Bring Your Practice to Life With Instagram
By Rita Zamora, BDS, and Larry Dougherty, DDS ~
One of the things I love most about social media is the opportunity to meet new people. While that might sound cliché, social media is exactly how I’ve met and grown relationships with some of my closest dental friends.
Likewise, it was social media where I first met Dr. Larry Dougherty. I think we initially met on Google Plus, the platform some people call a ghost town (which it’s not). I can’t remember who followed who first, but I was immediately drawn to Dr. Dougherty’s social media because he’s a fellow dog lover.
Not only that, I could immediately tell there was a real person behind their content. There’s something special about a practice who shows up authentically in social media. Their photos show a human side. They often mention businesses or organizations from their community, and there’s a special randomness to their content that draws you in.
Of all social media tools, I think Instagram would be difficult to outsource. Without occasional physical presence in the practice, some affinity for the platform or enjoyment of photography, it would be challenging to express that special something that attracts followers.
My curiosity peaked at the thought of hearing a dentist’s real life perspective of Instagram as a marketing tool—and I thought you all would like to know more too.
Following are the highlights of our conversation about how Instagram works as a part of his social media strategy.
Dr. Dougherty: As a new dental practice owner in a large city, I put a great deal of time and attention into marketing. I've partially outsourced my website design, print mailers, and other types of ads, but I've decided to do the blogging and social media myself for now. I study what other dentists and other small businesses are doing to get inspiration. I've got a background in music and sketch comedy, so getting creative with things comes naturally to me. I take it seriously because it's my business, but it's social media so I try to have fun with it, too. I personally use social media for entertainment and to connect with people and things I care about, and I imagine that's what most other people do as well. I avoid being sales-y.
When I see other businesses doing that I just think they're being lazy and I unfollow them. I do my best to put things out there that people can connect with. Sometimes it's dentistry, sometimes it's not. My wife and I are pretty involved with organized dentistry, continuing education, and our community, and I think it's important that our current patients and prospective patients know that about us.
We're also real people, obviously, that live and work in San Antonio, Texas. I feel like it's my obligation as a professional to be a leader in my community. By showing people out there what I'm doing on social media, I can lead by example in a very accessible way.
Dr. Dougherty: Instagram is easily my favorite social media app. The interface, the user experience, and the community really appeals to me. It's all about creating a great image that's worth sharing. A simple image with a few words is a great communication tool! I especially love that your home page is a collage of your photos. Each individual post you create doesn't have to be a definitive statement of what you're all about, it's just a little piece of a bigger picture that you create over time. The filters and image editing tools encourage you to be creative.
Dr. Dougherty: Most of our new patients are Internet savvy and research us on the web before they come in. Patients know that my wife and I are dog lovers, they know where we went to school, and they know what different activities we are involved in. My business isn't unlike many other businesses: I rely on building trusting relationships with people and connecting with them. If some of that can be achieved before the patient even arrives, we've got a head start on things.
I'm obsessed with analyzing and measuring things. I keep records of a lot of numbers in my practice. I keep data on my social media follows, likes, etc. If I had data that said 10 new Instagram follows equals 1 new patient, that would be awesome, but I have no such data. I don't keep records of how many times patients mention something I put on social media, but it happens frequently enough to encourage me to keep it up. A lot of my patients I only see two or three times a year. That's not many opportunities to connect and leave a positive impression. Social media at least gives me the chance.
Rita: Determining hashtags - Is it strategy or purely spontaneous?
Dr. Dougherty: A little bit of both, mostly spontaneous . I just try to make it relevant to the post. I occasionally do a bit of research to see what others have done on a particular topic, but I don't get crazy with it. Hashtag strategy is definitely a frontier that I need to explore more.
Rita: Do you have any photo tips on what to Post? Again, spontaneous, strategic, or both?
Dr. Dougherty: There was a period of time where I tried to get very strategic. I was doing a dental topic on this day of the week, a staff related photo another day, an organized dentistry post another day, etc. That got too complicated for me so I abandoned it. It also sucked the fun out of it. It's hard to do social media if you aren't having fun with it. If you can't have fun with it, consider outsourcing it, assigning it to a staff member, or not doing it at all.
Dr. Dougherty: Just be a real person. Tell your story, share what makes you and your business special and unique. I've read a lot about marketing the past few years and those are pretty consistent take home messages across all fields. See what others are doing to get inspiration, but don't be a copycat or steal content from others. Then you just look foolish.
Rita: Your other social media looks great too, how do you keep up with it all?
Dr. Dougherty: I've just made it part of my work week. I love doing what I do and I love sharing what I do with others. I've made social media a part of that. It takes practice and dedication to find your voice and audience. It takes practice and dedication to build a dental practice, too. I just view it as another part of what I'm building.
Rita: What other advice would you like to offer?
Dr. Dougherty: Dentists: don't post bloody surgery pics or anything that makes you or the profession look bad. If you're new to social media, start out by just being a user and learn the "language" of each app before you start producing content. Find some mentors for inspiration. It's okay to sell what you do from time to time, but that gets tiresome for your followers. If that's all you do, you'll lose them. Keep it fun, keep it appropriate, and put things out there that project what you're about in the best way possible.