by Bob Main - Web Presence Coach/Consultant
Published June 2015
What is your practice doing to meet the changing online shopping habits of consumers (a.k.a. your patients)? If your practice is like most, the answer is, “not as much as you should”. Many ECPs are still trying to “figure it out”. Nobody taught you how to grow a practice using the internet and social media in school, so where do you start? This article will help narrow down the task and assist you in developing a plan to get focused on the task.
Rather than get overwhelmed with how to get a better web presence, think of it as a four step approach:
- A professionally designed website;
- An engaging Facebook business page;
- An online review management program;
- A patient engagement program.
First - A professionally designed practice website. What efforts/resources have gone into your current website (if you have one)? A website should be the “hub” of any online strategy. Yet, many professionals think they can shortcut the web-building process by doing it themselves using free online software or having an unskilled friend do it for them. A well designed website should be built with the internet savvy consumer in mind, and typically most business people do not have the training or skills to build a website that will engage, inform and educate visitors. A properly designed website will have good navigation, high resolution edited graphics/photos, video and content that will not only please visitors but will convince search engines to rank the site high in search results. This is the place to get “adult supervision”! Look for companies that are website development experts. Fortunately, there are industry specific companies that build websites for a price to meet most budgets. Check out this short video on what makes a good professional looking website.
Second – An engaging Facebook business page. This is a tough one for many professionals. Most look at Facebook as an online social media toy. They fail to understand how a Facebook page, where most people are sharing photos of their kids or posting a blow-by-blow accounting of their family vacation, could be a vehicle to grow a practice. Unfortunately, learning how to grow your practice using Facebook is not a short explanation. But, recognize that in a recent survey of small-to-medium sized business owners, 87% said that Facebook had helped grow their business. So it is proven and is worth the effort.
Facebook is a powerful practice builder and can be used to:
1) Stay engaged and connected with patients (and potential patients) between eye exams and/or eyeglass purchases;
2) Educate patients about new lens technologies, frame style trends and important information about your practice (it is proven this shortens the “buying cycle”);
3) Introduce your practice to your patient’s network of friends. Imagine being introduced (through your patient’s Liking your post) to their network, with their recommendation, to a group of people you never met. And the cost of this priceless marketing is ZERO! That is the power of Facebook.
Unless you have a “Facebook Guru” on your staff, you might want to get a little professional help to get the Facebook adventure started. Facebook, when properly designed, can become a mini-website with lots of valuable (search engine visible) information. This is a wonderful place to engage, inform and educate your followers. If you want to develop your Facebook page in-house, go to this webpage to get information on “How to Build a Facebook Page for Your ECP Practice”.
Third – Online review management program. A recent survey showed that 72% of consumers surveyed said that they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, while 52% said that positive online reviews make them more likely to use a local business (www.Hubspot.com). Consumers are persuaded every day by online reviews. Like them or not – they are powerful (positive or negative). And like it or not, consumers can post a review about your practice on a review site (i.e. YELP!, or Google+ Local), even if you have not set up a page.
Since people can, and do, post about their experience with your practice (and you), don’t you think it would make sense to manage those interactions? Start by doing a Google search of your practice name, and your name, to see what comes up. From the results, make a list of the review sites you want to target to manage/monitor. It is important to “set up” or (as many review sites refer to it as) “claim” your business on their site. At that point, you can upload information, photos and content about your practice. You can also set it up to be notified when someone posts about your practice on their site. Then you can (in most cases) interact with the reviewer by thanking them for a nice post or deal with a negative post.
Consumers make decisions about where to get eye care based on online reviews. Don’t let online reviews just “float on the internet” without your being aware of what is being posted about your practice, and taking the opportunity to manage the process. The consequences can be positive or negative – it’s up to you.
Fourth – Have a patient engagement program. Any savvy marketing expert will tell you that the goal of marketing is to develop brand name awareness. In other words, keep your practice name in front of a consumer (patient) so that when they are ready for an eye exam and/or eyeglasses, they will immediately think of you. If you have tens of thousands of dollars to spend on newspaper or TV marketing, that is an achievable task. But most businesses don’t have that kind of marketing budget. So how do you keep your practice name in front of the patient at a low cost? A good web presence combined with a comprehensive patient engagement program will give any size practice a chance to market on a “level playing field” with the big box retailers and online players. But the key is to take advantage of it, and many businesses do not and are missing a terrific opportunity.
Start by taking an inventory of the ways you currently use the internet to stay connected with your patients. This includes activities such as e-newsletters, online appointment reminders, email birthday wishes, online surveys, encouraging online reviews, and much more.
Many professionals agree that these are good ideas, and they plan to “get to it someday”. But unfortunately, most of these engagement techniques never get done. To insure that your practice will enact valuable, practice-growing engagement tools, follow this plan:
1) Develop a written Patient Engagement Plan (PEP);
2) decide what resources you are going to commit to the plan (mostly this is staff time);
3) appoint one of the staff members as “Patient Engagement Manager” (not a full time position);
4) have a formal monthly review of the plan and the results (create accountability).
If all of this sounds too involved, then again get professional help. There are companies (i.e. www.SolutionReach.com that will manage the process for your practice, and quite honestly, because their process is automated, will probably do a better job with better results.
So there you have it; a solid, four point strategy for using the power of the internet to grow your practice. Don’t get overwhelmed by trying to tackle everything on the internet at once, just focus on being very good in these four areas. Once you have mastered them, expand into other internet/social media related activities.
Bottom line - your patients (and potential patients) are online looking for eye health and eye wear information. If you are not providing it on your well designed web site or Facebook page – it will result in lost patients. If you are not monitoring/managing online review sites – it will result in lost patients. If you are not staying engaged with your patients between eye exam and/or eyeglass purchases – it will result in lost patients. Implement this four-step plan and begin today to grow your practice by using the power of the internet and social media.
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