By ROB Editors
It’s the buzz phrase of this digital age.
Eyecare practitioners are hearing the constant drumbeat that, like anyone in business today, they must get connected with their patient base, via Facebook, Twitter and Yelp! But what does it mean? And how do I get started and why?
Today’s tools for getting connected–what are called social media–provide the means for doing business in a whole new way. Gone are the days when you listed your practice in the Yellow Pages and opened the door. Reaching today’s patients, and in particular young and emerging consumers of the digital age, requires that you reach out to them in the arena where they reside.
What follows is a primer on planning a social media strategy for your practice. Also, there are testimonials from several ECPs who demonstrate that being connected and utilizing social media tools wisely translates into new patients and measurable practice growth.
Know the Key Tools
Below are just four of the social media tools that are out there for optometrists to explore. All of them can be used for free, or inexpensively, by simply signing up with a username email address and a password. Facebook and Twitter allow you to maintain a great deal of privacy, and allow you to control who sees your accounts, until you are ready to open them up publicly.
In just a few years, Facebook has grown from a social networking site for college kids to a utility used by their parents’ generation–for both business and pleasure. This social networking site, started in 2004,now has 400 million users worldwide, in a variety of languages. The concept came from printed books used by universities to help introduce incoming freshmen to one another.Facebook users can restrict who can see their information to just the people who “friend” them. Facebook pages can include photo albums, blogging, and links to other sites.
Opportunity for optometric practices: Establish an online presence in the leading social media environment. Broadcast events, new products and promotions.
Have your say on any topic, but only in 140 characters. Twitter lets you share information in short bites. Created in 2006, Twitter is known as “microblogging” and “the SMS of the Internet.” Twitter’s short character-count requirement allows messages to be more easily read on cell phones and other mobile devices. Twitter users can follow each other and see what they are posting in theirupdates.
Opportunity for optometric practices: Broadcast events, new products and promotions (in brief!)–and have Twitter followers rebroadcast your messages via their networks.
Founded in 2004 in San Francisco, Yelp! provides two interwoven services to users–local search functions and community building, throughout the United States and Canada. Local businesses are reviewed by users, whether the business owner is on Yelp! or not. Visitors to Yelp! can search for local businesses, and read the reviews about the stores. Business owners can better control what happens online by joining Yelp!, responding to negative reviews proactively, and partnering with other local businesses.
Opportunity for optometric practices: Monitor what is said about you and your practice and respond. Increase your reach and competitive advantage by becoming a paying member.
Foursquare is an application that works on the Web and on mobile devices. Registered users can update their locations and connect with friends, and are given points and badges for “checking in” with local businesses.This social networking site also operates with Twitter and Facebook by updating those social networking sites as well.Unlike the other social networking sites mentioned here,users really do need a mobile device to get anything out of Foursquare.
Opportunity for optometric practices: Host a fun event on this novelty site.
Resources for Getting Started
This site (www.facebook.com/peripheralvision)was created by Justin Bazan, OD, and Nathan Bonilla-Worford, OD,to help other ECPs to get started in social media. It contains practical advice on how to have an online presence and to use it to your advantage, and it provides a forum for ECPs to discuss social media issues and challenges.
Putting Your Practice on Facebook
This downloadable PDF file was created in 2009 by Transitions. It is designed to guide the ECP through the steps to get started. A print version is available: (800) 848-1506.
Getting Social: Social Media for Your Practice
This is a follow-up PDF file, also provided by Transitions. It includes get-started info about other social media sites, including Twitter and Yelp! A print version is available: (800) 848-1506.