Reach Beyond Your Comfort Zone
First a disclaimer: I am not a social media, SEO, or website expert. I’m simply a dentist who has worked hard over the last 6 years to learn out of necessity and the drive to succeed. Therefore, buyer beware, past results do not guarantee future performance, you get what you pay for, and everything I say might be completely wrong. Everything I’ve learned has been based on the need to get people to find me on the Web and call my office for a dental appointment. It may not work for anything else! 🙂 But if I had to sum up everything that I’m about to say in 1 sentence, it would go something like this:
On the Web & Social Media, you need to actually BE SOCIAL and REACH OUTSIDE of your normal connections to be successful.
How I Started Online: Poor & Struggling
As anyone who followed my story on DentalTown knows, I was a failure as a businessman for the first 11 years of my practice: mired in debt beyond belief, undiagnosed ADD, utterly incompetent in personnel management, unable to control my spending habits, and more. It’s a miracle my practice survived as long as it did. And while there are many pieces to the puzzle that led to a complete turnaround (the most important piece was undoubtedly my wife), one of the biggest pieces fell into place in early 2008. That was when a dental colleague in Florida, Dr. Michael Barr, published his Website Owner’s Manual for Dentists, and I was one of the first 5 people to buy a copy. (It’s no longer in print, which is why I haven’t linked it.) At $350, it was really something that we could barely afford, and my wife was pretty upset with me. But I dove in like a man on a mission, and that $350 investment has proven to be the best money I have ever spent except for the money for the engagement ring. 🙂 It took a lot of late nights struggling to learn HTML and CSS, and later on learning WordPress…it seriously took me out of my comfort zone of dentistry!
Within 6 months, we were seeing results with improved Google Search rankings, and over the last 7 years, our website has consistently been the number one source of new patients and revenue. But what is it specifically about the website that has made it so successful? That’s been the topic of many conversations with colleagues who would like to replicate it, but rarely do. Here are my thoughts:
- I write EVERYTHING on it. I’ve written every word of every Page (40 of them) and every post (almost 200).
- Everything on the website is the first person and PERSONAL.
- Almost every single photo on the website was taken and edited by me, with the exception of marketing materials from specific companies like InvisalignTM. Very little stock photography is ever allowed, although we do use some of it on our social media outlets.
- I learned solid SEO (search engine optimization) principles. And yes – the core of SEO has always been, still is, and always will be meaningful content that addresses the questions your audience is asking.
This is not to say that you will find me at #1 in Google’s SERPs for everything related to dentistry; the way that search engines now personalize your search results makes that impossible anyway. But for most of the things that I want to be found, our website is well-positioned.
I also need to now give credit to Dr. David Wank of Short Hills Design who did a complete redesign/overhaul of Smiles by Payet Family Dentistry in the fall of 2013, and who has revamped our SEO campaign starting late 2014. With our practice success, I reached the point that I HAD to outsource that work. But I still write every single word on there!
Then Came Social Media, and I Was Clueless Again
And when I say clueless, I am not kidding! I resisted getting a Facebook profile for a long time; I think that the only reason I finally caved was because it was necessary to create a Facebook Page for our office, and at the time, EVERYONE said that you had to be on Facebook. Well, I tried….but quite frankly, I found it VERY difficult to get any results with Facebook. To tell the truth, our FB Page still doesn’t get much engagement, although I again have to give credit here to Katie Harding and her team at B2K Marketing, as they have done wonders with our overall social engagement on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Google+ since the fall of 2014.
Prior to 2014, however, my basic idea of social media was limited to the following:
- Trying to get people to Follow me on Twitter, Circle me on Google+, and Like me on FB.
- Sharing links from my blog to all of those platforms
- Hoping someone would comment or share
Google+ Taught Me the Power of Social
Yeah yeah yeah, I know….Google+ is dead, or dying, or on life-support, or limping along until Google thinks they can kill it and not look dumb, etc. Trust me….all of that is a lie. Plain and simple, it’s a lie. The point of my article here is not to debunk the nonsense, though; I just wanted to point it out. If you really want to know the truth, come find my Google+ Profile and I’ll show you. 🙂
But I’m not kidding when I say that Google+ really taught me the power, as well as some of the limitations, of social media. While I’d had a G+ Profile since the late beta stage and was one of the first dentists to get a G+ Local Page (it was called something different back then and has been through several name changes since, but that’s what it was), I had the same minimal response to the business page as on FB, and the only engagement on my profile was through the incredible photography community. But that changed in early 2014, when I somehow connected to this guy named David Amerland; he was the snowflake that grew into a massive snowball of engagement, learning, community, and now growing success in social media. At least…for a dentist. LOL
The Plus Your Business Academy
Through David, I connected with so many other influential and knowledgeable people on G+ that it would be impossible to mention all of them (here is a Circle of my absolute favorite Plussers), but one of them specifically needs to be mentioned: Martin Shervington, founder of the Plus Your Business Academy. I took the Quickstarter program and joined the G+ Community, and man oh man…did things start to change! Eventually, I signed up for the Pioneer (Level 1), Trailblazer (Level 2), and Pathfinder (Level 3) courses and was absolutely blown away by the material and the people involved – both the people running it and the people learning with me. And now I have signed up for the PRO Membership, which is an unbelievable package that includes all 5 Levels of the PYB Academy (I’ll be starting to work on Level 4 soon) along with many deals on terrific apps and tools that do even more.
It’s All About Connections with People
In the simplest terms, what I learned in the PYB Academy is that social media is truly about being SOCIAL. Reaching out BEYOND your normal communities online, connecting with influential people in OTHER niches, finding common interests, using both personal and business profiles TOGETHER. It’s about offering meaningful content on a regular basis and engaging with people in real conversations. It’s about being “real” and consistently so that people who find you and get to know you are able to trust you. It’s about learning what works, what doesn’t, and how to make it as easy as you can, so you’ll be more likely to actually do it.
But most of all, it’s about making connections with people and building relationships, just like it is in real life. And when you do that, you see growth in all the metrics you want.
But be warned – this is not for the faint of heart! It takes consistent time, effort, learning, conversation, and building. And yes, I do also recommend learning to use some of the following awesome apps, Chrome extensions, and resources to make it easier. 🙂
I truly can’t say enough good things about the entire community of people with whom I learned in the PYB Academy last year, and I’ll be talking more about that experience in future posts.
But Facebook Showed Me How It Works
I find it somewhat ironic that, even though I learned many keys to social media success on Google+ (which is absolutely my most favorite social network), it wasn’t until recently on Facebook that I saw just how big the impact could be on web traffic. This same experience also demonstrated explicitly the power of using your Personal Profile (or Brand, as many would say) and not just your Business Pages. So how did it happen, and why Facebook rather than Google+?
To answer the second question first (because it’s easier), the reason I saw the results from Facebook are simply that more people are on FB than Google+. In addition, I simply haven’t YET found the right people on Google+ to create this kind of sharing, although that is part of my goal for this year in continuing with the PYB Academy. I’m sure they are there, but I haven’t connected with them yet.
Skepticism and Science were Key
As I make abundantly clear, both here on my personal blog and on my dental blog, I am a firm believer in science and the scientific method. Through this foundation, I have followed a lot of people who actively write about science, research, skepticism, and critical thinking on G+, FB, and Twitter. Late in 2014 and early in 2015, I began connecting with a number of people on FB who are actively involved in debunking pseudoscience and promoting legitimate science, including Kavin Senapathy, SciBabe, The Credible Hulk, Mommy PhD as examples. And just as I learned in the PYB Academy, although without really thinking about it, I began consistently engaging in good conversations with them and their followers.
The “payoff” came when I recently wrote 2 of posts on the subject of fluoride safety in general as well as specifically related to a Newsweek story. I decided to share these particular posts to several of the FB people listed above, and lo and behold…they shared them as well! Given that each of those pages has 5,000-80,000 Followers, that gave my content a HUGE REACH, way beyond anything I could have managed myself. And boy oh boy, did the traffic to my site increase! Right along with that was the huge boost in social reach.
To illustrate the difference, here are some screenshots of the Social shares for several pages (as of April 11th, 2015):
➣ The first set goes to A Toothache Can Kill You, which is the most-viewed post on my blog on a daily basis since July 2011, BUT which has never been shared by any one else.
➣ This set belongs to Fluoride is Safe and Effective, shared by all of the FB pages listed above, and which was just published 7 weeks ago.
➣ This set belongs to Water Fluoridation Does NOT Increase ADHD, which was also shared by all of the above FB pages and was shared just less than 3 weeks ago.
You can see that the first post, which gets more visits almost every single day than any other post I’ve ever written, and which is about 4 years old, still doesn’t have even CLOSE to the social shares that the 2 fluoride articles got in less than 7 weeks.. In fact, there’s only 1 other post on my entire site that has more social shares, but that one I’m going to cover in my next article, because this one is getting pretty long. But this is what can happen when you make those connections and stretch beyond your own comfort zone and material.
So there’s Part 1. You’ll have to give me a week or so now to finish Part 2, ’cause writing this is a little out of my own comfort zone of writing about dentistry and photography. 🙂 I’d love to know what you think in the comments below! Am I on track, off-base, looney-tunes (ok, don’t answer that one), brilliant (my own preference, please choose that one), or some mix?