This primary-care physician has successfully used social media to spread the good word about his cash-only practice.
Four years ago, I left my fee-for-service, insurance-based practice and started a cash-only, direct primary care practice (charging my patients a $30 to $65 monthly membership fee). My financial survival depends on my ability to attract and keep patients, which means that marketing has suddenly gotten much more important for my practice. Like most businesses, my best advertisement is word-of-mouth recommendations from happy patients. Beyond that, I've found that my most effective marketing tool, by far, is Facebook.
Before moving on, I need to make it clear that I am talking about a Facebook page for your practice, not a personal Facebook account. It is unwise, in my opinion, to interact with patients using their personal Facebook accounts, as it gives an intimate level of access to information about you, your family, and your friends. This is difficult for our practice, as patients often are very fond of me and my office staff, and so, consider us friends. But that friendship has to have boundaries, and just as I would not invite my patients home for dinner, I keep the same boundaries in the world of social media.
The good news is that Facebook pages allow social interactions with boundaries intact. The pages are easy to set up (as long as you have a personal account), allowing you to give easy access to general information about your medical practice (office hours, location), post pictures of your office (and staff, if they give permission), and make general announcements, such as closings for holidays, etc. People can "like" your page, meaning that whatever you post on your page goes on their timelines as well. My page has nearly 2,000 "likes," which lets me reach out easily to a large number of people - most of whom are local.
Let me remind you that this is all completely free of charge. Free is good.
The next level
Having a static Facebook page with basic information about your practice (basically an online billboard) is only the first level of social media marketing. One of the keys to successful marketing on Facebook is to make your page interesting. Post material on it frequently, sharing information about your practice, but also sharing articles and pictures that you think people will find interesting. This takes time and a little bit of forethought about what information is worth sharing. This makes your page a place of discussion, interaction, and somewhere people can go to find interesting stuff.
If you really want to reach out to potential patients, Facebook allows you to "promote" posts that you put on your page, meaning you can make them visible to more than just those people who have "liked" your page. This does require a small amount of money, but for $20 I can make a post visible to thousands of people (usually to the friends of people who "like" my practice's page). I usually get a surge in "likes" after promoting content that is especially interesting.
For a little more money (in the $100 to $200 range), you can run an ad campaign, targeting specific patient demographics (like age, sex, or zip code) to have your ad appear on the side of these users' Facebook feeds. During a slower period in my practice, I ran a promotion where I waived my registration fee, announcing "Dr. Rob is on Sale!" The response was very good, and I easily made back my small investment.
Creating a positive image
My patients love my Facebook page. I post articles, make jokes, talk about squirrels in our attic at the office, advocate for flu shots, and generally act like a likable human being in a public setting. They will often share the posts with their friends, as if to brag "My doctor's cooler than yours." These are two of the most powerful parts of marketing: improving word-of-mouth communication, and raising the intangible "cost" of leaving my practice. I use my page to give my patients fodder to brag about our office by posting content worth sharing. This is a very powerful driver of word-of-mouth marketing. I also like to make people feel like they are part of something special, which they would lose if they ever left my practice. Having a "personal" connection with me via my practice's Facebook page does that very effectively.
I'm at the point in my business where I don't have to do much advertising to get more patients. I really feel that the time I've invested (and the small amount of money) in my Facebook page has been, by far, the most effective tool I've used to get me to this enviable point.
So what tips would I give to successfully use Facebook for marketing?
1. Be real. If you are funny, use humor. Share candid photos of yourself and your staff. Do whatever you can to show that you are the kind of person people would want as their doctor.
2. Don't talk about specific medical information. Facebook should never be a place to answer people's medical questions. I've had a few people try, but they always understand when I tell them I can't help them in that setting.
3. Make your page something worth following. Many physicians' pages I read are as interesting as a phone book. Other physicians use Facebook as a soap box on which to lecture the general public. People don't want that. They want interesting information, and many out there are desperate for a doctor who they can be proud of.
You can see how I do it on my practice's Facebook page: Facebook.com/doctorrobspage.