of this medium is you can contact all of your potential attendees at once. As an interesting note, Facebook is growing faster with women than men in almost every age group. Women comprise 56.2 percent of Facebook's audience. While originally designed for college students, 45 percent of Facebook's US audience is 26 years of age or older, and it is now one of the fastest-growing marketing mediums of the 35-55 age group in America.
  • Twitter: Blogs have gained an enormous amount of attention, and almost every business website has a link to Twitter. Twitter often is referred to as a “microblogging” site. In the era of doing more in less time, the microblog uses a system that allows you to communicate with 140 characters or less. The idea of microblogging through Twitter has really caught on in the past year or two; leaving a message limited to140 characters or fewer can be very appealing to a busy business owner.
    Twitter provides a quick, easy format and a couple of URL “shortening” tools: bit.ly or tinyurl. In addition, Twitter offers the direct message (DM), which is abbreviated and keeps your mailbox from clogging up, thus saving space and time. Also, you can identify how many people click on your article links, which topics are popular, and who “retweets” your articles, which is helpful in identifying which topics are “hot” with your target market. When utilizing Twitter, you can even automate your posts. With this method, you do not physically have to log in to post your blogs, which is beneficial to a busy plastic surgeon or dermatologist who may not have time to log on between patients.
  • Ning: Ning allows you to create your very own social media group. Our company created a group for a radio station who used the group to bring their listeners together under one platform. Customers can talk with people of similar interests, compare ideas, or share blogs, which can help create a true sense of community. As the business owner, you can send out mass messages, post a blog, and control which content from your users is actually published. Additionally, you can have your business logo prominently displayed all over the site for branding purposes, which is particularly useful if a practice wants to target specific segments of its database that have overlapping interests.
  • LinkedIn: LinkedIn is a lot like Facebook in its makeup and usage, allowing its users the ability to join groups and create or advertise events. Additionally, LinkedIn can be a good place for finding and posting employment opportunities. The biggest difference between LinkedIn and Facebook is that you have to personally know someone (or that person's e-mail address) to add that person as a “friend” or get an introduction. Personally, I have had some success with LinkedIn. The demographic also tends to be in line with my target market age groups, much like Facebook.
  • Meetup.com: I actually received my first client from attending a Meetup.com event. If you join Meetup, you will be able to identify very specific demographics, as each group can be sorted by a local geography, city, or state. The groups usually will select a physical place, date, and time to host an event for people to get together and mingle or network. This could be a beneficial medium for a cosmetic or plastic surgeon or dermatologist who wants to host an event and target specific groups by demographics, such as a certain geographic region.

If a practice has not done any social networking to date, where should the staff start?
I would recommend starting with a Facebook page. When creating a page, remember to think about your short- and long-term goals. Facebook only allows you to have up to 5,000 “friends.” If you anticipate that you may have more than that, then I would suggest creating a “fan” and/or “group” page. The great thing about Facebook is you can promote your page easily by advertising it online. With Facebook advertising, you can segment who you want to target by age, occupation, location by state, language spoken, and education level. Additionally, you can set your own daily advertising budget by limiting the number of clicks you want to pay for. Once that daily budget is exhausted, the ad is removed for the balance of the day and appears again the following day. Facebook can show you how many impressions and clicks you get per day.

How do I manage all of the social media information? It seems overwhelming.
Social media can become overwhelming if you let it. In order to balance your time and involvement, I would recommend starting with one or two sites (e.g., Facebook and Ning) and focus on getting them up and running. Develop a strategy as to how you would like to use these tools to market your business, making sure to define your end goal up front.

For example, consider these questions: Do you want to include links to your site? Do you want to post links to relevant articles that complement your services? Do you plan to provide tips and free advice that will showcase your expertise? Are you going to add video to your site down the road? These are all important questions to consider to ensure that you have your goals in line with the site offerings.

How do I find and focus my efforts on my target audience?
There are ways to target your audience. On Facebook, you can look up groups of people with specific likes or interests. On Twitter, there's a tool called "Twollo" (separate from the Twitter application itself) that allows you to identify key words you want to target. Suppose you want to identify everyone who is talking about skin cancer. This system will scan the live tweets posted for anyone mentioning “skin cancer” and automatically follow them for you. You can do this for as many key words as you'd like, although you must have at least 50 posts left on your Twitter before you can use this system.

You can join groups through Meetup.com that have the types of people you are looking to include in your network or that would be good prospects or clients for you. Attend the meetings (a good goal is to target one meeting per month) and start building relationships.

How do I make the most of my available time with social networking?
There are a number of tools and systems available to “automate” the process of adding friends, posting comments, or delivering information. There are even select firms you can hire to manage your social media for you and your practice. In the midst of current social media popularity, companies are hiring people specifically for the role of “Social Media Marketing Manager.”

My biggest suggestion is to set aside time to personally get online and create a connection with people by communicating directly with them. Posting pictures of yourself can help your audience connect with you; however, your picture as your logo does not tend to get good traction.

If you attend local events through Meetup.com, go there with a goal in mind. I go to each event with the objective of finding at least one prospect and one alliance. This helps me derive tangible value from these meetings and determine their worth against my time away from my office and family. Give yourself a few meetings to rate their effectiveness; this helps track your ROI.

How do I convert my social media marketing efforts into tangible results?
There are a few ways to ensure that social media becomes a tangible ROI. For example, I like to use links on my social media sites that lead to a page with a direct “call to action.” (e.g., register for an event; fill out a “contact me” form; sign up for this newsletter, etc). If you use specific, affiliate links for these types of posts, you'll know the exact site origin of your buyers, which will help you track your ROI. Additionally, you can use the bit.ly URL shortening system to see how many times those links are being accessed.

Unfortunately, that won't tell you if your patients actually took action or not. After you have developed a social network marketing campaign, you also may notice people reaching out directly to you, asking you questions, or commenting on your posts. I've been contacted through Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn for my business as a direct result of my online posts. People e-mail me or respond to posts I leave and inquire about a product or service my company provides. When I enter these people into my database, I categorize them by the networking tool I've used (e.g., Facebook, a Meetup.com event, etc.) in order to create more trackable results.

What is the most effective social media for medical practices?
So far, there has not been one social networking site that clearly has been identified as being the “best fit” for the medical industry. Currently, a lot of doctors are creating Facebook fan pages, which makes a lot of sense, because patients want to connect with and relate to their doctors. Facebook's personal pages allow you to post your pictures, share your favorite quotes and hobbies, and assist your audience in getting to know who you are outside the office.

The answer to this question really depends on what your short- and long-term goals are and how much time you are willing to devote to them. For example, if you sign up for Facebook, LinkedIn, or Meetup.com but do not get involved with any of them, then none will be effective. Conversely, if you find one site you like and really focus your efforts there, then that's going to become the best tool for building your practice.

Reaping the Benefits
Regardless of the social networking site you choose, using Web 2.0 with its many advantages and shortcuts will be a boost to your medical practice with relatively little effort on your part. Consumers are going online for peer-to-peer communication about products, practices, and information, and the populations of people presently utilizing Web 2.0 are staggering.

Once you tap into this wealth of opportunity, you will secure patients whose online trust in you and loyalty to your practice will keep them from switching to another practice or physician. The referrals that ensue as a result of that patient loyalty are only part of the ROI you will enjoy from the benefits of social networking.

Erin Glass is the co-founder of Viziun Media, a company that specializes in website design, go-to-market strategies, and social media marketing, providing a software system that can consolidate a company's customer relationship manager, email marketing needs, ecommerce solutions, website statistics and reporting, and much more. You can contact her by visiting www.viziun.com or calling 800-277-3606.