When discussing social media, the first application that comes to mind for most is usually Facebook. However, social media is much bigger than Facebook. There are many networking, blogging, file-sharing, and other applications that qualify as social media. Yet, as data supports, Facebook continues to hold its own as the most dominant force of all these applications, not to mention the most powerful channel for targeting the demographic of the number one medical aesthetic customer.

Why Use Social Media?

Forty-eight percent of individuals in the country are using some sort of social networking site according to Pew Internet & American Life Project, a nonprofit group that studies the social impact of the Internet. This explains why social media has become an integral part of overall marketing strategies for many types of businesses, health care notwithstanding. Savvy practice owners use social media to reach out to current and potential customer and to monitor online conversations about their business. It is also an integral component to building an online brand. Because of this, a practice's social network presence should be secondary in importance only to its primary online real estate: the practice website. A business' website and Facebook page, however, should complement one another.

Facebook Gets Top Billing

When considering social media, why do most people think of Facebook first? It's all in the numbers. Consider this: On Jan. 14, 2009, there were 175 million active users on Facebook. A year later, there were 350 million users, and today there are more than 500 million users worldwide. No other application can boast such impressive statistics. Perhaps that's why Facebook gets top-billing in the minds of most. Moreover, according to Facebook, close to 60 percent of all users are women, and the fastest-growing segment is 35-54 year-olds. Sound like a familiar demographic? Considering this fact, along with its volume of users and staggering growth, it's easy to recognize Facebook's potential as a very powerful marketing tool for the medical aesthetics practice.

Benefits

The benefits of entering the world of social media marketing are many. The pay-offs for incorporating this powerful resource into the practice's marketing toolbox can be handsome. It is not as daunting as it might first appear, and the fact is many resources are available to make this successful. Using Facebook as an example, the following list explores several benefits and offers tips on how and why a practice might utilize this valuable new marketing tool.

Improves online visibility and awareness. A strong presence on social media has the potential to increase a practice's total online visibility. Google is now indexing Facebook pages, so it can absolutely help boost search engine rankings. Care should be taken when choosing a title for the practice's Facebook page. Using the practice name and city can help rankings. When a Google search is initiated for, say, “plastic surgery Nashville,” the desired results for a practice in that area is that their content appears in the first, second, and third positions on the results page: First, the website; next, the practice's Facebook page; and third, maybe a blog entry or article written by one of the practice's physicians. Optimization of social media makes this marketing boon possible.

Provides cost-effective, multimedia marketing options. The cost savings and eco-savings of posting marketing and educational materials on social media are enormous when compared to other forms of more traditional advertising. Not to mention, many different media are available for use. These include video, online “print ads,” audio testimonials, before-and-after photos, staff photos, and invitations to practice-hosted events. Utilizing these resources allows practices to interact with consumers in a variety of ways at pennies on the dollar.

Makes the practice a top authority and educates clients. A Facebook page should establish the practice as the local content expert for the services offered. Too often, practices use Facebook primarily to post monthly specials or deals. It's much better to focus on educating the practice's consumer group on services offered. Over time, consumers will consider the practice's Facebook page a top resource when thinking of skin care or plastic surgery because of all the valuable content posted. A simple rule of thumb is to provide 80 percent educational content and 20 percent marketing (such as specials). This is a more sustainable strategy than having consumers only think of the Facebook page when looking for discounts. Consider areas of the practice that need to grow, and start there. A complementing strategy is to sign up for all of the Facebook pages of the societies with which the practice is involved (e.g., ASAPS, ASPS, AAD, ASDS, Project Beauty, SPSSCS, etc.); they allow the reposting of their content onto affiliated practice's pages. This is a great way to get started down the path of becoming the go-to expert in the community. Remember, though, the consumer has been trained to look for specials, so be sure to include some when appropriate.

Offers insight into the desires of consumers. Facebook analytics is a good resource for identifying what content is of interest to fans. For example, a practice posts information on eyelash growth and notices that 30 percent of its Facebook fans actually read the article. This would be a positive sign and an indication to follow up with a special. This process allows you to meet your consumers' wants and needs instead of “spamming” them blindly with specials, which will eventually lead to consumer fatigue. Analytics information is accessed by clicking on the manager icon located on the lower left-hand corner of the main Facebook page. It reveals information such as number of unique views, fans, new fans, removed fans, wall posts, discussion topics, reviews, and photo views.

Recruits, converts, and retains. A practice's efforts to create a strong presence on social media have the power to accomplish three critical marketing objectives: recruit, convert, and retain.

  • Recruit: A practice's Facebook page has the potential to attract new consumers through online word of mouth.
  • Convert: Many Facebook followers are already patients. But do they know all the services you provide? Facebook is another avenue to help open their eyes to the full spectrum of what is offered.
  • Retain: Patients want to be with the best practice in town, and it might give them confidence to know that you are on the leading edge of education and technology. A well-done Facebook page will increase your value among your patient base.

Online Branding Strategy

The growth of a practice's brand is now inextricably linked to the Internet and is accomplished only by embracing the use of social media. A successful online marketing strategy includes a practice website and a well-thought-out social media strategy starting with an impressive Facebook page. This positions the practice for future growth and success and galvanizes current efforts to reach a coveted demographic.

Joe Blahnik is a management consultant with the Allergan Practice Consulting Group.