Introduction: Dentistry 2.0
For many Americans the Internet has become a credible source of health information. Medical sites like WebMD, MayoClinic.com, Vitals.com, Healthgrades.com and others offer unprecedented access to health information to feed this growing consumer appetite for health information. According to a recent survey by Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, 61 percent of Americans turn to the web for online medical advice and information. This trend will certainly grow as the penetration of the Internet and mobile devices continue to grow and change the way Americans demand, search, and consume media.
Enter Social Media: Facebook and Social Media for Dentists
Social media has had a profound impact on virtually every business sector including dentistry. The swift rise of social media is reminiscent of the rise of the rush to the Internet about 15 years ago. And while we understand that social media as transformation and is here to stay, and will continue to revolutionize the way people connect and do business, its impact on the dental industry and the dental practice in particular is still not understood primarily because of lack of data.
Dentists are now allocating marketing dollars and / or resources to promote their practices on social networking sites like Facebook. Dentists have quickly come to recognize the power and usefulness of Facebook as a marketing platform. Data show that people are spending more time on Facebook and taking the opportunity to find what their friends and family like, their interests, and social circle.
In September, 2010, Facebook surpassed Google in terms of time spent online. According to a joint study by Citi analyst Mark Mahaney and ComScore that looked at the percent of time spent by people on the top 5 sites in August, 2010. The study found that“ Facebook, for the first time took the top spot with 41.1 minutes followed by Google with 39.8 minutes.” As more people spend time on Facebook, the more attractive the site becomes to advertisers, like dentists who seek to monetize on Facebook’s platform and phenomenon. We believe that the more time people spend on Facebook, the more they may use Facebook’s search box in the upper portion of the site to search for good and services, including dentistry. In essence, for many people Facebook has become an integral part of their daily desktop activities.
In the case of dentists and their utilization of social media to promote their practice, here too, there is a dearth of data on how dentists use Facebook to promote their practice. Qualitative observation tells us that dentists appear to be using Facebook as their choice social media platform to promote their practice. They are setting up profiles, pages and groups for their practice on Facebook. Questions still remain about what dentists are doing on Facebook and how they are doing it.
This Study: Its Methodology & Rationale
In this study, we seek to better understand how dentists across the United States are using social media, Facebook in this case, to promote their practice. The study period took place between December 1, 2010 and December 21, 2010. We used human observation because we have found no software or automated program that was able to assist with this study. We looked at dentists in all 50 states in the United States. We searched Facebook for dentists by state. Using Facebook’s search box at the upper portion of the site and high value search terms from Google, we sought to mirror similar searches on Facebook for dentists. For example to search for a dentist in New York State, we queried Facebook search for “Dentist NY” or “Dentist New York.”
We searched for the “state” and “dentist.” We used the full spelling of the state and its most common abbreviation, for example: “Florida” as the full name of the state and “FL” as the abbreviation. We used human observation because we also wanted to better understand not simply if we can find a dentist on facebook, but what these dentists are doing, how they are using facebook to promote their practice.
We employed human observation because there is no software or service that allows us to achieve our goals. The most prolific Facebook measurement, research and statistics service, Socialbakers – www.socialbakers.com, currently does not measure Facebook activities related to healthcare. As stated above, because social media and Facebook is a medium of engagement, we wanted to better understand not simply what dentists are doing to promote their practice on Facebook, but how they are doing it.
Limitations of the Study
Based on pre-study observations and through experience, we found that many more dentists than this study yielded with personal profiles; although to access personal profiles one needs to request these dentists as a friend. We believe personal profiles on Facebook for dentists, if they are intended to be used, to promote their practice, is a barrier to search in the sense that we know it. Certainly anecdotal search behavior tells us that people that ease of access is important to the searcher and in this case, if people are searching for dental services on Facebook, they may be unwilling to send a friend request and wait for an answer in order to learn more about the dentist. Therefore we excluded personal profiles from this study.
Other limitations include that this study reflects a period in time, and therefore it is likely that additional activity may have occurred on those dentist pages whom we observed.
Findings: Search Query
We searched Facebook for the term “dentist” by state. We searched every state in the United States and the term dentist. In the search box we searched in two ways, the full name of the state, ie: New York and its abbreviation, NY. We combined the full name of the state with the word dentist, and in our subsequent search we combined the common abbreviated name of the state with the word “dentist.”
The reason we used the search function is because it is the easiest way for someone to find a dentist. It is far fetched to surmise that people will seek to “friend” a dentist that they do not know simply to become their patient or to find out more about their services. It is much easier if someone searched by state or city for a dentist and were provided with unfettered access to the group or the page.
Though this method we found a total of 229 dentists in the United States. The highest concentration of dentists that came up in Facebook’s search by state were in Texas (18), followed by New Jersey (17), while many states yielded zero dentists, such as Connecticut and Alaska.
The Table below provides the numbers of dentists by state for the query “Dentist, Full Name of State,” or “Dentist, abbreviated name of state,” n=229.
Table 1: Facebook Search Results for “Dentist” and “State” Fully Spelled Out and Abbreviated
# of Dentists
We wanted to look at how dentists in each state were positioning themselves on Facebook. It would be reasonable to assume that the Facebook’s search mechanism would have yielded results for the terms searched, but it did not. We were surprised by the results of this query (Dentist, State, [full name and then abbreviated]. When the results came back, we believed there was an error in Facebook’s search mechanism. We attempted the query again and achieved the same results.
As a result we added major cities and metropolitan areas to the search to explore the search. For example in Texas, we chose and Houston and Dallas, in Illinois we chose Chicago, while in Idaho we selected Boise and so on. Results of the cities are included in the final State count above.
We also know that that there are many more dentists on Facebook. There are many dentists whose profiles are set up as a “person.” These dentists were excluded from this search because one must first know about the dentist, then request them as a friend and wait. We believe, based on experience and nothing more, that it is highly unlikely that potential patients would take this route.
Facebook Property Types: Fan Page vs. Group
We wanted to see the prevalence of facebook presence type, whether dentists are using facebook “groups” or “fan pages.” Of those dentists who had facebook presence that appeared in our search, 48 (20%) established a “group,” while 181 (80%) established a “fan page.”
Chart 1: Number of Dentists with “Group” vs. “Pages” On Facebook
Chart 2: Percent of Dentists with “Group” vs. “Pages” On Facebook
Understanding The “Social” Network
Facebook is a social network allowing people to connect with people, goods, services, brands and more. The number of relevant people in a dentist’s network is only one, yet critical element, of success on Facebook. The more people in a network the greater the influence and ripple-effects a dental office will achieve on Facebook (introductions, friends of friends joining a group or fan page, and so on). Of course, engagement is just as crucial, and that will be discussed later in this study.
We broke up the number of “friends” into four categories as follows: 0 friends, 1 – 100 friends, 101 – 500 friends, and more than 500 friends. We found 6 dentists with zero friends (3%), thirty-seven dentists had at least 101, and no more than 500 friends (16%), 181 or 79% of dentists had between 1 and 100 friends, and five dentists representing 2%, had more than 500 friends.
Chart 3: Percent of Dentists with “Group” vs. “Pages” On Facebook
Chart 4: Percent of Dentists with “Group” vs. “Pages” On Facebook
Measuring Activity: Relevance The Key to Engagement
Facebook, by nature, is a medium of engagement, providing businesses, in this case dental practices, the opportunity to engage the audience with relevant information and activities. Activity on Facebook, like elsewhere, and especially in marketing, does not necessarily translate into productivity. Activity must be relevant to the network. The more relevant engagement, the better a dental practice positions itself with its members or friends.
We measured both how often a dental practice posted to Facebook over the past 3 months. We defined the time intervals as follows:
- Never – no posts
- Seldom – less than one post per month
- Monthly – At least one post per month
- Often – At least one post per week
To our surprise we found 108 dentists (47%) did not have any posts on their Facebook page or group, while 30% of dentists in this study seldom posted on their Facebook property. Only 37 dentists representing 16% posted monthly while 15 dentists or 7% posted often.
Chart 5: Frequency of Posts
Chart 6: Percent of Frequency of Posts
Moreover, we wanted to better understand the type of posts dentists were utilizing on their Facebook properties. Since frequency, type and quality of posts matter when engaging a Facebook audience, we define both the type and quality posts as follows:
- Providing dental care information
- Soliciting feedback from patients
- Games / Contests
- Other Social Networking Integration to sites such as Twitter, Youtube, or blogs
- Advertising integration – integrating any offline advertising with Facebook
- Links to the practice’s website
We found that 159 dentists or 69% had links to their websites, 3 dentists or 1% included offline advertising integration, 13 or 6% integrated other social media properties such as Twitter or Youtube, 7 dentists or 3% offered games or contests, 6 or 2.5% solicited feedback, 34 dentists or 15% offered incentives to use the dental practice’s services, while 7 offered health and dental information.
Chart 7 – Integration of Other Media / Engagement Mechanisms
Observations & Outcomes
Lack of Robust Search On Facebook Hinders Search For Dental Practices
Facebook’s growth continues at a staggering pace and as does time-spent on Facebook. With that said, dentists must recognize its power to drive traffic to their websites. But they must also recognize that Facebook, at this time, is devoid of robust search capabilities. The lack of robust search on Facebook appears to hinder dentists’ abilities to growing their Facebook presence. While Facebook’s meager search capability presents a serious issue to dentists, it is incumbent upon the dentist to grow his/her network organically through strategic campaigns. The larger the relevant network, the more brand footprint.
According to MediaPost’s SearchBlog which cites a J.P. Morgan report, “Google currently generates about 36% of all online ad revenue by being at the center of the ecosystem…but Facebook proves to also do its share. Citing comScore, the report notes Facebook traffic to the New York Times rose 66% in October 2010, up from a year-ago month, while traffic from Google fell 2% during the same time period. Traffic from Facebook to Amazon sites rose 328%, compared with traffic from Google fell 2%, and traffic to eBay from Facebook rose 81%, while traffic from Google fell 3%.” It is crucial to understand that these brands work diligently and actively to grow their Facebook properties organically, through relevant posts, engagement campaigns, and advertising on facebook, thereby increasingly their traffic yield.
As more dentists become aware of Facebook’s search inefficiencies, they must adjust their social media strategies accordingly. Because of Facebook’s search deficits, dentists are forced to grow their networks organically, by adding or “friending” people manually, or advertising on Facebook to promote their practice.
Dentists must adopt a “network growth” model. They must be strategic about increasing the number of people in their relevant network on Facebook and offering the network sustained content to keep members engaged. It appears that Facebook’s search function will pick up the exact search only if the title of the group or the fan page has the same terms used for search.
Small Audience, Little Effort
Our sample revealed that a majority of dentists on Facebook have a small audience with 79% having between 1 and 100 friends. Audience size matters in any media, and Facebook provides the opportunity to develop a relevant, targeted audience. Our findings show a relatively small audience and it appears that there is also little effort in developing content to make dental Facebook pages more “sticky,” and therefore engaging to members.
Lack of Relevant Activity Hinders Engagement With Dental Practices
From our sample, we noticed a lack of relevant activity. Almost half of the total dentist Facebook properties we observed had no posts. Facebook is a medium of engagement, and dentists must develop a strategic plan that is on-brand to push out to their network. Dental health information, not related to sales, may better position a dental practice’s Facebook presence as a source of information, and may allow members to share that information, which may include, the Facebook page with others, thereby exponentially exposing that particular dental group or fan pages to people it otherwise may not have touched previously.
Social Search Implications
Facebook provides a forum for conversation where people often ask for recommendations, opinions, and so on. Social recommendations are part and parcel of daily life on Facebook, and recommendations are asked for and given freely. Facebook CTO Bret Taylor echoes that idea in a blog post. According to Taylor: “Your friends have liked lots of things all over the web, and now instead of stumbling across a new movie or having to look at a friend’s profile to see which restaurants they like…” Similarly, someone may look at friend’s profile and find a dentist’s page and may inquire about that dentist to their friend.
Having a robust Facebook page or group goes a long way to appropriately representing your practice in a professional manner. Offline implications come into play here as well, treating a patient in a manner that they expect offline, will affect they way a dental practice is portrayed online in social network.
Serious Brand Implications
There are serious brand implications in any and every marketing communications campaign, on Facebook or off. Like a website, magazine or television advertising, Facebook properties offer visitors insights to the dental office. How a Facebook page is organized, the types and frequency of posts will convey certain messages (positive, negative, or neutral) to the visitor. Appropriate maintenance of information and content, or lack thereof, do have implications on the name and brand of the dental practice. In addition, Facebook provides dentists with a key platform to achieve integration of off and online marketing efforts by bringing together offline advertising, including television, billboards, and brochures, etc.
While social networking or marketing can help advance the marketing agenda for dentists, social marketing must be seen through the prism of strategy. In this case, we continue to advocate for integrated marketing and public relations strategies for dentists, in which social media, is one element.
Copyright Verasoni, 2011. All Rights Reserved.