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Hearing Journal:
doi: 10.1097/01.HJ.0000412698.18175.33
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Breaking News: Strengthen Your Practice with Social Media Marketing

St. Clergy, Kevin

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Can you imagine a consistent flow of new patients each month who know you, trust you, and are ready to buy from you before they even meet you in person? That's not as far-fetched as it sounds. It could happen with a solid social media marketing approach.

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If you don't believe social media marketing is critical to your success as the owner of a small business, consider that nearly four in five active Internet users visit social networks and blogs, according to a recent Nielsen and NM Incite Social Media Report. (See FastLinks.) There's more: Americans spend more time on Facebook than they do on any other U.S. website, and Internet users over 55 are driving the growth of social networking through the mobile Internet.

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Social media's marketing goals are not the same as more traditional marketing methods like direct mail or print advertising. Social media marketing allows you to build strong relationships with a large network of people who know you and what you do; that strengthens your brand online and off. You are creating emotional bank accounts in your network so your practice is the first that comes to mind when the topics of audiology and hearing aids come up.

Marketing through social media targets the online communities of potential patients or their children who use social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and many others. These online communities are not to be taken for granted. Sixty percent of consumers researching products online learned about a specific brand or retailer through social networking sites, according to the Nielsen October 2011 social media report.

While these online communities represent potential new patients and referrals, they also can be a potential threat to your practice and reputation. Most practices do not have a systematic approach or strategy to social media marketing, and if you want to succeed, you will need to develop an approach that allows you to monitor online activity, engage your audience through education and fun, and gauge whether your hard work is effective.

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TRI-PILLAR APPROACH

Your social media marketing strategy must be built on a strong foundation of planning and upheld by three weight-bearing stanchions or pillars of management. If any pillars have cracks, your social media marketing plan will fail.

Pillar 1 is reputation monitoring. Managing your reputation is nothing new, but the Internet and social applications have changed how reputations are spread. Gone are the days when word of mouth was the only potential source of reputation damage. The federal Technical Assistance Research Program found that one unhappy customer will tell eight to 10 other people about their unsatisfactory experience, and 13 percent will tell 20 others.

The complaints referenced in that study took place and were shared in a finite amount of time. Imagine how many people could hear about one unhappy customer experience if it were shared over and over again in forwarded emails and in Facebook comments, or if it were retweeted or written about in blogs or online reviews. Worse yet, those comments are catalogued and exist forever.

“Social media is increasingly a platform consumers use to express their loyalty to their favorite brands and products,” according to Nielsen and NM Incite. Forty-one percent said they do so to receive discounts. Conversely, Nielsen reported that 58 percent of social media users write product reviews to protect their friends, families, and others from bad experiences while nearly 25 percent said they share their negative experiences to “punish” companies.

The good news is that social media management software can monitor every time your business is talked about online. Any positive comments you receive can become instant testimonials, and negative reviews responded to quickly can turn a critic into a fan. Effective reputation monitoring software must be able to track visibility, mentions, reviews, and sentiment trending. Visibility refers to how often your business listing is found on the Internet. Is your business listed on major search engines, local review sites, online business directories, and social networks? You must know where you are underexposed. A mention is any place on the web your business is referenced, whether in an article or in a Twitter comment.

I don't know about you, but I read reviews online all the time, whether about movies, vacation destinations, or products. Your customers are doing the same. Reviews on influential sites like Yelp and Citysearch can dramatically affect your business. You must have the capability to respond quickly to any negative review. Ignoring a bad review is not an option.

Good social media reputation monitoring software analyzes all content where your business is mentioned for sentiment. Are the comments good, bad, or neutral? Sentiment trending will give you a sense of how your reputation is evolving.

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ENGAGING YOUR AUDIENCE

Pillar 2 is engaging your audience of online users. I recently read an interesting story about Sonny Ahuja, a perfume business owner who had a great website but poor traffic. He launched a weekly, two-hour “show” on Twitter where he posted interesting links and information using hashtags. He now has 52,000 people following him, and he has closed his store and only sells online. (See FastLinks.)

Don't misunderstand; I am not saying we should sell hearing aids online, but this is an example of how powerful social media can be. Posting articles is not enough. Social media marketing requires creativity. You must give your audience of current and potential patients a good reason to follow you on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. Once a week you could share a testimonial or give a tip about shopping for hearing aids. Another time you could offer a free giveaway or post answers to frequently asked questions. Another day you could tell a story about someone on your team. The idea is to give people good reasons to follow you.

How often your business is mentioned on Facebook, Twitter, Images, Newsfeed, and the like is Pillar 3. You can count the number of posts that mention your company, the number of “likes,” “followers,” and “retweets” you receive, and how many times your business shows up in a particular search category in your city compared with your competitors.

Social media marketing need not be overwhelming. Think of it as a powerful networking tool you can use without having to leave your office. It's a wonderful way to build a large network of people who know you and what you do and can create an endless flow of referrals. It's just a new way to communicate the message. Your efforts will help build relationships with your customers while increasing their trust in you.

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FastLinks

• Read the 2011 Nielsen and NM Incite article, “State of the Media: The Social Media Report, Q3 2011” at http://bit.ly/NeilsenReport.

• An article about business owner Sonny Ahuja's success with social media is available at http://bit.ly/SonnyAhuja.

Click and Connect! Access the links in The Hearing Journal by reading this issue on thehearingjournal.com.

• Comments about this article? Write to HJ at HJ@wolterskluwer.com.

• Follow us on Twitter at twitter.com/hearingjournal.

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© 2012 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.

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