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With individuals spending more time online than in the past, optometrists can use social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, to build or grow their practices.
Last year, when Cathy Ives spoke with eye-care professionals at various conventions and seminars, she was surprised at how little people knew about blogs. Likewise, many believed social Web sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, were predominantly for teenagers.
"If optometrists want to remain competitive in their industry today, get new patients, and promote their products and services, they need to be involved in social marketing," said Ives, a San Diego blogger of http://theopticalvisionsite.com/ and http://opticalvisionresources.com/. "Many of their competitors are involved; they're all social media-izing."
While social media sites certainly attract teenagers, several studies show that people aged 59 years and older are the fastest growing audience. Many individuals are spending more time online than previously because they're unemployed, work part-time, or are retired. Others simply want to see what their children or grandchildren are writing.
The course introduced participants to more than 50 sites that may help them build or grow their business. The current most popular sites are Facebook and Twitter, she said, adding that there is no cost to use any social media sites.
Facebook is unique in that it allows optometry practices to cast a wide net to attract new patients. Practices can create a business profile and then invite current patients via e-mail to visit the page for special promotions or to view photos of new product lines.
Upon request, Facebook can scan your address books so that you can add others to that invitation list and reach out to friends of people who visit your Web site. Picture the process as a snowball rolling downhill, growing larger as it gathers more fresh snow. The marketing opportunities are virtually unlimited.
"Through Facebook, you're constantly exposing your practice to whole different worlds," Ives said. "People or fans get to know your practice on a personal basis and will prefer to use your services versus someone else's they don't know."
Twitter is 'microblogging'
Twitter works somewhat differently. Consider the site as microblogging. You can use up to 80 words-referred to as Tweets-to promote daily specials or news. Some examples:
You can then refer readers back to your Web site or Facebook page for more information or photos. Or, you can use the site to congratulate patients who graduate from high school or college, get a new job or promotion, or have an upcoming birthday.
There are dozens of other sites, such as LinkedIn, a networking site for professionals, and Friendster, an up-and-coming social Web site. You can also control your image online-referred to as reputation management-by using sites such as Yelp or Angie's List, which rate everyone from optometrists to contractors based on consumer experiences.
Consistency is key
The latest studies show that most people spend 2 hours a week on social Web sites while people who are growing their business spend about 1 hour a day scanning various sites, Ives said.
Whichever sites are used, optometry practices must post news or information daily. There's nothing worse than a stale site, which turns off patients and drives them away.
Although it takes some time to register your first site and set up pages with information about your practice's products and services, creating posts only take a few minutes each day.
"You can appoint someone in your office to be your brand ambassador to do this for your practice," Ives said. "Work it into your day and start small. When you master one site, go to another. Slowly build. Then, don't be surprised by the increase in traffic that comes through your door."
Ives has no financial interest in the subject.