"No matter how much you want to ignore it, social media is here to stay," says Rob Gitman, the marketing expert and Company Administrator at Thayer Dental Laboratory, a 50-employee full service operation in Mechanicsburg, PA.
Laboratories seem to be getting the message: LMT's latest survey results show that social media use among laboratories has increased from 23% to 33% in the last three years, and about two-thirds say it's beneficial to their laboratory.
Respondents tout this no-cost strategy as yet another way to stay visible to dentists. "The great thing about social media is that it's free and only costs your time to try to connect with people," says James Dodge, Chief Administrative Officer, Las Vegas Esthetics, North Las Vegas, NV, who is active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. "It's effective because it enables us to be seen by our clients on a more regular basis and connect with them, even if it's just sharing pictures of us or our work."
Those who see the value of online networking say the key is to not expect overnight results: social media is about cultivating relationships and not about a hard sell. "Anyone who goes on trying to sell their products or services won't get anywhere," advises Gitman. "Your goal is to make connections, see what interests that dentist, what his needs are, and how you can fill those needs. No matter how many sites you're on, you won't get immediate results; this is a long-term, relationship-building strategy."
Devotees say online networking doesn't necessarily require a lot of time, just a commitment: try getting started by choosing one site and devoting 15 minutes a day to it. The key is to make social media networking part of your daily schedule, whether it's every day at lunch, first thing in the morning or last thing at night.
The majority of labs involved in social media have a presence on sites like Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. While Thayer Dental Lab participates on multiple sites, it's most active on LinkedIn, which Gitman considers the Facebook for professionals. "We've developed more dentist relationships on LinkedIn than any other site," he says.
To develop those relationships, various members of the lab are actively involved in specific LinkedIn groups. For instance, Gitman is part of a digital technology group; President Greg Thayer belongs to an implant group; and Owen Thayer, CAD/CAM Manager, is involved in a Sirona group. Each of them posts, monitors and responds to comments made in their respective groups.
One challenge is producing enough content and making it engaging. Gitman generally focuses on trending topics to start a discussion; for instance, he recently posted a comment on CAD/CAM and an article about 3D printing; both posts generated ample conversation amongst group members.
Other laboratory owners let photos do the talking for them. For instance, Instagram—a free mobile app that allows you to post photographs and share them with others—is the site of choice for Kevin Hurst, Manager, SH Dental Lab in Logan, UT.
Several times a week, he posts a variety of photos—like before-and-after shots and step-by-step case photos—and in just 10 months, the lab has gained 1,400 followers worldwide, including dozens of dentists.
Since users can search for photos by keyword, Hurst targets the dental community by tagging each photo with dental-specific terms like "cosmetic dentist" or "dental lab." "I love hashtags* because they connect our photos to people who have the same interests, whether they're dentists, hygienists or assistants," he says. (*Social media users on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram commonly use the hashtag symbol "#" before a keyword or phrase as a way to categorize or group like topics. For instance, if you search for "#dentallaboratory" on Twitter, you'll get a list of tweets related to dental laboratories.)
He also specifically targets dentists on the site by "liking" or commenting on their case photos to start a dialogue. "Whether I simply ask them a question or tell them I like their work, my goal is to start a deeper conversation or at least leave a good impression," he says.
By using another free website, Statigram, Hurst can monitor certain information like which photos have the most likes or comments, who the top followers are, and a graph that tells him the exact time and day followers most interact with his photos. "Using Statigram, I know that 9:00am on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Friday is the optimum time for me to upload a photo."
The lab's Instagram photos are housed on a main profile page that includes a link to the lab's website, so the user can access more information on the lab, its services and contact information. And while he hasn't yet gained any new accounts from the site, a few offices have contacted him for more information and Hurst plans to stay visible to them on Instagram. "When they're ready to make a change," he says, "they'll remember us."
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