Robert F. Melendez, MD, MBA
There are many venues for ophthalmologists to engage patients today, and one method that is becoming increasingly popular is the use of social media. If you have not started using social media yet, Facebook is a great place to start. This social networking website has more than 1 billion active users worldwide, and Europe has seen a huge increase in users in recent years.
In contrast to traditional media, social media allow users to participate in the creation or development of the content. Ophthalmologists can capitalize on this opportunity to capture all of the eyeballs on Facebook, helping you to connect with patients and grow your practice at a very low cost. This article presents pearls for ophthalmologists who are new to social media and looking to delve into Facebook.
Before creating a Facebook account, there are a few key terms that you will need to become familiar with.
- Post: A post is defined as a group of words that you can publish with or without an accompanying photo or video (Figure 1). An example post may be, “Check out this video of Dr. Eye receiving the Ophthalmology Achievement Award,” with which you could include the relevant video.
- Likes: Users can click a “Like” button to express amusement or agreement with your Facebook page or individual posts.
- Comment: Under each post, whether it is yours or someone else’s, you can add your opinion by leaving a comment.
- Share: If you like another user’s post, you can share it with others. Using the “Share” button, you can post it to your own Facebook page, referred to as your “Timeline.”
- News Feed: When you create a personal Facebook page and become friends with other users, all of their posts, including pages that you find interesting, will be posted on your Facebook page in a continually updated “News Feed.”
CREATING A FACEBOOK BUSINESS PAGE
In order to create a Facebook page for your business, you first need to create a personal Facebook account. Once this account is set up, you can then create a business page. (See “Quick Steps to Creating a Facebook Page.”) Do not use your personal Facebook account for your business page; this is against Facebook rules and has many drawbacks. One key difference is that you are limited to only 5,000 likes with a personal Facebook account, whereas a Facebook business page allows you to acquire an unlimited number of likes.
Two images can be uploaded to your Facebook page: a cover photo and a profile photo (Figure 2). It is advisable to create an attractive cover photo, which is the larger of the two images, and to ensure you do not violate Facebook’s rules by including your phone number, website, or any other promotional items in this area. Your photos should be of the highest quality available. Despite using a high-quality image, nearly all cover photos will be slightly grainy in appearance; do not worry about this issue. Next, choose a profile photo, which is the smaller image that will appear beside your name when you post information. This photo has specific dimension requirements. Choose a photo that can be easily recognized for what it is. If you are promoting yourself, then include a high-quality professional photo.
Next, be sure to select “Business Page” when you create the page. Creating it as a business page ensures that you will have access to analytics to determine how many users view your pages and who likes them. Make sure to fill out all of the information about business location and phone number. Remember, you want both current patients and potential patients to be able to contact you easily and find your business location.
GOALS TO ACHIEVE WITH FACEBOOK
What is your goal once you create your Facebook page? Some specific recommendations are provided below, but first let me share with you a brief analogy. Have you purchased or sold a home before? When a home goes up for sale, typically a Realtor raises awareness about the home through various forms of media. If the Realtor simply put the home up for sale and left a “for sale” sign in the front yard without any other forms of advertising, the results would likely be poor. Only the neighbors would know the house was on the market. In the same way, it is simple to create a Facebook page without promoting it to gain an audience (ie, the number of people who like your page). However, creating a Facebook page without promoting it is like selling a house without advertising it beyond the sign in the yard. A successfully promoted Facebook page will continue to attract both current and potential patients.
INTERACTING WITH USERS
Once your page is operational and equipped with an attractive cover photo and profile photo, you can begin engaging other Facebook users. You can invite your friends and family—your connections on your personal account—to like your page, although this is not necessarily the main goal unless they are patients of yours. Contrary to what people think about Facebook, it is not all about trying to reach 10,000 likes (although that does not hurt). Your goal is to attract people who are genuinely interested in your place of business and educate them about your services and products. I have seen some Facebook pages that have nearly 10,000 likes but only a few people benefitting from the page.
One drawback to creating a Facebook page is that it is like a cancer, in that it always requires a blood supply; in other words, it will require you to take the time to post informative content at least once a week if not more. After a few months, you can analyze which posts and photos garner the most attention. Another goal of your Facebook page is to build and enhance relationships with your patients. You have the freedom to disclose as much or as little as you wish to your patients or audience (a Facebook term, equal to your number of likes).
One final goal of maintaining a Facebook page is that it should not be a sprint, but rather a marathon. I have observed many businesses that fixate solely on rapidly growing their likes, rather than focusing on the people who are most interested in their content. Remember, content is king. If you are providing valuable content, people will appreciate it. This does not mean that everyone will actually like your post—or even your page. Facebook is simply one of many avenues to reach your target demographic.
If you want to increase your number of likes, you can also run advertisements from Facebook to target certain age demographics, or even one gender or special interest group. I have seen companies that have been in business for many years who can grow their likes at a much faster rate. I suspect this is because their community already recognizes the name, and they have earned some brand recognition. Conversely, newer businesses that lack brand recognition require a lot more money and time to grow their numbers of likes. Facebook advertisements come at a price, just like any other form of advertising. The cost of running an ad can vary greatly, depending on whether it is on a billboard, in a local newspaper, or in a high-quality magazine. Yes, advertising costs money. If you really want to grow your likes significantly, then you will need to advertise using Facebook’s tools.
You should strive to grow your likes to at least 500 initially and then continue paying to reach your target goals. Once your likes are close to 500, Facebook will add a “Promote” button that can be used to endorse your posts. It has been reported that less than 20% of your audience actually sees your posts. Let’s say you have 100 likes, and you post that you are offering a discount on LASIK; typically only about 20% of your likes or less will see this post. I suggest paying to promote specific posts (ie, promoting a product or service). Promoting the post will bring the post to the top of other users’ News Feed more often than just the one time it would normally have appeared without the promotion. Promoting your content is relatively inexpensive, costing anywhere from $5 to $20 or more. This works to increase the visibility of your posts. The more likes your page has, thee more eyeballs that are potentially viewing your content.
If you download the Pages+ app from Apple’s App Store (available at http://www.apple.com), you can track the number of people who viewed your posts. Unfortunately, negative comments on Facebook are inevitable. My advice is to wait at least 24 hours before responding to a negative comment, to make sure your nerves are calm. Then, be professional and courteous in your reply. If it is from a genuinely disgruntled patient, take the opportunity to prove to all your patients that you are dedicated to improving your practice. Admit your mistake, and then offer your solution and assure the commenter that his or her problem has been addressed.
How do you judge whether your Facebook page is working for you? Remember, your page requires weekly upkeep. My recommendation is to post at least twice a week. Assign someone in your clinic to check the page daily, and professionally respond to all posts on your page within 24 hours.
Patients will often post a question or a comment. A quick and friendly response goes a long way to help build your brand name. Overall, Facebook should be a fun and engaging venue to connect with patients and promote your practice.
Dr. Melendez is a comprehensive ophthalmologist and partner at Eye Associates of New Mexico and an Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Surgery/Division of Ophthalmology at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.