Get wired with your marketing
Marketing and media are intersecting on the Internet. Are you missing essential opportunities to expand your practice potential? A panel of marketing experts weighs in on the question.
By Daniel Sosnoski
Keeping up with changes in technology can feel like an overwhelming burden. Your TV, phone, and computer can be obsolete by the time you get them home. Like that world in Alice in Wonderland where everything is moving and you have to run to stay in one place, the marketing field is in constant motion. Are you ahead of the game, treading water, or falling behind?
The good news is that the basics of marketing are essentially unchanged: You are selling a product — yourself, your service, your practice — and you want to reach the people who need what you have to offer. To do that, there are still traditional, tried-and-true methods that haven’t gone out of style. Mouth-to-mouth advertising and personal referrals are still powerful players.
However, in addition to print ads and direct mail, what new tools and strategies are available that you should consider? Do new avenues of outreach make sense for the chiropractor? To answer these questions and more Chiropractic Economics reached out to a group of savvy marketing gurus for their thoughts on where we are today and where we are going with chiropractic marketing.
The buzzword today is “social networking,” and unless you’ve been living in a cave, you’ve surely heard about Facebook and similar websites where people interact with their friends. Should you be looking in this area?
Mike Reid, DC, CEO, and peak performance coach for Chiropractic Masters, is unequivocal in his assessment: “Social networking technology is not an ‘if’ but an absolute must for todays’ chiropractor. Presently it’s creating more awareness than driving new patients into your office; however, more and more people are using social media and the Internet as ways of finding their healthcare practitioner.”
On the plus side, social networking is usually free; the only thing you need is a Facebook account or weblog to get started. On the other hand, it does take time, something you have in short supply. If so, then consider assigning the task: “If doctors don’t have enough time to work Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or their website,” Reid says, “they can outsource this to a virtual assistant or one of their team members.”
Larry Oskin, president of Marketing Solutions Inc., agrees. “Social networking can be extremely valuable, yet it must be respected for what it will give you in return for your investment in staff, time, and money. Unless time is not an issue, we suggest you assign social networking responsibilities to your receptionist or a marketing person.”
An even more cost-effective way, Oskin suggests, is to hire a college intern to facilitate social networking projects for you. Today’s college students are very savvy with the Internet and social networking, while they need opportunities with real-life work experiences and internships.
This is also the view of Mark Sanna, DC, president and CEO of Breakthrough Coaching, who advises doctors to delegate social networking activities, just as they delegate other routine tasks. “The major risk in social networking comes from thinking that it is not necessary for your practice,” Sanna says. “The social networking train has already left the station at full speed. Make sure your practice is on board.”
“Social networking definitely works for many, especially the younger generation that are so computer savvy,” says Michelle Geller-Vino, owner of MGV Marketing. “However, I will always strongly believe that there is no better way to market a practice than via building relationships.”
In other words, social networking is something to add to your overall marketing mix, it isn’t a replacement for the other activities that need to be on your calendar. “The most successful doctors that I know are out in their communities speaking in local schools, companies, and organizations on health, wellness, and safety issues,” Geller-Vino says.
Another caution comes from James Edwards of MarketDecompression.com. He’s somewhat leery of Facebook and Twitter. “If you want a presence on the Web, I recommend running a website. You can control all the content exactly how you want it,” he says. He also uses e-mail lists to reach out to his selected audience.
Remember that the Internet offers you a range of tools to enhance your marketing posture. You need only use those that you’re comfortable with, and only to the extent that makes sense to you.
From Facebook to facetime
The reason you’ve been hearing a lot about Facebook is the fact that nearly half of all Americans now belong to at least one social network, and that trend is pointing upward and accelerating. A study sponsored by the advertising experts at MediaPost found that almost 60 percent of consumers say that “personal advice from friends” has the greatest impact on their buying decisions.
“Facebook is one of the most powerful tools you have to promote your practice,” Sanna says. He draws a distinction between personal and professional uses of Facebook. “While you probably have a Facebook user account for your personal use, you may not have a professional page for your practice. Be sure to set up a professional page.”
Oskin agrees: “Yes, set up a Facebook account and utilize and attract a fan base.” And don’t forget to network your network: “If there are other chiropractic and local community social networks, do your best to set up accounts on each of these to promote your chiropractic business just as you should explore blogging opportunities.”
Reid also sees value here: “I think Facebook is invaluable as a resource tool to provide information on health and wellness. Chiropractors nowadays want immediate new patient acquisition, yet Facebook will create relationships with new and existing patients, which is much more sustainable,” he says. “The relevance of the information on your profile can allow your name or brand to actually go viral as more and more people join your Facebook page or group.”
When a person finds a good chiropractor, he or she will communicate that information through a social network, spreading the word. It works the other way around, too: “If you were looking for a new dentist would you look in the Yellow Pages, respond to an ad with a $20-off coupon, or ask a friend or colleague?” Geller-Vino asks. “I know that I would pick the last option, as would most. Think about that for a minute or two.”
Twitter and tweets
The popular service Twitter allows you to send and receive small posts, which are limited to 140 characters or less. You can choose people to “follow,” and read their messages, while others can follow you. In time, you can build up a base of readers. Can this be integrated into a marketing strategy?
Yes it can, according to Reid: “With a limitation of 140 characters, I strongly recommend using Twitter as a way of linking people to your blog, website, YouTube
channel, or online articles.” In other words, you can use Twitter to steer people toward your other online activities.
Be selective about tweeting, Sanna advises. “Think of Twitter as a ‘breaking’ news feed. Only tweet content that is valuable to the reader.” Popular people on Twitter tend to post links to interesting Web pages, studies, and videos. “If something catches your attention and is important for your readers to know, then send the tweet. You’ll be amazed at how viral Twitter is!” Sanna says.
Oskin also cautions to not over-tweet: “Be sure to keep your Twitter notes and tips, special event announcements, and blog postings very brief, while sharing update notes at least once or twice each week,” he says.
Many doctors use weblogs, or “blogs” to interact with their communities and reach wider audiences. A blog is like a running diary or calendar, which you update regularly. As with Twitter or Facebook, the goal is to build up a large reader base.
You may not see a surge in new patients as a result of your blogging activities, but you will help to establish your “brand.” Many bloggers specialize in a particular niche area, and you might focus on nutrition, pediatrics, or weight loss topics, for example.
Even if your blog is part of your professional website, it isn’t your homepage, as Reid explains: “Your website is more about your practice, the services you provide, and chiropractic information in general. Whereas your blog is your professional opinion regarding any subject.” He notes that blogs allow for greater expression of controversial content. “That’s the wonderful thing about social media — it allows freedom of speech. B.J. Palmer once said that ‘conflict’ creates clarity.”
Being interesting is the challenge, Sanna says. “Blogging is all about compelling content. It also enables you to engage the reader in a discussion, since blogging is a two-way street.”
Like Twitter, your blog can drive traffic to your professional homepage. “A daily blog, with content linked to your website will drive your website up the Internet rankings,” Sanna says.
“The Yellow Pages is an example of where things have changed,” Edwards says. “Patients are much more likely to use Google or Yahoo to find a chiropractor. If you don’t have a presence on the Web, you’re hurting.” He notes that it can be well worth it to retain the services of a search-engine optimization (SEO) firm, who can help you achieve a more prominent position in results when people are looking for your services online.
The text thing
More people use smartphones now, like the iPhone and Blackberry, than ever before. And almost everyone knows how to text on their phone. For the younger set, texting is often the only way to reach them. So how do these fit into a marketing strategy?
According to Sanna, only about 1 percent to 3 percent of marketing e-mails are opened by the consumer. Nine out of 10 texts get read instantly. “Use texting to remind patients of their upcoming appointments, interesting workshops, or upcoming community events that you will participate in,” Sanna says. “Remember texting is an opt-in service and that HIPAA regulates the type of information that can be transmitted electronically.”
Reid points out that in addition to texting, it is now common for people to check their online networks — like Twitter and Facebook — with their phones as well. The wired set among your clientele is connected to the online world 24/7, and Reid says that “most people today are texting and using their handheld devices just as much if not more than their computers.”
The right touch
There’s no single magic bullet when it comes to marketing. Rather, you select from a variety of approaches. This concept is known as “multi-touch marketing,” which Reid explains as the process of engaging the consumer “through multiple tiers of marketing such as e-mail, direct mail, radio, TV, social media, etc.” It creates exposure to both chiropractic and your services.
By building familiarity with your target clientele, you build trust, too. Sanna sees this as a winning combination: “The most effective marketing strategy blends voice, e-mail, direct marketing, and interactive media. According to some sources, multi-touch, multimedia campaigns can increase results by over 65 percent.”
What does all this mean for traditional advertising techniques and strategies? According to Reid, the return on investment from print and radio isn’t what it used to be. “The best way to market in today’s world is to build a great internal referral system and then have an outreach program, such as screenings, talks, direct mail, radio, and social media,” Reid says. For his part, Oskin sees insufficient returns from radio and TV ads: “If you want to go traditional, invest in better signage, solo and cooperative direct mail.”
It all fits together. As Sanna points out, “Your print advertising should drive readers to your website and other Web presences where they can learn more about you.” It helps to leverage print with informative articles, too. “A well-placed article goes a long way to establishing your credentials as an expert in your field,” Sanna says. “The synergistic effect of a print ad along with an interesting article driving traffic toward your website for more information results in an impact greater than either standing alone.”
Measures of success
No matter what your marketing approach is, ultimately you have to assess how well it works. “Did the phone ring?” Edwards asks. “Assess your marketing efforts by the amount of the traffic they pull in. That’s what it’s all about.” According to Sanna, marketing is and has always been a numbers game. “The greater the number of positive impressions, the greater the number of individuals who will act on your message,” he says.
There’s no substitute for experience. Ask other chiropractors you know about what’s working well for them. “It is always good to try new things on occasion,” Geller-Vino says. “It is a great idea to mastermind with other successful practices and chiropractors out there and share what works best.”
The takeaway message then, is that standard print ads, coupons, and signage help you create brand identity. Social network tools help you create relationships. Put these together and form a powerful combination that elevates you above the competition.
Contact the contributors
703-359-6000 EXT: 22
Mike Reid, DC
800-781-8127 or 613-271-9967
Mark Sanna, DC