Truly effective social
media tells a story,
connects with patients and
conveys your practice’s
culture and principles
by Dr. Andrew Sarpotdar
Social media has fundamentally changed the way in which patients interact with and consume messages from modern practitioners. Today’s patients demand instant, relevant and convenient access to genuine messages they want to hear. Meanwhile, ad fatigue is becoming an ever more powerful barrier to those who seek exposure through increasingly saturated traditional advertising mediums. To increase engagement with their platforms, social media companies increasingly evolve their algorithms to cater to user preferences while avoiding ad fatigue.
For today’s practitioners, it’s no longer enough to be good at what they do, to treat their patients right during the five minutes they spend with them every eight weeks, or to post a few “braces off” pictures when they get around to it. A commitment to showcasing a genuine and magnetic office culture—one that resonates with their communities—is imperative. Those who can master the art and science of telling their story through social media will be rewarded with their patients’ attention and just maybe, their brand loyalty.
Gift of braces:: This was a video taken by a patient who was gifted braces by her parents. Although she cries tears of happiness, it demonstrates the effect of our ability to physically enhance smile aesthetics on our patients and potential patients.
Tell your story
Every practice has a story, a narrative of its identity and how that identity engages with its community. As practice owners, we can choose to be the authors of our stories or allow others to write their own versions for us. Our stories define how the world sees us, the values our communities identify with, and are ultimately the bases for patient loyalty. Never has there been a greater mouthpiece for small-business owners to tell their story than today’s social media channels.
To tell one’s story on social media, one must first identify a few key components, often associated with one’s mission statement: Why do we exist? What do we believe in? What do we want to be? Answer these questions in a way that harmonizes with your genuine personality as well as the culture of the community you seek to serve.
In our office, we exist to inspire smiles in our community in three ways:
Physically, by enhancing our patients’ smile aesthetics.
Emotionally, through building genuine relationships with our community built on trust, humor, and enhancement of self-esteem.
Mentally, through our support of local educators.
Mouthguard sponsorship—repost from parent volunteer: Supporting our local schools is a foundational element of how we inspire smiles. During our event, parents were encouraged to share their own stories on social media to increase organic reach. Because we were providing a huge value to them at no cost, they were just looking for a way to thank us. All we had to do was tell them how!
All this is summed up in our tagline, “Inspiring Smiles”—and while the word inspiring is often thought of as a adjective, here it’s intended as a verb. Through our social media, we seek to demonstrate these concepts as can be seen in the examples here. It can be tempting to copy one’s favorite industry influencers, but there is no quicker path to mediocrity. Attempt to copy someone else, and you’ll never be better than second best; create a brand that is true to your genuine self, and no one will match it.
Additionally, the more closely your brand is tied to your genuine self, the more rewarding and consistent it will be. Nurture your brand by hiring employees whose values resonate with it, then empower them to act in accordance. If you wish to delegate your social media management to an employee, consider setting concrete goals not only for the number of posts but also the types and frequencies you desire. I highly recommend keeping a level of oversight through maintaining final approval of posts; when managed effectively, this can prevent embarrassing faux pas with a minimal investment of time.
Include your patients and community. Remember that engagement on social media is often not a reflection of the quality of content, but how much your patients like you and their desire to be a part of your story. Making the experience about your patients includes them in your story and perpetuates it through the messages they send to their friends. I find that if we’re doing our jobs right at the chair, patients are just looking for a way to express their gratitude while becoming more closely tied to the brand they already committed to. Our job becomes a matter of telling them how to do so through posting or engaging on their own social media accounts.
A few guidelines for creating truly engaging content
Keep in mind what’s interesting to your audience, rather than what’s interesting to you or easy to shoot. Some examples of generally uninteresting posts include too many “teeth” pictures, braces-on/braces-off posts, and generic “Happy Holiday” posts. When done right, with a message that is novel and interesting, they can be great for engagement, but too often these appear uninspired and boring to our audiences.
Simplify and focus. Especially when it comes to advertising, it can be tempting to try to cram in as much information as possible. Instead, focus on a quick, attention-grabbing image and tagline with a redirect link to a landing page with more information.
Follow and study the most popular industry influencers. Not to copy them, but to pick apart their stories to find inspiration for your own. You’ll also find inspiration for artistic touches that could jibe well with your own brand. A few Instagram accounts I highly recommend are:
Dr. Kyle Fagala (@memphisbraces).
Dr. Dovi Prero (@preroorthodontics).
Dr. Grant Collins (@thebracesguy).
Dr. Amanda Gallagher (@agortho).
Dr. Cole Johnson (@jfobraces).
And, of course, my own office page (@iconbraces).
Christmas wishes from Dr. Sarpo: We have found that heartfelt stories about our team members trend well with our population. In this post, we strive to be genuine and relatable.
No beets: Another attempt at inspiring smiles through humor, this is one of the most genuine stories we’ve published, and we were thrilled by the responses, indicating relatability among our community and local businesses.
Space heater in summer: Tells the story of our office culture, includes a popular team member our community relates to and describes a very relatable scenario (men run hot, women run cold).
Candid video in puggle park: Shows a popular feature of the office that’s an integral part of our culture. (BTW, those are brown toys in there, nothing else!)
Facebook and Instagram:
The Batman and Robin of social media
Of the major social media platforms, Facebook and Instagram remain at the top for targeted content delivery to current and prospective patients. With 68% of adult social media users on Facebook, compared with 35% on Instagram, it’s generally accepted that Facebook is king for reaching parents of prospective patients. With 72% of all children ages 13–17 on Instagram, though, it’s an excellent channel to engage with teenage patients.
Each platform has its advantages and disadvantages. Savvy Facebook advertisers enjoy an extraordinarily sophisticated ad creation, targeting and measurement tool through Ads Manager. As a community-oriented platform, Facebook lends itself well to discussions, event planning and promotion, and discovery of detailed information about one’s audience. Compared with Instagram’s 60-second limit on video uploads (not including the newest add-on, Instagram TV), Facebook offers a robust 240-minute limit. Facebook also allows social media managers to schedule posts in advance.
Instagram, on the other hand, is designed for real-time sharing of visual experiences and requires posts to be uploaded from a mobile device. Benefits include greater organic reach through its news feed and stories. (Facebook also has the “stories” functionality, but it is nowhere near as popular … yet.) Because both companies are owned by Facebook, we’ve seen the benefit of cross-platform functionality while generally maintaining distinct social media niches; Facebook remains focused on community building, while Instagram exists to experience moments in friends’ lives through pictures as they happen. Consequently, the way in which their individual algorithms select for content reach is slightly different.
Facebook’s algorithm prioritizes engagement as part of its mission to build online communities. Engagement refers to a specific action taken on a post, such as a like, comment or share. Posts likely to garner the greatest number of actions generally reach a wider audience and, ultimately, will continue to garner more engagements. The Facebook news feed is effectively a curated ranking of posts based on how likely they are to elicit a positive reaction from users and is based on four factors:
The inventory of all available posts at a given time.
Predictions on how users will react to a given post, usually based on past behavior with similar posts.
Ever notice how you’ll be shopping online for a certain product or service, then the minute you return to Facebook you’re inundated with posts and advertisements for that exact product? That’s the algorithm at work! It knows you want it and will continue to show you this content as long as you engage with it.
- Signals that indicate what the post is. These can further be divided into:
Passive signals: View time, story type, time posted, etc.
- Active signals: Likes, shares, comments and other signals that drive meaningful interactions such as replies or more likes, comments or shares.
Have you noticed how a friend or follower will comment on one of your posts, then a second mutual friend comments, then a third? That’s the algorithm recognizing your “community” and exposing this relevant content to all who it believes to be a part of it. This, by the way, is self-perpetuating, because the more you engage with your “community,” the stronger Facebook assumes it to be.
- A final score that combines the first three factors.
Before-and-after photos aren’t generally popular and tend to get the least engagement. Still, I believe it’s important to sprinkle a few of these throughout your social media plan as a demonstration of skill, as well as a way to visually demonstrate your “what.” I often put these elements into our temporary Instagram Stories to avoid having a page full of “disgusting teeth.” Here’s another example of demonstrating our physical ability to enhance smile aesthetics.
To apply your knowledge of the Facebook algorithm to your practice’s benefit, I suggest the following tips:
Time your posts. Everyone’s audience is different, but using Facebook’s business manager tool can be a great way to determine the times of day and days of the week your audience is most active. Generally speaking, I find that late-afternoon posts toward the middle of the week tend to garner the most engagement.
Be a conversation starter. Encourage discussion with the content of your posts, then be an active participant through responding and facilitating discussion. Consider tagging friends of yours who are a part of the community you serve, because tagging is a sure way to get attention.
Post content relevant to your desired audience. Remember that it’s all about what drives engagement. Present content that is both genuine to your culture and resonates with your intended audience. Pay attention to the engagement different types of posts get, then make a conscious effort to produce similar posts.
Boost only the best ones. Paying to advertise a post that has organic momentum is like running a race with the wind at your back; you have the potential to reach an exponentially larger audience with a significantly lower cost per click.
Instagram has historically offered greater organic reach than Facebook because of its chronological news feed. Recently, however, Instagram has also moved toward prioritizing content most likely to elicit engagement. Instagram’s algorithm operates on three main factors:
- Timeliness of the post. Chronology still plays a role.
Relationship between the poster and the user. This is largely a factor of past engagements and Story views, so users tend to see more content from those they engage with.
- The likelihood a user will be interested in the content. This is where hashtags play a role—especially if you’ve previously liked several posts containing the same hashtag or opted to actively follow a specific hashtag.
A few tips to use Instagram to your practice’s advantage:
Consistency is king. Consistency signals that you are a quality account and leads to loyal followers. The best posting frequency is the one you can maintain while continuing to deliver genuine, relevant content. Consistent and frequent posting in Instagram Stories will keep you at the beginning of your followers’ queues, where they are most likely to engage.
Engage with and follow your patients and potential patients. This will signal a relationship, and you will both see more of each other’s posts.
Maintain your brand’s consistency and aesthetic. Instagram is all about the visual—make your posts pretty!
Time your posts. As with Facebook, you can use Instagram’s Insights tool to learn about when your followers are the most engaged and post accordingly.
Situps/pushups for broken brackets: Shows our office culture (lighthearted, joking around), includes a patient, demonstrates “mercy” for a common issue experienced by patients.
Straighter Things: At the time of this post, Season 3 of Stranger Things was at the height of its popularity. Before this post, the show was a popular topic of conversation among our patients and staff, so we naturally took it to the next level. We tried
to bring humor to a topic our community was already familiar with to inspire our patients to smile on an emotional level.
Consider a few of the following apps to help design and brand your content:
- Photoshop Express: Excellent for touch-ups and corrections.
YouDoodle: For artistic additions and modifications such as overlays or text.
Videoshop: Quickly edit
iWatermark+: A popular app to easily add your watermarked logo.
Canva: My favorite website for creating beautifully branded social media posts is now an app as well.
Learning the art and science of social media can be an extremely rewarding way to engage with your community and patients. I sincerely hope the guidelines shared here will resonate with doctors and bring success to your practices, but above all, remember to have fun with it! Express your passion through your social media and attract a following that resonates with it, because there is nothing more genuine, infectious or irreplaceable than one’s own passion.