A significant health crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic or other major event impacting the community can be both an emotional and financial drain for any dental practice.
As parts of the country and the world try to get back to some semblance of “normal,” some patients are understandably wary. What can a dental practitioner do during times like these to foster an increased sense of community, even while pandemic best practices dictate continued social distancing and other protective measures?
Strategies for engaging and supporting the community during a stressful period should be aimed at securing a positive response from the community while building and maintaining a practitioner’s high profile in the minds and hearts of existing and potential patients.
One of the best ways to build and maintain a sense of community during a time when people are advised to maintain physical distance is to turn to social media.
For my own practice in Boston, we chose to launch an official Instagram presence by creating a competition for the significant award of a smile makeover for a local “hero.” The campaign was designed to achieve several goals:
- Community building: As an Instagram competition asking people to share stories of people who are inspiring them and making them smile through the pandemic, it would be a fun way to foster a sense of community while recognizing the people who keep daily life on track.
- Visibility: Instagram is a very visual social channel, allowing our campaign to tap into a huge audience of more than 120 million users in the U.S. and 37% of U.S. adults. Every day, 63% of Americans use Instagram.
- Showcase: The new Instagram site would serve as a way to showcase the excellent work of our practice while elevating our expertise in specialty dentistry. It would also allow for posting of patient testimonials and other positive feedback.
- Engagement: As a highly interactive social channel, Instagram allowed us to invite participation on a dedicated page that we could also share among partner sites. The visual nature of Instagram and the ease of uploading photos and videos offered a low barrier to entry that any Instagram user would find easy to navigate.
- Awareness: Instagram is a great site to introduce yourself and your practice on both a local and national level, allowing for brief messages to be paired with photos of before/after procedures, staff, facilities, and lots of smiles. According to Instagram, 90% of users follow a business account.
- Target: While 23% of 50 to 64 year-olds use Instagram, it’s most popular among our target age for smile makeovers: 57% of 18 to 29 year-olds use the site. In addition, according to Pew, fully 52% of Instagram users fall in the $75,000+ income range.
Launched in July 2020 and running through the month, the #SmilesForBostonHeroes campaign boosted our Instagram engagement by 200% and allowed us to share some truly inspiring stories of local heroes.
But Instagram is not a once-and-done engagement strategy. To really build and maintain your brand, an ongoing stream of posts is necessary. For a business like a dental practice, the following mix of posts is a good place to start:
- Educational—By providing educational information, you’re performing a service to your community and your patients, existing and potential. Try for a mix that includes something fun, like an #AskMeAnything featuring yourself or another specialist in your practice. This allows people to get to know you better while underscoring your expertise.
- Inspirational—Posting photos and videos of your work along with the stories of the people whose lives you’ve changed through your work. Whether it’s a full smile makeover or the huge difference fixing a broken tooth can make, your own practice is full of inspiration every day.
- Personal—Let patients get to know you on a personal level by posting occasional photos and stories about yourself, including activities that enhance your expertise like going to a seminar or teaching a new technique. You can even share your hobbies, post a photo of your family or pets. Get creative.
- Interactive—Be sure to encourage interaction among your followers. Invite them to share their own stories via your Instagram page, and/or, like we did, sponsor an award that builds awareness of your practice while supporting your local community.
While every city and every state struggle with the reality of a pandemic that may change our daily lives far longer than we’d like, the best strategy is to keep moving forward in ways that the restrictions of an infectious new disease allow. If social media hasn’t been among your top outreach priorities in the past, now is the perfect time to shift focus and begin building a community that transcends distance.
Dr. Charles Sutera , FAGD, is a doctor of dental medicine, TMJ specialist, board-certified in moderate dental anesthesiology, and renowned for high profile cosmetic dental reconstructions. He is a certified Fellow of the Academy of General Dentistry and is the founder of his dental practice, Aesthetic Smile Reconstruction.