High-traffic in-person events like open houses used to be the orthodontic marketing norm, but now the digital world is the logical venue for building “community” referrals. Here’s how to get started
PART 2 OF A 2-PART SERIES
by Casey Bull
Patient referrals and dental referrals are key components of any successful orthodontic practice, of
course, but to unlock true potential for long-term sustainable growth, it also must have
robust community and digital marketing strategies.
Community outreach in 2021 looks very different from years past: We don’t have the
luxury of community events and high-traffic opportunities. In the digital marketing space,
the options are ever-increasing—and so is the cost—so let’s focus on the most time- and
cost-effective strategies to help encourage growth in 2021.
Community referral strategies
Before COVID-19, the best community referral lead-generation strategy involved open
houses. Some of our clients reported having as many as 40 starts from a single event! If
you’re in an area where restrictions are lifted and community confidence is high, this is
still a great way to get a lot of production in a single day.
But over the past year, a few other community referral strategies have proven to yield
great results without the requirement of face-to-face events.
Facebook Live events
The three main reasons a practice would
get started with Facebook Live events:
- Grow engagement and exposure.
Since COVID, face-to-face
engagement is limited, and social
media platforms give practices
the ability to engage with current,
former and prospective patients.
- Beat the algorithm. Video is very
prominent in social media, and live
events give you the opportunity
to not only engage live but also
generate video that can then be
- Competitor pressure. Competition
in the orthodontic market is
increasing and whether you’re feeling
competitive pressure from a local
dentist, orthodontist, DTC provider
or other, Facebook Live events give
you an opportunity to capture the
attention of prospects who may
have ended up going with your
There are various approaches to Facebook
Live events, and ultimately only
trial-and-error will determine what the
people in your area are most interested
in, but a good starting point is providing
the information that a new patient would
get in a new-patient consultation. This
should be done by the orthodontist and a
Think of this as an opportunity for
shoppers or those still in the research
stage to have direct access to the doctor.
Sometimes people can feel intimidated
or slightly insecure in a dental practice or talking with a doctor. But when you give
people the opportunity to converse behind
the safety of Facebook and a keyboard,
they will engage more openly and you can
turn that trust into a booked consultation.
Be sure to keep the sessions short—
around 15 minutes. So if the above topic
would normally take you 45 minutes, then
break that up into three 15-minute sessions,
a week apart.
Promotion of the Facebook Live event(s)
should come in multiple forms. All promotions
should happen within a week of
the event and focus on email marketing
and social media. Paid advertising is not
recommended; I recommend ad spends be
reserved for lead generation. (I’ll discuss
that more in a bit.)
- Send an email blast to any new
patient inquiry who never completed
a consultation, as well as to those
who are uncommitted to treatment,
one week ahead of the event and
again one hour before the event.
- Post to social media profiles
(organically) and ask your team
members to like, comment and
reshare. You can even share the
post to local Facebook mom groups
For your first few Facebook Live events,
you do need to stack the deck in your favor
a bit, so select a few team members (and
rotate it every week to evenly disperse
responsibility) to bring five friends to attend
the event. This is to ensure that there is
some attendance at the event; everyone
does not need to be a real orthodontic
And finally, have a giveaway—people
love social media giveaways—and offer a
prize like whitening treatment, a Visa gift
card or a tablet.
This is more of a brand awareness
strategy, so metrics of success should be
live attendance and recording viewings.
You should also see new patient inquiries
increase over time as your brand awareness
increases (from a range of referral sources,
not Facebook Live specifically). This increase
is typically delayed by three to six months.
This type of strategy is so important
because data has proven that word of mouth
generates the best returns, and social media
influencer referrals are nearly as good as
the typical patient word-of-mouth referrals.
Also, Facebook’s organic post reach for
small businesses is only 2–6% of your
audience, so these influencers will help
push your messages out for you.
First, identify whom you should partner
with—you need to find people your audience
will trust and will respect the opinion of.
You should be looking for these three things:
- Relevance. These influencers should
be sharing content and have a
following relevant to your business
and the market segment you want
- Relevant reach. The number of
people you can reach through the
influencer’s follow base will only
bring value if it is a large, local
following. Microinfluencers typically
have 10,000–100,000 followers, but
can have more or less and still add
- Resonance. The influencers must be
engaged with their audience in a way
that’s valuable and relevant to your
brand. Do they reply to comments
and have two-way conversations
with their followers?
To find the right influencers, start off
by looking at your existing and previous
patients, as well as your team members
and the people they know. Websites such
as Scrunch, Tinysponsor and Influence.co
will also be able to connect you with
influencers, but starting off with people
connected with your practice is going to
be the best way to ensure real results.
Once you’ve identified the people you’d
like to work with, set up an agreement
with them. This will vary depending on
the particular influencer you choose, but
these are the most common models:
- Full Invisalign treatment at no cost,
in exchange for:
– Images for the practice website
and social media advertising.
– Posts about Invisalign treatment
on their own social media
– Page takeovers on the practice’s
social media accounts.
- Invisalign treatment provided at discount
(and possible free Acceledent
and whitening), with the monthly
fee waived for each person they refer
who signs up for treatment.
- For existing patients who have large
followings, offer small discounts for
a single post where they mention
and tag the practice.
Digital marketing strategies
When it comes to digital marketing,
the possibilities are nearly endless and it
can be difficult to know where to start. Of
all of the options out there, I recommend
every practice makes sure it’s doing these
three in 2021.
Search-engine optimization (SEO)
refers to increasing the quantity and
quality of traffic to your website through
search engines such as Google. Full SEO optimization is expensive and measurable
results typically are delayed for months—
sometimes years. For orthodontic practices,
that’s not an effective approach.
You run a local business, so you should
focus instead on local SEO, the type of
optimization that ensures you show up
in local listings such as the Google Map
Pack (Fig. 1).
To increase your ranking in local SEO,
general SEO principles are always helpful
but I think the most important is optimizing
your Google My Business listing. Log in to
your listing by visiting business.google.com,
and take at least these five basic steps to
optimize your listing:
- Upload a new photo every month.
- Upload a new video a minimum
of once per quarter.
- Update your “Make an appointment”
- Preload 10 questions and answers.
- Consistently obtain a minimum
of two positive reviews per month
It’s important to distinguish exactly what
your goal is before launching a social ad
campaign. There are two primary objectives
when it comes to why someone would start
- Build brand awareness, so people
will think of you when considering
treatment in the future.
- Generate leads: people who’ll take
action right now.
Ideally you can do both, but budgets
don’t always allow for that. If you need
return on investment now, focus on the
lead-generation approach, which ideally
incorporates an offer as well as a very
clear call to action (CTA), such as, “Free
virtual consultation and $750 off treatment:
The types of ads that work best on social
platforms are videos and static images. Here
are some tips to get you started:
Video ads: A 30- to 45-second video
montage of patients and orthodontist(s)
with background music and text overlay.
- Slide 1: Ready for a new smile?
- Slide 2: Book a free virtual consultation
and get $750 off Invisalign.
- Slide 3: Send us a selfie. We’ll send
you a treatment plan!
- Slide 4: Book online today! (With
- Use some stock images in addition
to actual practice content. This is
a great way to test whether or not
your practice content resonates
with your market.
- Be sure to include a text overlay
indicating the offer.
When it comes to paid social, you
want to always have around four different
creatives going at once—you’re testing to
see what resonates with your audience. Test
video versus static, stock imagery versus
actual practice photos, and as you track
the performance, replace underperforming
creative with new variations. Always maintain
a healthy amount of variations and refreshed
Having a virtual consultation on your
website won’t increase traffic to your website,
but it will likely improve your website
Paid ads and other promotional efforts
are how you drive traffic to your website or
various landing pages. Once the traffic is on the site, you need to have mechanisms
in place to ensure your website converts
the traffic into a lead, in the form of a
click-to-call, text, email or “contact us”
Adding a virtual-consultation widget to
your website provides another opportunity to
convert traffic. It’s important to distinguish
the difference between the virtual consultation
in terms of facilitating a consultation
online and the virtual-consultation widget
as a marketing tool!
For your 2021 marketing planning,
consider a balance of marketing channels,
“lead gen” versus brand awareness campaigns
and, most importantly, identify your goals
in relation to your budget.
Start with setting the goal, then work
backward with the aim to launch two new
tactics per month. Along the way, some will
never get off the ground and others will fail,
but by the end of the year you will have
tried 24 different tactics, and five to seven
of those should be slam-dunk campaigns to
continue through the next year.
Part 1: Building patient and dentist referrals
Did you miss part 1? To read the first installment of Casey Bull’s series about marketing
an orthodontic practice in 2021, click here.
Casey Bull, the global director of content and community at The Invisble Orthodontist (TIO), drives TIO’s efforts to provide member practices with marketing and business management expertise. Bull began her career in the orthodontic industry working for Dr. Alexander Waldman in Beverly Hills in 2014. While working for the practice, she developed a range of practice management processes encompassing tracking and reporting, management systems and templates, treatment plans, marketing programs and more.