Social media has been popularized in dentistry for peer-to-peer exchange. But, the role it plays for dentist-patient exchange has been overlooked and may be preventing dentists from engaging in social media activities that benefit both themselves and their patients.1 During these unprecedented times, when many dental clinics have been forced to close, social media offers a space to communicate, empower and connect without distance or time limitations. Today more than ever, your goal should be to maintain and build trust with your patients using social media. Patients continue to need your support as a dependable oral healthcare provider during difficult times. Dental teams that coordinate their efforts will remain strong and come out ahead.
According to a survey by Oral Health Group, 88% of patients agree that their dentist is the main reason for remaining at a dental practice and three out of four patients said the specific reason for being loyal to a dentist is trust. The survey reveals that nearly 25% of patients stay loyal to their dentist because they have a strong personal relationship with them, while over 50% stay loyal to their dentist because of the dentist’s personality.2 In times of physical distancing, social media has become a vital way for patients who are concerned about their oral healthcare needs to stay connected. Patients look to their dentists for direct contact and reassurance. Your engagement with your patients during these stressful times will impact how they respond once you resume business.
A 2018 large-scale online survey found that dentists share concerns about invasions of their personal lives and concludes that the role of social media in dental services remains vague. However, findings also revealed that 36% of patients searched for their dentists (online), and 44% of all surveyed were happy to establish contact with their dentist on social media. The survey results highlight Facebook and LinkedIn as the primary platforms of choice for dentists and patients alike: 98% of patients and 77% of dentists use Facebook, while 62% of patients and 17% of dentists use LinkedIn.1
Patients who searched their dentists were exploring online reviews and dentists’ specific qualifications and abilities.1 We can assume that as countries come out of lockdown, understanding infection control measures and adherence by dental teams will be a top priority for patients searching for a dentist. Social media is a convenient and non-threatening way to access that decision-making information.
As the coronavirus outbreak drags on, the experiences of other countries tell us about the new reality for dentistry. Local news outlets in countries coming out of lockdown, such as in South Korea, express concern that patients are staying away from the dentist. According to a growing number of online posts in South Korea, dental practices indicate there is a declining number of patients and increase in appointment cancellations. Dental staff also express anxiety about the risk factors related to their profession as they come into direct contact with saliva and blood at each patient visit.3
Start Your Outreach with Social Media
Decide on the platforms best suited to you and your audience. Create a plan and follow best practices to minimize your concerns about invasions of your personal life on social media. Each platform has different standards.
LinkedIn offers a professional space for you to showcase your expertise by including your educational background, work experience, skills and endorsements.1 LinkedIn offers norms and codes of behaviour that are compatible with a professional image.
Facebook is another story. Private dental Facebook groups that facilitate professional networks (like the Canadian Dental Forum) enable members to create, circulate, share and exchange information. It’s worth considering creating two separate profiles on Facebook: one exclusively for your family and close friends and another profile for professional networking and connecting with patients.
The next step is to carefully review the privacy options for each platform in order to maintain control over what can be accessed from your profile and by whom. If you’ve had social media accounts for some time, you will find more options than before to protect your privacy. Make sure you understand how each option works and choose the best options to protect yourself.
Social media is an extension of your marketing plan so set your goals to align with your business objectives. Review your practice website. If your profile photo is included, you should use it for all your professional social media channels so that you are easily recognizable.
Think about your target audience. What information do they want to learn from you, especially during this pandemic? What do you normally communicate to them? Start a list of topics and ideas that resonate with each ‘persona’ on your list. Prioritize your messaging and topics. Plan out how much time you plan to devote to each topic and create a schedule so you don’t become overwhelmed or get sidetracked.
Set your own guidelines. Think about the tone and voice appropriate to your style of leadership. Be true to your personality. Choose the types of post that align with your brand image. Now you are ready to engage.
To create an exceptional online presence, it starts with engagement. Communicate and connect with your contacts rather than post and run. Vary your messages and photos across all platforms. Remember that Facebook is the more human-interest part of your identity. Focus on your work in the community, assisting patients, connecting with your team and your continuing education efforts.
If you decide to create video messages, do some research about how to make the best video with the technology you have at home. Create a YouTube channel and post your videos so you can share them to different platforms. You can also create live videos in many private dental Facebook groups to share domain knowledge and discuss important issues to gain feedback.
Surveys tell us that you can play a more active and significant role to cope with some enduring challenges in dentistry such as dental anxiety, a strong negative feeling toward visiting dental surgery that prevents patients to anticipate proper treatments.1 As the worldwide pandemic continues, countries like South Korea are experiencing an increase in patient and staff anxiety.3 With social distancing and a sizeable number of patients who are comfortable connecting with their dentists on social media, there is an opportunity for dentists to embrace a more active social media presence to enhance patient interaction and engagement.1 Those dentists who take initiative by building an exceptional online presence will come out of lockdown further ahead and position themselves for change with the support of a strong social network.
Now is the time to reach out to your patient and dental community with confidence. If you would like to get started with the best practices of social media, I invite you to join my private Facebook group for dentists called CDF Live Webinar Series4. As part of this group, you will access free 20-minute live webinars about social media, which cover topics like privacy settings, prioritizing audience, leveraging each platform, curating content and meeting your business objectives. Start building a solid foundation so that you can build a thriving community.
- Connecting with your dentist on Facebook: Patients’ and Dentists’ attitudes towards social media usage in dentistry. J Med Internet Res. v.20(6); 2018 Jun (PMC6045786)
- Loyalty builds your practice. Oral Health; 2020 Feb
- Public staying away from dentists due to coronavirus. Korea Bizwire in Health & Wellness; 2020, Mar
About the Author
Melanie Fortier is the Founder of BravoEd Brand Strategy, a coaching and consulting company with the goal to help you become the dentist everyone trusts with an exceptional online presence. With over 20 years of experience working with corporate executives to brand and package company-wide programs for employees and initiatives for B2B customers. To contact Melanie and explore your social media strategy, connect with her on LinkedIn www.linkedin.com/in/melaniefortierbrandstrategist/ and join the Canadian Dental Forum Facebook Group. Visit BravoEd.com for more details.
RELATED ARTICLE: Are You Being Strategic With Social Media?