As you know, the theme of this week’s social media broadcasts is the huge subject of marketing and, as the week progresses, we will be reminding you of some of the relevant information from our archive and also trying to freshen things up with a few new ideas. If somebody asked me what has been the most significant development in dental practice marketing over the last 6 months then without hesitation my answer would relate to social media marketing. In reality, the very fact that you are reading this blog post either direct from the blog site or through Facebook is evidence itself of the fact that social media is evolving as a primary method of communication. There seems to be no better way to raise eyebrows at a conference than to mention the dreaded word “Facebook” in connection with dental marketing. Facebook like me and like marmite has its fans who are balanced by an equally vociferous group of those who have decided in advance to hate it. Twitter Very often when I raise the subject of social media the initial comment is along the lines of: “Why do I need to know what somebody had for their dinner, where they are going shopping or whether or not they have clipped their toes nails.” This attitude of course has been developed from the fact that, predominantly Twitter has been used to do exactly what the word itself describes. In other words, if somebody says to me that they are twittering on then I expect that they are just coming out with a random stream of garbage – and as an avid follower of Twitter from the early days I can confirm that the overwhelming majority of material probably satisfies that definition. Similarly, the popular mythology is that Facebook is primarily inhabited by bored teenagers and adult singles with no real life, who are using it to record the daily detritus of their lives. The reality is somewhat different. I am the first in the queue when it comes to suggesting that even the professional end of Twitter seems to be inhabited by hordes of American business and life coaches who want to send me endless tweets with links to various other websites which ultimately are promoting the sale of their products. I remember in the early days of Twitter it took me my first 200 ‘followers’ to realise that I was just opening myself up to what was effectively a direct mail attack – that which Seth Godin would describe as interruption marketing. I quickly became bored having my day interrupted by (predominantly) Americans who wanted me to buy their latest book/tape/DVD series/downloadable passive revenue information manual. The fact is that the overwhelming majority of this material is just regurgitated from earlier work – there are very few true originals out there in the market place. So my Twitter following was switched off fairly soon afterwards and is now policed very carefully indeed. Facebook Facebook, however, has taken on a completely different dimension and gradually becoming part of our everyday lives. The ‘original’ social media platform was, of course, MySpace, which was and is largely an area for people under the age of 25 to share and exchange their thoughts on music. If you look at the demographic spike for MySpace it’s almost entirely populated by a much younger generation than mine and, bearing in mind that my own relationship with music is at best indifferent then it was quite clear that I wasn’t going to be spending much time there. However, along came Facebook and it is interesting now that if one looks at the demographic of the over half a billion people who are now members then it’s a very long and gradual curve which starts with the early teenagers but carries right through every decade peaking into the mid 40s and then continuing with a long tail right into the 7th and 8th decade of life. I am continuingly hearing stories about grandparents who are increasingly using Facebook to communicate with their children and grandchildren around the globe as well as their own friends in a local community. Yes, there is no doubt that the majority of Facebook will be populated by party snaps, holiday snaps, family snaps and other day to day comments about human existence. However, more and more businesses are recognising the power of social media to communicate directly with an audience without the interruption or massive expense of other forms of media. Foursquare In the last few months we have seen the development of Four Square, which, in simple terms, allows those who possess a smart phone to check in at their location and post a retail review. If you haven’t done already, download from http://www.foursquare.com/ onto your PC, ipad, smart phone and simply walk into any region of your local town and open up the programme. You will immediately see a list of nearby retail establishments and as well as having the opportunity to post your own retail review, you can also check in and see what other people think about the place. FourSquare in one of the fastest growing social media networks in the world right now and over time an archive will be developed of those retail reviews so that you will able to stand in the middle of a town, check out, for example, all the local dental practices and read what their patients and visitors have had to say about them. I don’t need to repeat here that a number of dental practices are now beginning to realise that they can create a Facebook page for their practice and also additional pages for special product offers, events and services. I am beginning to hear stories of practices that are generating over a ⅓ or their new patient enquiries through a combination of Google visibility (search engine optimisation and Google ad words/pay per clip), a cleverly constructed website (of which much has been written elsewhere) and an effective social media marketing campaign. YouTube It is perhaps also appropriate to finally mention that the biggest social media site in the world is in fact YouTube and as well as facilitating the creation of your own YouTube channel free of charge, YouTube gives you the opportunity to create practice tours, interviews with clinicians and team members and patient testimonials on a very easy and low cost basis. YouTube also gives you the opportunity of creating a video blog as well as any written blog – and all of this activity of course simply improves the visibility of your practice on Google. I myself have taken the decision in the last couple of months to employ freelance social media managers for my own business and although it’s early days I am delighted with the results that we are beginning to see. This is the field of experts and not amateurs and, like you, I simply don’t have the time to learn how to do this properly. So in my own internet marketing support team I currently employ the services of: 1. Cathy Johnson as graphic designer 2. Krishen Joshi as website designer 3. Jem Patel as video producer 4. Brendon McDonald and Marita Kritzinger as social media managers That represents a considerable investment for me as a one man band but it is an investment that I know is necessary if I am going to stay at the forefront of marketing innovation and also an investment that will pay me back many times over in the months and years ahead. The moral of this tale is that web marketing is taking on new dimensions at a rapidly expanding rate. It is necessary for you as a business owner to be cognisant of this and to ask yourself the question what has to happen for me and my business to stay at the forefront of dental practice marketing.