Once again we are abuzz about social media and its use for you, the dentist and so I thought I would weigh in again, as time has granted all of us a bit more wisdom since last time. It is a tricky topic because nobody doubts that you need some sort of web presence, and sites like Yelp have reinforced the notion that the Internet is a strong word-of-mouth vector, yet the prospects of a dentist becoming the hippest thing on Facebook are grim enough that you couldn’t be blamed for not trying. However, in the spirit of it’s-still-January-and-I’m-looking-to-the-future I would urge caution against complacency: You never know when social media will become necessary for your practice. We’ve seen the rise and fall of MySpace and yet the mistake we’re all still making is that we talk about social media and Facebook as if they were the same thing. You should know how this works by now: things will change.
First, the bad news. The bad news for social media is that it is a burst bubble. The influx of new users is waning, and many upstart social media companies are failing, expected to fail, or considered overvalued. Don’t let this trick you into dismissing social media as some silly “fad” – this would be like dismissing the personal computer in 1985 because it wasn’t ready for dental-practice-prime-time.
The bad news for you is that social media isn’t exactly dentist friendly anyway. Yelp and similar sites are great for consumers in that they provide a source of reviews, and when the small business in question is a restaurant or hobby shop, there is usually a “personality” that can be well-represented in other contexts like Facebook Fan Pages or twitter-feeds-that-actually-have-followers. However, a dental practice, aside from your own web page, is likely to only be well-represented in these review-site contexts, and unfortunately these are contexts where you have little control. In places where you have control, (Facebook), gaining followers is an uphill battle.
So that’s the bad news. The good news is that social media has given you many powerful tools and you should embrace them, (this is more or less what was advocated here and I understand Deploy Dental will be offering more advice soon: take it). There is no doubt you need some web presence; not having a web page for your practice is like volunteering to be removed from the Yellow Pages. So while your Facebook Fan Page might not draw a lot of interest, these social sites have provided you with a platform for hosting the resources you need to share with your customers. Your site should want a list of announcements, especially if you are the sort to make special offers. This can be a twitter feed, and embedded into your site. Have an informative video? Host it on YouTube. A slide show of images? Flickr or Photobucket. An interactive presentation that lets patients explore your practice? You know I love Prezi. The mistake thus far has been that we have asked what social media does for us. Turns out the appropriate question was: what can you do with it?
And what about the future? Even while the immediate value of existing outlets might be questionable, social media, despite hitting an economic plateau, is indicative of how a lot of humans want to interact with each other now. That change has already happened. It’s done. The decision has been made. What gets lost in the jealous buzz of who likes what network and why and how much money gets shuttled where is that social media the idea has brought an enormous number of people to the Internet, and for many people it is their home base for their “Internet Day.” Not everybody surfs Facebook during lunch, (I don’t), and for many the novelty of social media wears off after a few months, but it is still the paradigm that defines how the average person interacts with the Internet. Eventually you are going to have to adjust for this, even if today is not the day and 2012 is not the year.
Consider Fitocracy, a newer social media site built around the idea of users sharing their fitness routines with each other. There are a number of things this site does well, most especially that people tend to stick to their workout schedules when they feel like their friends are watching. The idea of specialized social networks should make you perk up. You might not ever leverage the 70 trillion Facebook users out there, but as an example imagine a smaller network devoted to healthy lifestyle – we’ll call it HealthBrag – where people track the contents of their fridge, store and share recipes, share pictures of what they cook and eat because it is so much better than what their friends cook and eat, and provide links to their doctor, yoga instructor and dentist. Suddenly all the cool dentists are on HealthBrag and if you’re still fumbling with how all of this works, you’ll be left behind.