There are plenty of rules and regulations around what a practice can and cannot do online. But don’t let this prevent you from developing an online presence. By Chris Sheedy.
Dental practices are bound by the guidelines set up by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) when it comes to social media and other forms of marketing and advertising. These rules are strict, often for a good reason. But within the framework set by AHPRA, there is plenty of room to utilise the power of websites and social media to connect more closely with current and potential patients.
Dentists who utilise the online environment extremely effectively are relatively few and far between. So right now there is great opportunity to stand out by doing what other practices in your local area are not.
But first, what do the AHPRA regulations say? In summary (please consult AHPRA for the fine details), the policies state that businesses or people providing a regulated health service cannot advertise in a way that is false, misleading or deceptive or is likely to be misleading or deceptive; or offers a gift, discount or other inducement to attract a person to use the service or the business, unless the advertisement also states the terms and conditions of the offer; or uses testimonials or purported testimonials about the service or business; or creates an unreasonable expectation of beneficial treatment; or directly or indirectly encourages the indiscriminate or unnecessary use of any regulated health services.
In terms of social media activity, AHPRA says registered health practitioners should only post information that is not in breach of the above advertising obligations. They should do this by: complying with professional obligations, complying with confidentiality and privacy obligations (such as by not discussing patients or posting pictures of procedures, case studies, patients, or sensitive material which may enable patients to be identified without having obtained consent in appropriate situations) presenting information in an unbiased, evidence-based context, and not making unsubstantiated claims.
This means: don’t use case studies or testimonials. Don’t offer gifts or discounts. Don’t mislead or deceive. Don’t over-state your abilities, or their results. Don’t encourage unnecessary treatment. Do use evidence-based context.
The rules seem strict, but they do not prevent you from communicating useful and valuable information to your online audience. They do not discourage a healthy and positive dialogue, nor do they speak out against the provision of accurate and interesting information around oral health.
Blog about it
“Traditional advertising is not working as well as it used to,” says Mark Brown, director of yourblogposts.com, a business that offers professional blogging and other online services for specialist industries such as dental. Brown says the most effective way to communicate with a local audience is online.
“People do most of their searching and researching online,” he says. “It lets you build a platform through which you can connect with current and future patients.”
“Why blog regularly? As Google’s algorithm becomes more sophisticated it is looking for the right website for the right people. One of the key metrics it will look for is how often the website has been updated. So if you built a website four years ago and have not touched it since, and another dental practice in your area is regularly updating their website, then Google is going to favour the one that has fresh and updated content. It will serve that in its search results ahead of others.”
“Facebook has made it very clear that people who like your page are not an audience you own. Facebook owns the audience and will rent them back to you.” – Mark Brown, yourblogposts.com
Carolyn Dean, director of My Dental Marketing (formerly Wellsites) and author of Fully Booked: Dental marketing secrets for a full appointment book, agrees that online activity is vital for business success. “Think about the way you behave,” Dean says. “Any time you are told about a product, service or company that you might have some interest in, what is the first thing you do? You will always check them out online.”
“We know word-of-mouth is the number one way that practices earn patients. But if I tell you that you should visit Dr Smith then you will look him up online. If he does not have a professional presence then he will be judged on that. Dentists are in a highly competitive market and people will be check their online presence, whether they like it or not.”
How to do online well
Regular blogging—at least once a month—is important not only for Google search result rankings but is also a way to begin a relationship with patients and potential patients. Brown recommends blogging on your own business’s website, then promoting the blog via social media, rather than using social media as the originating platform for the content.
“Facebook, for instance, has made it very clear that people who like your page are not an audience you own,” he says. “Facebook owns the audience and will rent them back to you. You have to pay to boost your posts for them to have reach. If you can have the traffic come to your site then it is a lot easier. The intention should always be to get the traffic to come back to your website and your blog.”
A dentist might write blogs themselves, or might employ a specialist agency such as yourblogposts.com, which offers as a base service one year of monthly blogs, after a 45-minute telephone interview with the dentist, for $2500.
An experienced marketing service such as My Dental Marketing will ensure all of the content developed for online use meets AHPRA regulations, Dean says.
“All marketing campaigns should be planned and measured,” Dean says. “Some businesses take a scattergun approach where they will try social media, they will do a blog, they will send an email newsletter etc but nothing is planned, consistent or strategic. Then they come to us and tell us that nothing works. But marketing has to be consistent.”
‘Consistent’ means across the entire business, Dean says. Marketing is not just a blog, or a radio ad, or a newsletter. Marketing is the entire business.
“It is the way phones are answered and the way patients are welcomed into the practice and the way the practice looks,” she says. “This should all be aligned with any online messages, so people know what level of quality to expect when they arrive, having already experienced your online presence.”