Using Social Media to Engage Your Patients
By Mary Hollis Stuck September 28, 2020
Social media has been slowly taking over globally for some time now. In the year 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic still ongoing, people have begun to spend even more time glued to their phones or computers. Less time is being spent outside in the “real world,” and more time spent working from home, lounging on the couch, or endlessly scrolling the internet. While sales may have been affected during office closures, quarantines, or even statewide lockdowns, it is important to realize you can use this to your benefit; you simply have to learn to properly engage your patients online.
There are so many ever-changing social media platforms, sometimes it can be hard to keep up. The world has come a long way from the days of MySpace and the original students-only Facebook. According to the Pew Research Center’s study in 2019, 72% of adults are active on some form of social media. For most of these, it means Facebook. That same study shows that 82% of people between 30-49 years old are active on some form of social media. For simplicity’s sake, given the average practice, we can assume that the majority of the heads of household, decision-makers, or insured parties that visit your practice fall into this age group. In the same mindset, it is widely known that Facebook is the most popular form of social media, even in the days of Tiktok and WhatsApp. The app is used by high schoolers and grandparents alike, to keep tabs on their friends and family, view news sources, and look at cat videos. In 2020, it is nearly a requirement that a business have a Facebook page, to stay current with the times, and provide information to prospective or current clientele. Instead of viewing that as yet another thing you have to worry about, it’s important to view it as yet another (mostly, if not completely, free) marketing tool at your disposal.
Before jumping into a social media schedule, it’s important to know your audience. If you are in a small community that gives you a mostly elderly patient demographic, it may not be worth branching out from Facebook alone. That said, if you try to stay as technologically advanced as possible, are located in a large city, or have a great number of patients aged 20-30, you might consider other platforms, such as Instagram, Twitter, or even Tiktok. This will enable you to stay current in the minds of a younger, more social media hip patient base, and engage them on platforms they regularly use. Either way, it is important to develop a schedule to simplify and maximize your social media usage.
Many optical companies, such as Vistakon, Coopervision, and VSP offer free tools to help your social media marketing; of course, these tools promote the products those companies produce. If you are a practice that heavily prescribes a particular type of contact lens, or uses primarily one lab or lens, have a conversation with your area representative about what solutions they offer. This may be full social media management, or links and images promoting eye health and particular products. These can be posted quickly and easily on most platforms, and are certainly beneficial. Photos of new optical stock, especially frames that are exceptionally trendy or fun, tend to get patients interested; if someone sees you’re now selling a new brand of sunglasses that are just their style, they’ll be more likely to call in and schedule an appointment. Keep in mind, though, that you never want your social media pages to just seem like you’re constantly trying to sell a product. Consider your practice. Do you have a fun, young staff that loves engaging with patients? Post group photos, or highlight the employee of the month. Use that opportunity to introduce your staff, and promote patient engagement. For instance, post a photo of your office manager trying on two frames, with a clever caption. “Is it better on one, or two?” Yes, sometimes cheesy is ok. Search for patient-friendly articles on diseases you treat in your office. The internet is full of info-graphics on things such as glaucoma, or the importance of wearing sunglasses.
Every few months, plan a short meeting with the decision makers in your office. Come up with a plan for which social media networks you think are best for you, and then consider how many posts to make per month. Less than one per week, and you will likely lose your audience; one a day, and people are more likely to hide your posts from their news feed. My recommendation would be to post one about every five days, on average. Alternate between an educational article or info-graphic, a funny meme, photos of new frames, and fun facts about your practice or employees. Having a special sale or trunk show? Use the “Create Event” feature, send virtual invitations to everyone following you, and post teasers leading up to the event. Some offices also do drawings for free or discounted eyewear. For instance, every patient that purchases glasses in September – October, and also follows us on Facebook, will be entered into a drawing for a free pair of prescription eyeglasses. (Pro tip: check with your lab reps and frame reps for vouchers and discounts.) This prompts patients who are already in your office to follow you on social media, and promotes more engagement down the road.
It is important to remember that no social media plan works across the board for all practices. Take some time to think about whom you want to engage with, and what your target demographic is. Tailor your network to them, deciding if it’s best for you to post funny Tiktok videos of your staff, or informative articles on eye health. Once your schedule is decided, utilize settings that allow you to schedule posts, so your social media manager can set it and forget it. Follow up after three or six months to review the posts, and determine which engaged the highest number of people on your network. Social media is an ever-evolving network, and should be reviewed regularly to ensure you are making the most of it. Don’t forget – engaging with your patients shouldn’t happen once a year while they are in the exam lane; do all you can to keep your practice on their mind year round.