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Dr. Lou Shuman is the CEO of Cellerant Consulting Group, dentistry’s leading corporate incubator and accelerator; a venturer-in-residence at Harvard’s i-Lab; the chairman of the technology advisory board at WEO Media; a long-time contributor to Dental Products Report; and the founder and creator of the Cellerant Best of Class Technology Awards.
WEO Media offers up sound advice for navigating the ever-changing field of maximizing your online presence.
Keeping updated on technological innovations in clinical practice can, for many dentists, be a matter of preference. Keeping current on technological innovations in how your practice shows up online, however, feels like a matter of survival. If a practice exists without a website, does it really exist at all? The “important” platforms continue to expand, and the ones we just feel like we’ve figured out continue to evolve. How can the conscientious dentist keep up?
Having the right partner helps. More than a plug-and-play template approach to dental marketing, WEO Media is a company I’ve come to respect because in a world obsessed with automation, they don’t just push a button-the team puts its nose to the grindstone, working hard to make your practice successful.
A presence in our industry since the wild west days of the world wide web, I wanted to sit down with WEO co-founders Cory Roletto and Ian McNickle to discuss how the definition of “online presence” has changed for dental practices over the last decade and, more importantly, what should the smart practice owner be considering for the future?
LS: What need did you hope to meet when you first entered the dental market? What made WEO necessary in the crowded space of online marketing?
CR: When we first got started, there were just cookie cutter websites. No company or consultant was really addressing practice needs outside of a basic website. We also found that a large percentage-probably 30 to 40 percent of dentists-not only did not have a website, they didn’t understand websites, and they certainly didn’t understand social media. I remember doing some talks on it, and audience members would come up to me and say, ‘I just don’t get Facebook and what the big deal is; I don’t want to reconnect with my high school buddies from 30 years ago.’ So, when our team came into this, we saw that the need wasn’t just for our “product,” but for educating dentists in a broader way about what these platforms were and why it mattered.
At the time Google search was established, not many people were using it to find services as they do today. There was a mistrust of doing online transactions that is almost hard to remember now that Amazon has revolutionized online purchasing. We knew these things were going to have a big impact down the line and saw the opportunity to educate the community as important to our identity as a partner and not just a provider.
That is still true today. As a company, we are intentional about adapting to digital marketing trends and strategize where and how dentists can make the biggest impact with patients and their buying decisions. A major part of the education today is understanding the changing nature of consumer power: They go to Google to do a search, check out multiple practice websites, find reviews, scan social media, talk to friends, and see if that practice is covered by their insurance. The practice is evaluated by potential patients in each of these places and needs to be consistent.
LS: Understanding the strategic importance of a platform like Facebook seems like a major turning point in dentists embracing online engagement. How did that happen and what can it teach us about how to best assess or take advantage of new social media opportunities?
CR: The biggest shift comes when people who like using those platforms and are comfortable with them start working in the industry-office managers who used Facebook in high school who saw the potential for connecting with patients, or younger doctors who used it in college becoming associates and spearheading its use in the practice.
This is important because it wasn’t an “a-ha” moment for the dental community as much as a change over time. In dentistry, I’d say that Facebook really started to take off about five or six years ago when the platform itself matured to allow business pages versus everything being a personal page. They changed their model to fit business needs and businesses responded.
LS: I agree, business pages were a major development, and Facebook continues to evolve. What tools should a practice utilize to not just engage, but to ensure maximum utilization of the platform?
CR: There are some pretty big changes Facebook underwent in its mission to monetize its value and go public. Five years ago, you could buy a “Like” campaign to drive users to your page and then “advertise” to them for free. Facebook changed that policy and now a business page only shows up in the Newsfeed if you boost the post or if it is already getting very high social traction-the page isn’t going to show up unless you pay for it to be shown; ironically, people liking your page is now less important.
The algorithm’s preference for video is another significant shift. You can get a lot of viewership through video-something educational, promotional, or even introducing a fun side of your team-driving more and more people to your site.
LS: Other than Facebook, what do you see as the essential pieces to a dental practice’s digital platform?
CR: The next generation has migrated to Instagram, and these “kids” are now in their 20s and making their own buying decisions-that means it has a bigger role to play. Depending on what your practice does, other platforms can be useful.
For example, Pinterest has a reputation as being more crafty, so if you’re posting a lot of images-like before and after smiles-it can be a good platform. If you’re really into video, YouTube is an obvious choice, but a lot of young people are moving to platforms like Twitch and Vimeo, and also Periscope, which does live streaming.
We tell our clients to start by thinking about what makes a good patient for them; look at the demographics of those patients and see what social media platforms are most utilized by that demographic. That will give you an idea of where to target your efforts. Effectively using social media takes time, so you have to be smart about where you spend that time and what you focus on.
LS: I think many dentists recognize how much time and effort this takes. The solution many of them choose is to hire their niece who is really good at Instagram. If affinity for the platform is important-which we acknowledged earlier in this conversation-then why work with a company like WEO rather than an eager young person?
IM: Social media is a lot like marketing-if you don’t understand specifics, it is difficult to be good at it. The niece won’t’ have a clue on how a patient converts to become a lead. There will be a series of things the strategic practice will want to do and having specific industry knowledge is huge: Creating the right content, using right terminology, understanding the flow of the business. Deep knowledge and expertise in an industry moves you from helpful to driving success. Recognizing this is part of what helped make WEO an industry leader. Just because you can drive a car doesn’t mean you drive in the Indy 500.
However, many doctors can be skeptical of dental marketing companies. The reason is that many of the companies who offer marketing services to dentists have discovered that you can sell just about anything for $300 a month and it will go unscrutinized.
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A company promises a laundry list of activities with certain buzzwords-reputation management, SEO, etc.-and the doctor is amazed that they can check off all those boxes and it’s affordable. The reality is, the company isn’t doing all that much, probably a lot of canned posts and SEO basics, and the results are limited.
As we see it, these are really website companies, not marketing companies, serving 10,000 clients with just 10 staff members because their solutions are all templates. At WEO, our ratio of staff to clients is higher because, simply put, we put more work into doing things for our clients. Five or six years ago, you could get away with less and still get good results on Google, but now you have to put in the work: Lots of unique content, schema code, backlinks and directories, research, and A/B testing.
Many of our competitors are backed by private equity or owned by a conglomerate, which leads to an emphasis of scale, scale, scale, instead of an emphasis on customer service. At WEO, we have three decision makers and we are focused on customer service and doing what’s right.
We’ve worked with more than 1,000 practices and maintain more than a 90 percent retention rate-and that’s with month-to-month contracts. That doesn’t happen if you’re not good at what you do.
CR: Our team isn’t incentivized by the amount of money they make for the company, but instead, based on their success with and for customers. For example, our SEO team bonus is dependent on whether or not they can get 75 percent of clients on Page 1 of Google, in the most competitive search, within six months. If they do, they get the bonus. We have similar metrics for the support team, metrics of both quality-as in, we did the job right the first time, 95 percent of the time-and turnaround time-within 48 hours we want to have 90 percent of all requests completed.
To Ian’s point, not only are we setting metrics for ourselves that competitors don’t touch, but our team is incentivized around customers, not profitability.
LS: With your emphasis on staying not only current, but ahead of the game, what do you see as the future of marketing for the dental practice?
CR: We’ve discussed social media quite a bit already, but the new things catching a younger demo are Instagram, Snapchat, Periscope, Twitch and the surge right now for TikTok.
When it comes to websites, the major catalyst for technological advancement was screen size-much smaller and bigger. I don’t see that need changing much at this point, so when I look to future drivers, I think the emphasis will be on more interactive features, motion and better integration of social components.
IM: One additional angle to consider is what is changing in marketing and not just technology. For years, we’ve done a good job on behalf of our clients, getting them ranked highly and driving a lot of new phone calls and patient opportunities for the practice, but what can happen-more often than it should-is that the team member on the other end of the line doesn’t do a good job of converting those leads into patients.
To me, the future of dental marketing will be shaped by the companies who can practice all phases of generating patients. In my book, Mastering Practice Growth: The Definitive Guide To Growing Your Dental Practice Or Dental Group, I talk about the three steps of generating a patient: 1. Generate the lead; 2. Convert the lead to an appointment; and 3. Convert the appointment into dentistry, which is case acceptance.
The companies that can help practices with an A-to-Z approach to generating a new patient is the future of dental marketing. Everybody can build a website, and some people can even provide services we do not, but there is hardly anyone out there willing to do the hard work that we do as well as we do it. If all you’re focused on is websites, it can seem like a pretty crowded field of providers. But to me, a way to differentiate and really add value-getting doctors what they want-is to help them with generating leads, converting leads, and selling dentistry.