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fackbook snakeoilExecutive Summary:

Facebook IS NOT: a great place to find new patients.  It is possible, but the cost per customer acquisition is very high and requires a high degree of commitment on behalf of the practice.

Facebook IS a great place to reinforce branding, enrich patient communications, provide patient education, and reduce the comfort barrier to becoming a new patient.

Facebook is sizzling hot right now. But buy the steak, and not the sizzle!

This analysis is based completely on statistics gathered and analyzed from various metrics implemented over many dentists for many years in many markets.  One such metric is call tracking and recording.  We sell a version that is utilized to measure and monitor the results of various advertising streams.  The evaluation includes learning the cost per customer acquisition – for instance, how much did the magazine ad cost for September and how many patients scheduled as a result of seeing the ad.  Over time, I have implemented call tracking numbers on traditional media and all forms of digital media, including: Google Places, web sites, micro-site, Yelp, Yahoo, Goodle AdWords, Facebook, YouTube, videos and much more.  I have also utilized all forms of site analytics, social media metrics and more.

That said, I have yet to see a Facebook page of a dentist beat the ROI of a well done web site with SEO or Google Places.  As a matter of fact, I haven’t seen any come close – even Facebook campaigns run by some of the best in the business.  If Facebook brings in 1 caller, Google Places has brought in 40.

So is Facebook a bad idea?  No, Facebook is awesome – the way people are selling it to dentists should be a crime however!

Negative’s

  • Effort is high.  The best Facebook campaigns typically require someone in the office with a good knowledge of social networking to daily update and maintain the Facebook page.
  • Vigilance is high.  Even with someone looking at the page each day, it still requires constant surveillance.  If someone were to post a bad recommendation or post on your page, it is best to respond to it as quickly as possible (within minutes).
  • Knowledge requirement is high.  The practice should have a social media coordinator and that person should be well trained in the do’s and dont’s of a Facebook page.  They should be fairly internet savvy.
  • Lack in any of the above – resources, commitment, or knowledge – the practice will not see a benefit from implementation (in fact, will probably have a negative experience).

Positive’s

  • Great Brand reinforcement.  Great way to let people know you are still there and to keep your name fresh on their tongues in case they hear someone needed a new dentist.  Makes the digital referral easier.
  • Great communication channel to existing patients.  Definitely more enriching than newsletters.
  • Great patient education platform.  If you have videos you can easily post them on YouTube and link the account to your Facebook and they will post there too.  I recommend posting at least weekly and I recommend posting a “dental factoid” which is typically educational in nature yet interesting.
  • Shows you are “with it”.  Can be a great platform to tout continuing education and new technology in the office.  It’s important that patients feel you are up to date and have the latest technology, Facebook can be part of that.
  • Great barrier reduction. If someone has been considering going to the dentist or needs a new one, they will feel a more personal connection to you, the practice, the staff, etc.  This makes it easier to get new patients and keep old ones coming back in.

I would estimate 1 in 20 practices really have the ability to pull an exciting Facebook campaign off that will really return a decent ROI.  I do see advantages to having a Facebook page and believe that advances in the future social media (be it Facebook, Google+, or some new competitor) will make the ROI better.

So why all the Facebook hype?  Facebook has worked wonders in other industries.  For example, I know of several club type places that use it to advertise bands and drink specials.  Customers use the check-in features so friends can find and join them.  Facebook has helped their business take off. Facebook has helped many other sectors too.  So there are now thousands out there now who have helped start a page, read a book, or joined a MLM affiliate program and they are now Facebook professionals.  That does not make them dental professionals or true social media gurus.  As a matter of fact, after the market is saturated and the true results (or lack of) are well studied, the smarter marketers will have already moved to the next big hype and won’t even be doing Facebook anymore.

So few dentists have business place pages and so it becomes the proverbial “low hanging fruit”.  Dentists tend to follow a herd type mentality and the buzz right now is Facebook.  There’s a perfect storm out there right now of a lot of people who desire to be dental marketing consultants combined with a lot of dentists who are searching for answers to real or perceived problems.  The generally low initial out of pocket investment required means a consultant has something to “sell” which doesn’t cost much and so it’s an easier solution to push during tough times.

It would be best to consider Facebook a great way to interact with patients without being too intrusive.  Though it may not bring in many new patients, it can help reduce or minimize patient departures as well as adding value to your patients.  It is real time marketing to potentially upsell patients.  Imagine a monthly special for teeth whitening.  When it gets posted, many patients may think, “Hmmm, I have wanted to whiten my teeth before the holidays”.  It’s cheaper than paying for a magazine ad or printing post cards.  There are many ways to use Facebook properly, but that’s another blog.

Facebook is sizzling hot right now. But buy the steak, and not the sizzle!