by Brandon Comella, DDS, MS, and Adam Schulhof, DMD
Two orthodontists discuss integrating social media into their marketing strategies
Orthodontic Products: Why is it important for an orthodontic practice to interact via social media?
Brandon Comella, DDS, MS: Any business that isn’t online and actively marketing itself on the Internet, particularly through social media, is missing out on a big opportunity. In the past, we looked to more traditional means of marketing and advertising such as print, telephone directories, and radio. In 2011, I find that it makes more sense to focus much of our energy and budget in the online world. This is where our patients and prospective patients are spending their time. We need to have a presence there so we can not only talk about ourselves and provide information, but also interact.
Adam Schulhof, DMD: I see patients all day long walking into the office on their smartphone. Kids who are middle school age and up are on Facebook and are “tweeting” their friends. This is a big shift from how things were even 5 years ago. Yes, the technology is ever-changing and, at times, difficult to keep up with. But I find that promoting my practice online and with social media is extremely cost-effective and beneficial all the way around.
OP: How has social media improved your business?
Comella: Quite frankly, a tangible improvement has been a moderate decrease in my advertising budget. Although I’m continuing some other advertising efforts, I see the value in online marketing. Social media has connected our patients with the staff here in the office. Our patients and their families can interact with us in so many different ways. I believe they appreciate the transparency and feel like they’re part of the family. That’s really the environment I’m trying to create overall.
Schulhof: I’ve noted an increase in referrals to our Web site thanks to social media. Also, we’ve used it to network with our patients and create a community where we can share information. This allows us to quickly and easily distribute information about our office promotions, contests, and new product offerings. In the simplest sense, I view it as a way to disseminate information while getting feedback from patients as they read and react to it.
OP: How did you decide which areas or sites to focus on?
Schulhof: When we first decided to have a presence in the social media arena, I started asking family, friends, and colleagues to try to get a sense of what was out there. Facebook was a no-brainer. I quickly learned there is a different way to create a “business” page on Facebook, as compared to an account you’d set up for your personal use. I also made a list of places that I wanted to research more to see if there was value: Twitter, YouTube, Google.
Comella: My staff and I spent some time looking online at other businesses to get ideas. We reviewed Web sites of other orthodontists across the country. In addition, we found sites of unrelated businesses to see how they were leveraging social media. I also got in contact with a local Internet marketing consultant to get some ideas from them. We knew we needed to be on Facebook. Beyond that, we started “tweeting” on Twitter, set up a YouTube Channel, and created a blog. We have also spent a good deal of time focusing on other areas such as Google Places and HealthGrades.
OP: What effect has your presence online had on your patients, if any?
Comella: Whether it’s through Facebook, a tweet, or a comment on our blog, we are always monitoring what’s being said and responding to them. All of this allows our patients to get in touch with us through additional means. Gone are the days of leaving us a phone message to be returned the next business day. It’s not uncommon for a member of our staff to communicate online with a patient or their family in the evening or on a weekend day.
Schulhof: The best part about all of this is that none of it is “earth-shattering” to our patients. This is what they expect. They spend all day on Facebook, reading the news online, reading blogs, and monitoring Twitter feeds. My point is that I don’t think our patients are amazed by our presence online. It’s more of a subconscious thing.
What we need to do now is go a step further and leverage this incredible opportunity to stay in touch with our patients in a unique way. That’s the challenging part. Setting up a Facebook page is easy. But what’s the strategy behind it? How can we use it to benefit our patients? Also, from a patient’s perspective, this wave of new technology has allowed them to gain access to information they might not normally have had.
OP: Has social media improved your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts and your overall online profile?
Schulhof: Yes. We’ve definitely helped improve our natural search-engine ranking thanks to the various social media efforts we’ve implemented.
Comella: Same here. My practice’s Web site is more prominently displayed in search engine results like Google thanks to having a presence on sites like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, as well as other local review sites including Citysearch, Yelp, Insider Pages, Foursquare, and Merchant Circle. We also have information posted on Google Places, HealthGrades, and LinkedIn.
OP: How have you measured your success online?
Comella: When we first meet a new patient, we find out how they heard about us. I’ve noted a definite increase in the number of patients who come to us through our online efforts. However, finding hard data to measure social media efforts is an issue many businesses are struggling with.
Schulhof: I agree—this is a difficult piece of the puzzle. For us, we’ve started measuring some of the simple things like the number of fans we have on Facebook, the number of interactions, comments, feedback, and reviews. We’ve also been paying closer attention to participation in in-office contests which we promote through social media. We can also see Web traffic data that indicates where visitors are coming to our Web site from. We’re seeing more and more referring activity from social media sites like Facebook.
Comella: Thankfully, social media activities often have little to no hard marketing costs associated with them. Instead, it’s more of a time investment: strategizing, planning, implementing, and maintaining. In an ideal world, I would love to have data on every little detail, but I’m less worried about measuring the tangible aspects of the social media campaigns. For example, we’ll run an in-office promotion to drive traffic to our Facebook page. If it doesn’t work well, I haven’t invested much in it (at least not in dollars).
OP: Do you outsource any social media work?
Comella: I sought out a local marketing consultant to help my practice with these efforts. It’s worked out very well thus far. We have a weekly meeting where we touch base and review the various projects we have going on. For me, it’s well worth the money to pay a professional to oversee this type of work.
Schulhof: I really like what Brandon has done, and I’m currently interviewing different firms to find the perfect match. At this point, I have a staff member who runs our social media program. She happens to be a chairside assistant who has a knack for it and the excitement to match. It’s turning out to be more time-consuming than we originally planned, though, because it has been such a success.
OP: What advice can you give other orthodontists getting started with social media?
Schulhof: I’d start by writing down what your goals are. Consider why you want to get involved with social media and what you hope to get back in return. Next, think about how you might begin to execute the implementation. Do you have the time, knowledge, and resources to make it happen? If not, think about getting help from an Internet marketing professional. At a minimum, they can help you plan and get you started on the right path. You can always choose to maintain the efforts long-term.
Comella: Those are all great tips. I will add to that: Spend some time reading about the topic online. Although you may not fully understand all the jargon, it will help you start to get a sense of what’s involved and, more importantly, what is possible! It can be overwhelming.
Think back 10 or more years ago when you first considered needing a Web site for your practice. That whole process was a lot to manage. Social media is no different. We’re just in a different place now, and people have come to expect businesses to be online in a much bigger and broader way.
Brandon Comella, DDS, MS, is in private practice in Rochester, NY. He is dually trained as an engineer and a doctor of dental surgery. In addition to lecturing and teaching, he is currently working on his PhD in Mechanical Engineering at SUNY, Buffalo. He can be reached at /i>.
Adam Schulhof, DMD, is a board-certified orthodontist with practices in both New Jersey and New York. He lectures nationally and teaches at various local universities. He can be reached at