How to harness social media's power to grow your practice

May 1, 2012

Despite what some people believe, social media isn't a fad.

That was the focus of an e-marketing seminar Bob Main conducted at International Vision Expo East 2012 in New York. Main is owner and founder of Web Vision Center, a research project based in Salt Lake City that studies how people make online eye-care purchases. The seminar offered tips on how optometrists can take advantage of social media sites to not only grow their practices but to effectively compete with large optical retail chains.

"A lot of eye doctors know that social media is powerful but don't understand that it does relate to their practice," he said. "Their patients are already online. Optometrists just have to find a way to tap into that so they can be part of this social revolution that's taking place."

The first step is to determine which social media to use, he said. While there are thousands of vehicles to choose from, Main recommended developing a Facebook page, post tweets or brief messages on Twitter, participate in LinkedIn, which attracts professionals across all industries, and maintain a blog. The overall purpose is to drive patients or prospective patients to your Web site for more information on products and services.

But not every eye doctor wants that level of commitment, even though patients may be lured away from their optometry practice to others that have established a strong online presence. At the very least, he said practices need to post entries on their Facebook page, linking people to their Web site.

As part of this process, you need to decide what type of message you want to communicate through social media. Do you want to be informal by talking about employees and their families? Or, you may prefer to be entertaining by creating contests with prizes, or you may want to take an educational approach by providing people with information about the best practices regarding eye care. Then there is the high-tech angle, in which you actively promote every new piece of equipment in the practice or high-tech frames or lenses now available.

Social media champion

Still, the key to a successful social media campaign is a champion-one staff member who manages the entire campaign. While that individual may delegate responsibilities to other staff, the practice must be very careful about which employees are allowed to post information online to ensure consistency of messaging.

"Practices need to have a strategy with policies and procedures," he said. "That's very important because if they let anybody tweet or enter information online, then their whole branding effort will go awry."