Somerset, Ky. — It took less than a minute for Dr. Ricky Farmer to post a “selfie” with a smiling child he treated at a free community health clinic this summer on his practice’s Facebook page.
Within a few hours, the photo generated more than 250 “likes” and several comments from patients who wrote and posted positive testimonials on Dr. Farmer’s work.
“I had nearly 400 views of that post within a few hours of posting and it was free,” said Dr. Farmer, who has been practicing for 11 years. “It was a wonderful ‘ad’ if you will.”
Today, Dr. Farmer’s Facebook page for his practice Lake Point Dental Care is part of his overall marketing strategy as he moves to relying more on online and social media efforts to effectively promote his practice.
“Online marketing takes up probably 80 percent of my marketing strategy, and 20 percent everything else,” Dr. Farmer said. “That’s completely flip-flopped from when I started out about 10 years ago.”
After graduating from dental school, Dr. Farmer was 25 years old when he opened his practice in the small Kentucky town where he grew up. To get the word out that he was open to see patients seeking dental care, he had one strategy: mass marketing. He sponsored Little League teams, bought recurrent ads in the regional newspaper and magazines, sent out direct mailers, shot local TV ads, recorded a few radio spots, networked with other local businesses and launched a no-frills, one-page website.
“I pretty much tried everything but billboards,” he said.
Dr. Farmer said each mode of marketing had its success though his practice didn’t do detailed return on investment tracking in the initial stages of practice growth.
“In hindsight, that was perhaps not the wisest business decision,” he said. “But at that point we were just focused on mass marketing across the board.”
As time went by, his dental team began to loosely track how patients found him and started pulling out of certain marketing modes based on effectiveness and the strategy’s relevance. For example, he pulled out of the Yellow Pages and other publications saturated with ads from other dental offices.
“What we found was that online was where it’s at when it comes to advertising, where it was the phone book a decade, two decades ago,” he said.
It wasn’t until 3-4 years in to his practice that Dr. Farmer shifted his focus to online marketing. He hired PBHS, a website and marketing services provider, to handle and direct all of his online marketing outlets, including his website and social media accounts. PBHS, the online marketing and branding company endorsed by ADA Business Resources, can track how often people visit his website and social media accounts. However, return on investment tracking remains his practice’s responsibility during his new patient registration process.
“Our marketing efforts are always evolving because our community, culture, society and our patient base are always evolving,” Dr. Farmer said. “Our mobile devices allow for instant access to information and communication. And as a society, we now expect immediate results and answers.”
Dr. Farmer said more of his patient base is savvier in social networking and new technologies.
Dr. Farmer often interacts with patients or prospective patients through his social network accounts, which includes Twitter and YouTube. He would log on and personally thank people who leave positive testimonials on the comment section of his latest posts.
This fall, he’s set to launch the latest redesign of his practice’s website to optimize his capabilities posting photos and sharing educational videos. His practice also has a blog where he posts information on certain procedures his patients may be interested in.
Along with the focus on online marketing, Dr. Farmer continues to advertise in more traditional media — though more strategically.
Instead of a recurrent ad in the newspaper, he targets specific events, such as back-to-school issues. He also continues his community involvement. Earlier this year, his practice participated in a local initiative that help kids in the local school system by filling backpacks with food and needed items. His practice helped filled the backpacks with toothbrushes and toothpastes.
However, despite all the savvy marketing strategies, Dr. Farmer said, no external marketing alone will ever be able to ultimately grow a practice over time.
“There are a multitude of ways to attract a new patient to your practice, but only a few ways to keep them,” he said. “While my marketing avenues will change, my commitment to delivering the highest quality of contemporary, comprehensive and compassionate care will not. And that is truly my best marketing strategy.”