NEW ORLEANS – Despite practical and financial concerns, using social media could boost the success of small O&P practices and potentially increase customer base, according to speakers at the American Academy of Orthotists and Prosthetists Annual Meeting, here.
“Cash flow and regulatory issues make marketing in O&P challenging,” Melodie Phillips, PhD, associate professor of marketing at Middle Tennessee State University, said. “But many traditional approaches used to communicate with customers are either too time consuming or not affordable for small businesses. Social media can help overcome these issues…and allow us to survive long-term.”
The key is accessibility, Phillips and husband Aaron J. Sorensen, CPO, president of Restorative Health Services Inc., emphasized. By using a platform such as Facebook, businesses can be available 24 hours a day.
“If [the patient] has a question, wants to schedule an appointment, needs information or just needs somebody to talk to, they can shoot a Facebook message and say, ‘Hey, here is what is going on,’ Phillips said.
“It is an opportunity to collect useful [demographic] information and communicate in a timely fashion…and an opportunity to show that you care, that you are going to be responsive to their needs in the marketplace.”
It is also an opportunity reach the customer when they are most attentive. Unlike other forms of media such as TV or radio where the consumer could become distracted, social media provides an interactive outlet.
If the patient is following a company page, it shows a higher level of interest in products or services and “means they are more cognitively invested and actually want to see what you have to say,” Phillips said.
Cost and parameters
Another benefit is cost, Sorensen added. “I had a meeting yesterday with the owner of a fairly large business. He had [previously] dedicated $2,000 to his social media campaign and got such a positive response out of it, that for the next one he dedicated $20,000.”
Small practices could get a positive response for less than 1% of that. Many effective campaigns are built for less than $15, he said.
Before a practice can launch a campaign, however, it should fully understand the parameters.
“You have to see how social media fits into the overall plan for an organization in terms of marketing, promotion and communication with consumers,” Phillips said. “It is a little deceptive to discuss how great and affordable it is and not really have an objective or see how it fits into the big picture.”
The first step is knowing the different platforms, what they offer and which ones appropriately fit what the business wants to convey, she said.
Facebook has a personal feel and can offer detailed information on products or services. Twitter is used mostly for quick facts and updates. LinkedIn serves as a professional and networking outlet. YouTube, Instagram and Vine focus on visual aspects, offering pictures and video that could demonstrate how a device works.
These platforms can be used together, Phillips added. One page could build upon the next; for instance, a Twitter post can redirect to a published article or video.
Using an integrated marketing approach gives businesses the opportunity to be in front of customers more than one time and in more than one place, making the message more memorable. But the message should not always be a sales pitch, Phillips said.
“Does anybody want to be sold in every single interaction with someone? It is not always about buy, buy, buy or look at the different colors this product comes in. Some of the most successful sales people do not talk a lot about the product at all,” she said. “They ask about your life, how the family is doing, how the kids are doing.
“One of the most important things to remember when you start to utilize social media is that every post should not be a sell. It should be about building a relationship,” she said.
A mix of professional posts and interest topics such as health tips, relevant staff updates, interesting facts and inspirational quotes can start that relationship, Phillips said.
“One thing you could even do is post something like, ‘we are going to be at the Academy [National Meeting] this week and will be attending meetings on the most recent technological changes.’ Or something saying, ‘Hey, we are staying up to date with the newest, high-tech and best information in order to treat you better.’”
Phillips said businesses should find a middle ground between personal and informational posts in order to draw customers in, but warned to stay away from politics, debates and comments about competitors.
A look ahead
Technology is evolving quickly, she added. What may be trending today could be archaic tomorrow.
“The projection now is that within just a couple of years the actual Internet itself will be antiquated. Everybody will access information using [mobile applications],” Phillips said.
“Patients can schedule appointments, ask questions, view office hours – all from the palm of their hands. Ultimately, it may be useful to invest in the development of an app.”
But the biggest investment is in the patient. Amputees are a closely knit community, Phillips said. The use of social media could bring them closer together, and hopefully, closer to your business.
“They are connected. They talk electronically. We need to tell them how much we care…how much we are going to be there every step of the way. With social media, we can do that in a couple clicks.” – by Shawn M. Carter
Phillips M, et al. Paper PD7. Presented at: American Academy of Orthotists and Prosthetists Annual Meeting and Scientific Symposium; Feb. 18-21, 2015; New Orleans.
Disclosure: Phillips and Sorensen report no relevant financial disclosures.