Marketing Insider: The e-volution will not be televised

March 21, 2012

2009 was a year filled with opportunity and challenge (more of the latter than some may have preferred).  As the pace of change continues to accelerate, we should expect no shortage of challenge and opportunity in 2010. Much of this opportunity for growth will continue to be found online, specifically, in the area of reputation management. The challenge will lay largely in trying to keep up without being distracted from what you find fulfilling and profitable.

2009 was a year filled with opportunity and challenge (more of the latter than some may have preferred).  As the pace of change continues to accelerate, we should expect no shortage of challenge and opportunity in 2010.

Much of this opportunity for growth will continue to be found online, specifically, in the area of reputation management. The challenge will lay largely in trying to keep up without being distracted from what you find fulfilling and profitable.

My friend and mentor Bill Blatchford suggests that the decision to engage in any activity be made by answering two simple questions: 

1. Will it contribute to my livelihood?

AND 

2. Will it enrich my life?

If the answer to both questions is no, then don’t do it.  While that sounds simple, sometimes we don’t know the outcome of a given activity until we try it, and therein lay the challenge.

84%
of consumers said they were more likely to check online for reviews prior to making a purchase compared to twelve months ago, according to a recent survey by Brand Reputation

Source: Retail Bulletin, October 2009.

The E-volution will not be televised

I use E-volution to denote the Electronic Revolution sweeping over us. One area where growth and change are particularly great is the relatively new phenomenon called Online Reputation Management (ORM), which, according to Wikipedia (as of 1/2010) is: The practice of consistent research and analysis of one’s personal or professional business or industry reputation, as represented by the content across all types of online media.

I offer a slight refinement to that definition: Effective Online Reputation Management, or E-ORM, is the process by which an entity (or a representative of that entity) exerts control over how its perception is formed, maintained, and accessed via the Internet.

I feel this definition is more useful because it: Asserts that E-ORM is a process, which goes beyond the simple gathering and analysis of information and it's an ongoing, ideally proactive, process of controlling how perceptions are formed and maintained.

The great divide

As noted above, there is an accelerating trend where people turn to online media to research and purchase local services (like dentistry).

Though 63% of consumers and small business owners turn to the internet first for information about local companies and 82% use search engines to do so, only 44% of small businesses have a website and half spend less than 10% of their marketing budget online, according to research from Webvisible and Nielsen.

This disparity between how business owners act as consumers, and how they market their own services, is termed The Great Divide.

The generosity of strangers

Another trend is the use of third party review sites such as Yelp, Angie’s List, Health Grades, etc.

Manage Smarter’s 9/09 Issue reports that 83% of online shoppers said they were interested in sharing information about their purchases with people they know, while 74% are influenced by the opinions of others in their decision to buy the product in the first place.  

Perhaps more surprising is the online role complete strangers can play in a web surfer’s purchasing decision. North American Internet users trust recommendations and opinions posted by unknown consumers online more than advertisements on television, on the radio, in magazines and newspapers, or in other traditional media*.

*A. C. Nielsen Online

70%
of Americans say they consult product reviews or consumer ratings before making a purchase, according to an October 2008 survey by Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, a research and consulting firm.

Source: Business Week, October 2009 

Priority one: Blogging

If you don’t yet have a blog, get one. It’s one of the easiest ways to get noticed by search engines.  And, be sure the blog is linked to your website so your efforts yield maximum SEO Benefit.  In general, limit your postings to 1200 characters or 200 words, and be consistent with your rate of postings.  Search engines prefer to see a steady stream of posts than they do a spate of postings followed by inactivity. A good way to prevent this is to ‘bank’ a series of articles so you don’t hit a ‘dry spell’ of inactivity.  Also be sure to use appropriate tags.

You will likely find the need to expend more effort initially to effectively set up both the look and feel, as well as content of your blog, then shift into ‘maintenance mode.’

Priority two: Encourage positive reviews from your patients

Make it easy for your patients to post reviews of their favorable experiences with your practice on Google Local, Yelp, Angies’s List, Merchant Circle, and Health Grades, or a number of other sites.

“From an SEO standpoint, Google Local is best” says Adam Spiel of Pro Host Management, a Boise, ID-based I.T. consultancy.  First encourage, and then demonstrate the process, of submitting reviews, so your patients will do it.
And, if you do receive a negative review, it’s most often best to ignore it. 

“The key is to ensure that the majority of reviews interested parties find are positive. Then, you don’t need to sweat it if one or two are less than flattering. In fact, it may actually add to the credibility of the reviews if not all of them are glowing.” continues Spiel.

It’s also important to have the positive reviews rank above any negative.  While not easy, it is possible to accomplish this, in part, by working with a group which optimizes its own website, based on your practice name (such discussion is beyond the scope of this article.

You can also consider setting up accounts with Yelp and Angie’s list to advertise there, as well as permit more flexibility with respect to responding to any less than flattering reviews.

Priority three: Post articles, video and press releases

Regular posting to other sites, with reference to your website address, helps create back links, which, in turn helps increase your website’s position on the search engine results page (S.E.R.P.) when people are searching for you by name, practice name, or for a high quality dentist in your area.

Upload your articles, videos, and press releases to article and video directories and press release syndication websites.  Among the better known of these are: YouTube, Facebook, ArticlesBase, PRNewswire, and EZine Articles. 

To derive maximum benefit, be sure you understand how to structure your message and where to use and properly place keyword tags and your website link.

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Priority four: Manage social networking sites

Most practices are well served by creating and maintaining accounts with YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, but there may be additional sites to consider, depending on the characteristics of your target audience.  To help identify such sites, Google a phrase like "social networking site demographics." Facebook also offers an advertising option which, depending on how it’s structured, and the demographics of your area, can be a profitable venture.

Set up your “Calendar of Events”

Pro Host’s Spiel suggests a ’30-30-30’ Plan, characterized by first identifying the thirty Top Questions your target audience would have and want answered about you and your practice. Next, provide answers in the form of thirty articles and thirty videos (don’t worry about a highly polished production, as too much quality can actually lower the perception of credibility).  Then distribute those articles and videos to those sharing sites, which most closely match your desired demographic.

Launch!
The final step is to update your chosen social networking sites which, as they are discovered by your target audience (and search engines), will allow their Top 30 Questions to be answered by linking back to your website.

Regular posting of content to various sites can be time-intensive. One way to minimize the time commitment is by using what are termed aggregator sites. Such sites e.g. www.Ping.fm permit you to submit the same posting to all your sites simultaneously. 

Ongoing Priority: Keep Alert(s)
Success with E-ORM means knowing what’s happening online.  This is important because, as noted above, you are not the only one involved with forming your online reputation.

One such tool is Google Alerts, but there are many more.  To find these, use your browser for results for the term ‘free online monitoring tools.’

Effective scheduling and prioritizing of the tasks required to establish and maintain a positive online reputation can yield big results for your practice.  Just be realistic and don’t panic if you should, from time to time, fail to keep to your schedule.  As you become comfortable with the concepts and process, you’ll find that E-ORM can actually be a lot of fun! 

Daniel Bobrow, MBA, is president of the American Dental Marketing Company, a dentistry marketing and patient communications consultancy. He is also Executive Director of Dentists’ Climb for a Cause™. Readers interested in learning more about integrated marketing and patient communication products, systems and services are invited to contact Mr. Bobrow at 312-455-9488 or DBobrow@AmericanDentalMarketing.com or visit AmericanDentalMarketing.com.

Sources
For another great article showing more local business stats - click here

And then these are a great websites with social media, user reviews, ecommerce and SEO stats - Bazaar Voice. Socialnomics.

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