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April 2015

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Social Media

Why and How Doctors Should Use Hashtags

I’m writing to you today as a former #hashtag skeptic. Frankly, I found it difficult to take them seriously. I’ve changed my thinking, as it has become increasingly clear that hashtags (when used appropriately) can be extremely powerful tools to increase your marketing reach with very little effort.  

If you’ve been active on social media at all, you’ve likely seen people put hashtags anywhere and everywhere – sometimes without any rhyme or reason. Many people use hashtags incorrectly or without any purpose. People even use them ironically or say them out loud during normal conversation to make fun of them. 

As crazy as it may sound though, hashtags aren’t just a fad, and they are not going away. 

The use of the ‘#’ symbol in technology is actually almost as old as the modern computer. It was used as early as the 1970s and in C programming language to tell the program where to start.

On Twitter, hashtags first appeared in 2007, but they really took off in 2010. Now hashtags are used by at least 15 major social networks, websites and platforms. If something has been so widely adopted by major sources for so long, it’s difficult to just brush it off as a gimmick or a fad. 

More importantly, when hashtags are used correctly they can greatly magnify the reach of your marketing. 

Don’t believe me? 

Well, whether you’re aware of it or not, you already interact with hashtags – even if you’ve never even actually put one in your social media posts or comments. 

On Facebook, hashtags influence what you see in the “Trending” section on the upper right of your news feed. On Twitter, hashtags dictate what you see on the “Trending Topics” section on the left side of the screen. These trending topics also populate your feed’s main section as well. 

My point: if you’re going to use social media to promote your practice, you might as well use the tools available to do so effectively. Keep in mind the whole point of promoting your practice on social media: it’s where many (if not most) of your patients and prospective patients spend their free time. Social media lets you present your practice to a huge group of people in your area in a way that used to cost a small fortune. 

For doctors, there are two key ways to effectively use hashtags. 

1) Look at what’s trending on your Facebook or Twitter feed and to co-opt what’s topical and popular. If a news item seems like something that’s relevant to your practice, you can make a post and add the hashtag to the end. 

For instance, say the US Surgeon General made an announcement about a breakthrough oral cancer treatment, and you notice the hashtag “#OralCancer” is trending. 

You can make a Facebook post about it, like, “The latest news about oral cancer treatment is really exciting. It means more options and better outcomes for patients suffering from this disease. #OralCancer”

Using popular, trending hashtags is a great way to increase your reach. It alerts Facebook and Twitter that you are posting something that other people are interested in, and they’ll show your post more frequently than they would otherwise. The goal is to show up in the feeds of local patients, friends, and organizations you follow.

2) Use them for native content. For example, content that you create based off of your practice, such as a holiday photo of your staff. 

Then, you simply want to hashtag this native content with an appropriate, existing tag. It doesn’t have to be trending, but it should be established. 

Say you’re practice is volunteering at a community event. You can search online for the event and find hashtags related to it. Maybe it’s a blood-drive for a local Red Cross event, in which case you could post a picture of your staff with a short description of, “Dr. Miller’s team here at the 2015 Jonesville blood drive! #RedCross, #GiveBlood”

Before you use a hashtag, there’s one super-important rule: ALWAYS be certain you know what a hashtag means before you use it. The Internet is a cauldron of innuendo, inappropriate jokes, lingo, and slang. It’s also filled with opportunists who will look for any unintentional slip-ups as their time to publicly embarrass anyone they can. 

You don’t want to end up in the news as the doctor who used the wrong hashtag to promote their practice. So just always make sure you know what the hashtag means and how it’s being used. 

A Few More Hashtag Guidelines

1. Don’t use punctuation or spaces in a hashtag. The ‘#’ symbol only tags numbers and letters after it, up until it hits a space or a non-alpha-numeric symbol.

2. Don’t put any letters or numbers directly in front of the hashtag. Always put a space in front like this: #hashtag. Not like this: Hash#tag. 

3. You can put hashtags in a sentence, but remember the above rules. 

4. There’s an upper limit of 30 hashtags you can add to a post, but I can’t imagine a time when you’d need more than three. If you think you need more than that, just focus on the three most important, otherwise you run the risk of making your post look a little obnoxious, in my opinion. 

5. I mentioned before, but they bear repeating: always use a pre-existing tag, and always make sure you know what it means. 

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Social Media

Key Ways to Improve Social Media Engagement

If you’re like me and use social media pretty regularly, you may think you have a good handle on what social media can do and how it works.

That’s what I thought too, but I was surprised to see the latest news about social media.

According to Shareaholic (a social media research firm), social media recently overtook search as the #1 referrer of web traffic. That means Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram now have a bigger piece of the referrer pie than Google, Bing and Yahoo.

Then I got to thinking: If I’m surprised about what’s going on with social media, I imagine some of our doctors may not be aware of what’s happening in social media either.

I set up an interview with our resident social media expert, Stuart Hardy, to discuss what social media really means and how doctors can take advantage of the surprising trends we’re seeing.

Kevin: So, Stuart, let’s start off with just a basic overview of what social media is and how it can help doctors engage with people online. I’ve talked about how I see social media as an online version of word-of-mouth.

Stuart: I think that’s accurate, but the biggest thing I want to remind doctors about social media is that it’s social. If you’re “all business” in a social setting, it’s a turn-off for people. Think of it as a cocktail party. If one person doesn’t want to make small-talk or be friendly, they just want to dive into making a business deal, that wouldn’t work, would it?

Kevin: I see what you’re saying.

Stuart: So while doctors and doctors are obviously on social media for business reasons, it’s a mistake to treat social media like it’s a business atmosphere. It’s so much more relaxed. You have to be social on social media. In other words, you have to lead with a friendly, fun, topical or otherwise casual form of interaction before you can open the door to a further conversation about your practice in a business sense.

Kevin: That makes sense, but I think sometimes people struggle with that kind of interaction, because it seems kind of forced. How can doctors “be social” on social media in a natural way that’s not a turn off?

Stuart: It’s tough to flip a switch and to just “be social” without any context. One of the best ways to create content or a reason to reach out to your friends and followers is to start following and then interacting with organizations that your followers are likely to be interested in. Following these types of organizations gives you that kind of natural context of  relevant, fun, social content that you can share on your social media accounts.

Kevin: Organizations, like what?

Stuart: One of the best kinds of organizations to follow is a local news organization. Then whenever you see a news item that’s appropriate, you can like it, comment on it, or share it on your wall. Being social is a 2-way street – it’s not all content that comes from the dental practice, it’s about sharing things other people might be interested in too.

Kevin: Okay news organizations make sense, but can you give us some other examples?

Stuart: Sure, some other groups are things like your local dental associations. Here in California the biggest one is the California Dental Association, and they are always posting relevant, fun, social content that doctors can share and re-post.

Doctors can follow major brands in the dental space, like toothpaste companies or toothbrush manufacturers. And it’s a good idea to follow insurance companies that the doctor works with.

Basically, any major organization that’s either interesting to the people in your area and/or is relevant can fill up a doctor’s social media feed so they always have something to talk about, comment on or share.

Kevin: That’s great. What about when a doctor has something they want to talk about, that’s not sharing or commenting on someone else’s post – any tips for posting that kind of content?

Stuart: Absolutely. That’s what we call “native content” – it’s stuff that is created by the practice that’s posted to their account. And it’s important to remember the other part of “social media” – the media itself.

All the platforms on social media are built so you can share different kinds of content. The big mistake doctors and businesses in general make is to post text-only messages.

Most people skip past something if it doesn’t have an image or a video or something visually interesting to catch the eye. Plain text posts get less than 10% as much attention and interaction as a post with an image.

So the biggest thing is to post native content that’s social and relevant, but to always include an image. If you’re not including an image, it’s not likely that your followers will even notice the post.

Kevin: That’s a good tip – but is there any specific type of post that is easy for a doctor to post that you recommend?

Stuart: Definitely. I think staff photos can be a great way to engage socially with your followers. Especially around the holidays or big sporting events – posting a fun picture of your staff enjoying themselves in your practice is super easy and it does the job of being social in a compelling media.

Kevin: Thanks for letting me pick your brain on this. I know doctors will get some good use out of this information.

Stuart: Anytime, Kevin. And if any doctors have any questions about social media, they can feel free to drop me a line at Stuart@ProSites.com.

Further Reading:

Sometimes interacting with social media can feel like shouting in the wilderness. You post, share, comment and like – but don’t really know if it has any effect. If you’re not sure if your Facebook efforts are working, there’s a simple way to check. In this article we discuss how to use a (free) Facebook tool to get comprehensive information on your Facebook marketing efforts. Click here for the full details.

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Search Marketing

Google’s Announcement about Improving SEO

If you haven’t yet heard, Google has officially stated that mobile-friendly sites will be favorably ranked in search engine results, effective April 21.

In Google’s official webmaster blog, they wrote, “we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal.“

That wasn’t the first warning…

For years Google (and other search engines) have been nudging, prodding and not-so-subtly telling us what they’re looking for in terms of good ways to optimize for search for mobile devices.

We had to know it was coming. Back in 2007-2008 when the first iPhones and Android-based phones hit the market with “mobile” browsers, it was clear that regular sites just didn’t work well on a tiny screen.

In late 2009, Google published three separate articles about “making the mobile web faster” and designing sites for mobile platforms.

These initial, gentle reminders that mobile devices have different requirements than desk and laptop computers were followed by 13 more announcements and articles between 2010 and this past February.

They were all posted to Google’s webmaster tools page – so it seems like they want people to take notice.

Normally, Google isn’t this forceful about their upcoming changes.

Understandably, they keep their preferences a well-guarded secret. For Google, how they run their search engine is the core of their business and the fact that consumers prefer Google to other search engines is their prime competitive advantage.

They don’t make their rules for websites explicitly known very often, but the message is now clear: Google is done with sites that aren’t mobile-friendly. They’ve spelled it out in black and white – and we need to take notice.

So we’re taking this message seriously. Over the past 6 years, Google has begged, said please, pretty please, and now, they just added sugar on top.

Making sites mobile-friendly is all about making your site as look and operate appropriately to rank well in Google – but it’s more than just search. It’s about making your site look as good as possible in every format.

The point is: We should follow Google’s lead and optimize for mobile.

Further reading:

If your site isn’t mobile-friendly, there’s never been a clearer signal that it’s time to make the change. Over the next couple weeks, we have a big push to ensure our client websites get upgraded to mobile-friendly. If you haven’t already, I strongly suggest you get in touch with one of our consultants to begin this process.

It will take just a few minutes on your end – and the sooner you get signed up to make the change, the better the chance your site will be mobile-friendly ahead of the April 21 deadline.

Click here to email us or give us a call at 888-932-3644 to get set up.

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Search Marketing

The State of SEO Explained in Dental Terms

Could worms cause cavities?

This idea pervaded dentistry for thousands of years, from 5000 BC Sumeria to 14th century Europe – before modern dentistry really got its start.

At the time, it made a little bit of sense. Cavities tended to look like they had been bored through by a small worm. Unfortunately, the treatment for getting rid of worms was at best unhelpful, and at worst, probably did more harm than good.

We can laugh at these ideas now – with the benefit of everything we know about modern dentistry. Dental care has been studied, perfected and practiced for hundreds of years. There’s little debate about how to fix a cavity, or what actually causes them.

But imagine if dentistry was only in its first decade of being practiced and understood…

That’s where search engines are now.

They’ve only been around in their current iteration for barely a decade. They’re just coming out of the “worms cause cavities” stage.

For example, you might have heard of people “keyword stuffing” their web pages so they would rank well for a variety of terms.

Populating your pages with a bunch of unrelated keywords used to be an effective technique, used by SEO experts to get an edge. Of course it made webpages worse – just like treatments for getting rid of tooth worms didn’t help anyone’s teeth…

So we’re still in the dark ages of really understanding the best ways to build, use and understand search engines. That’s why we see so many changes and new rules being replaced by even newer rules on such a regular basis.

And it’s why the Internet is still a very wild place. It seems ridiculous, because the Internet feels so well developed, understood and commonplace – but it’s still evolving rapidly. The ideas you heard about improving your search rank five years ago are almost laughable today.

Right now, Google’s rules for search and how to best optimize your website go through a pretty circuitous and admittedly confusing pathway.

In essence, Google sends out “spiders” to take pictures of websites, then another program analyzes the websites using a bunch of rules to see which sites best fit the criteria Google values.

This process happens millions of times per second, over and over.

The system breaks down when there’s a disconnect between Google’s rules and the actual experience human users have on the page. In other words, there’s a problem when Google has rules in place that either result in a bad search or create a rule that interferes with user experience.

Google knows about these breakdowns, but despite the billions of dollars and the years Google has spent refining this process, half of all searches result in a “bounce” – meaning users enter a search, click on a result, and immediately click back to Google’s result page. 

That’s right: half of the time Google’s best search result guess is wrong. That’s still pretty good – and statistically it means the first page of results has what the user is searching for over 90% of the time.

But surprisingly, people still use outdated methods of SEO – some “experts” still use keyword stuffing or other tricks to try to fool Google.

And despite the advances made in dentistry, there were still people in the early 20th century who believed in tooth-worms…

While our understanding of the best practices for search engines is still evolving, we know a few things for sure. We know that it’s ideal to create user-focused sites that give people what they’re looking for in an honest and clear way.

We’re getting closer and closer by the day to a time when a site that ranks well is identical to a site that is functionally sound for the user. And ideally, every time someone searches for something your practice should be a good match for, Google would display your practice in the top of the search results.

But because Google’s programs, bots and algorithms aren’t perfect, that might not always be the case.

For the time being, Google is still working out the bugs – or worms – and it’s extremely important you employ a robust SEO strategy to ensure you rank on the first page for a variety of possible search terms.

What can you do now?

If you aren’t sure about your SEO strategy – or even how well you might rank in Google or other search engines, we can help. We have SEO experts on staff who (believe it or not) love talking about SEO and how you can improve.

Give us a call at (888) 932-3644 or email us at service@prosites.com to schedule a time to chat.

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