Fast forward five years and, well, you know the rest of the story. Social media is now a part of daily life for people worldwide. It’s hard to imagine a day without getting family updates on Facebook, checking news on Twitter, reading reviews on Yelp, or scrolling through photos on Instagram. Optometrists of all ages from all types of practices have responded to the rise of social media by using it to engage with their patients and promote their practices. For many, it’s as important as the sign in front of the office.
Nathan Bonilla-Warford, OD ’04, was part of the original 2010 story. He spoke at the time about the novelty of having his Facebook “fans” (a word that has since been replaced with “followers”) congratulating him on the recent birth of his son. That “gee whiz” effect has worn off by now, replaced by the acceptance of social media as an essential part of building and running a practice.
“I think of that time, 2010-2011, as the golden years of social media for health care, particularly optometry,” Dr. Bonilla-Warford says now. “Everything was so new for patients that they would get really excited about anything we did. Just the fact that we were doing anything was the coolest thing to them.”
“Even if you have thousands of followers, only a tiny fraction actually sees what you post because there’s so much information out there.”
Five years later, his practice, Bright Eyes Family Vision Care and Bright Eyes Kids in Tampa, Fla., has about 3,700 Twitter followers (@BrightEyesTampa) and 1,600 Facebook followers. He also is a regular blogger on his website, brighteyestampa.com, and the practice posts to Pinterest. Those things together, he says, create a package of information that’s accessible anytime and anywhere for his patients and even the general public. Case in point: He recently got a call from a father in Arizona who wanted to bring his son to Tampa so Dr. Bonilla-Warford could evaluate him for amblyopia. The father had come across several things Dr. Bonilla-Warford wrote online about the condition and felt he was the best to care for his son.
“I told him there were some local doctors in Arizona who I knew and trusted, and I referred him to them,” he says. “That shows you the kind of reach you can have just by writing a couple blog posts.”
After being on social media for the better part of a decade, Dr. Bonilla-Warford has learned a few important lessons. The first, he says, is the popularity of social media makes it harder to actually reach your audience. In the past, simple Facebook promotions, such as asking people to submit a photo and be entered into a drawing for a prize, would generate a good number of entries just for the novelty of it. It is much harder now to draw people for those kinds of promotions because they’ve done them many times before or they are bombarded with so many social media updates and offers that his gets lost in the clutter. To break through, a practice must have new and useful content or the audience will move on.
“Even if you have thousands of followers, only a tiny fraction actually sees what you post because there’s so much information out there,” Dr. Bonilla-Warford says. “That makes content even more important, and it’s why I still maintain my blog. To some degree, blogging is not as exciting as it once was in terms of an idea, but I can write a post in 15 minutes and put it on our blog, which has search engine value, and share it on social media. It’s a way for us to provide unique content.”
The second lesson, he says, is to know where you belong – and where you don’t. Bright Eyes’ primary way of communicating is Facebook, even though the practice has more Twitter followers, because it seems to be where people feel most comfortable engaging. The practice doesn’t use Twitter as much as it used to, and it has completely left Instagram after testing it for a while. “Check-in” sites, such as Foursquare, are no longer relevant now that people can use Facebook for the same thing. Pinterest has emerged as a niche audience for the pediatric division of Bright Eyes, with active groups of moms and therapists who post information there.
The third and most important lesson he has learned is that no social media platform is as valuable as interacting with patients and the community. “If you are spending so much time doing online networking, you could be missing out on opportunities in the real world.”
Managing the Mix
Neil Gailmard, OD ’76, uses multiple social media platforms in his large practice in Munster, Indiana. He owns and operates the practice with his wife, Susan Gailmard, OD ’80, and employs three full-time associate optometrists and a staff of 30 in a 10,000-square-foot building. Social media, as well as other digital tools, help a large practice such as theirs keep in touch with patients.
Gailmard Eye Center in Munster, Indiana, can be found on Facebook, Google+, Google Reviews, Yelp, LinkedIn and Instagram. Dr. Gailmard says the key to managing so many profiles is that he doesn’t do it. A staff member in his office manages the pages and keeps them updated, although Dr. Gailmard knows that as the practice owner, he is ultimately responsible for what is posted.
“It is fine to delegate the management of social media to a staff member. It is recommended actually because the doctor often will not have time to post on a regular basis,” he says. “A staff member who is knowledgeable with social media can manage the page and be an administrator, but use the owner’s email address. The owner should make it clear that all social media is the property of the practice and the doctor should have a record of all passwords.”
Gailmard Eye Center is one of the relatively few optometric practices using Instagram. The photo-and video-sharing platform is different from Facebook and other outlets because it is driven almost exclusively by visuals, rather than a mix of pictures and text. The practice’s page is a variety of photos, such as new frames that are available, pictures of the staff and photos of the practice.
“It is important to at least have a presence on many social networks,” Dr. Gailmard says. “Having a presence is nothing more than just opening an account and uploading a few pictures and a short description of your practice.”
Although the practice is active on Instagram and other networks, he—like Dr. Bonilla-Warford—says Facebook is still the most successful way to reach patients. The practice’s page has more than 1,200 likes vs. around 30 Instagram followers. He says patients mention things they see on the practice’s Facebook page, and it has had good luck getting likes by holding contests to win designer sunglasses. To enter the drawing, all people had to do was like the page.
“We also get many likes by just asking for them,” Dr. Gailmard says. “People are happy to like you if you just ask.”
Jacqui Cook is a freelance writer for ICO Matters. She may be reached at Jacqueline.email@example.com