Attracting new patients and building customer loyalty are vital aspects of growing a dental practice. Although many strategies have been tested and used over the years (local advertising, newsletters, check-up reminder postcards, and e-mail), it is crucial to understand that in an ever-evolving digital world, the tried and tested of yesteryear may not deliver the same results today.
In recent years, businesses worldwide have turned to social media marketing to increase their brands’ visibility and sales. This makes total sense when we realize that there are 3.4 billion active social media users. The bottom line for dentists is that even if they are not on social media, it is most likely that their patients are.
Of all the platforms, Facebook remains the biggest and arguably the most powerful social network. Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest and others have grown consistently as well. However, the platform preferred by marketers nowadays, with 1-billion monthly active users and 500 million daily active users, is Instagram.
It is a free app designed for sharing photos and videos from a smartphone. Each Instagram user has a proﬁle and a newsfeed. Just as with Facebook, users can interact with others by following them, being followed by them, liking and commenting on their posts, tagging friends, and using private messaging.
What sets Instagram apart? Primarily, the visual aspect on Instagram is much more powerful. People use Instagram to share and view beautiful visual content. And from a marketing perspective, visuals are the best way to communicate messages to people.
It is easier to reach the prospective audience on Instagram (vs Facebook) thanks to its more amicable algorithm and lower competition, making each message more likely to be seen. Furthermore, engagement on Instagram is 10x higher than Facebook and 84x higher than Twitter, meaning that users are more likely to respond to Instagram posts.
This is why business giants such as Adidas, FedEx and Starbucks have turned to Instagram as part of their new growth strategies. Even more interestingly, Instagram is the secret power behind built-from-scratch cosmetic and other e-commerce empires, and a new generation of “inﬂuencers” creating livelihoods (some even becoming millionaires) after having mastered the art of this social tool called Instagram.
The question: is there room for dentists to grow? And the deﬁnite answer is yes. Many dentists have already become part of this massive Instagram wave (as have plastic surgeons, dermatologists and other health professionals). For those who have not yet started – it is never too late.
Examples of successful accounts with tens of thousands of followers include Beverly Hills’ and London’s Dr. Sam Saleh (275,000+ followers), New York City and Dubai’s Dr. Michael Apa (249,000+ followers) and Lisbon’s Dr. Hugo Madeira (72,000+ followers). As intimidating as these numbers may be, the number of followers do not necessarily reﬂect the account’s success. Many inﬂuencers and businesses operate successful accounts with a targeted audience of hundreds to a few thousand followers.
Another important question: Will the Instagram audience be right for the practice? The Instagram platform appeals to a younger demographic, with 55 per cent of users in the 18-29 age group, and 28 per cent between 30-49. Only 11 per cent of Instagram users are between the ages of 50-64, and just 4 per cent are over 65. While these statistics may seem more appealing to orthodontists and cosmetic dentists trying to reach a younger audience, the possibility of attracting the older age groups is still viable. After all, the younger audience have parents and grandparents.
Opening an Instagram account is very intuitive. To sign up, you download the app on an iOS or Android phone or tablet. To register, you must provide an e-mail address or choose the “Register with Facebook” option (Figs. 1 & 2).
Fig. 1: To get started, download the Instagram app for iOS from the App Store, Android from Google Play Store or Windows Phone from the Windows Phone Store.
Fig. 2: Once the app is installed, tap to open it. Tap Sign Up, then enter your email address and tap Next. You can also tap Log in with Facebook to sign up with your Facebook account.
By default, you begin with a personal proﬁle. To use Instagram for business (a must), you connect your account to a Facebook business page. This is done by clicking on the proﬁle icon at the bottom right of the screen and scrolling down until the “Switch to business proﬁle” option appears. Having a business account allows you to access analytics relative to the performance of your posts and the demographics of your audience.
After starting your account, you will be asked to edit your proﬁle information with your photo, name, username, website and bio. Make sure your account name and username coincide with your brand’s other social proﬁles to avoid confusion.
Think carefully about your bio because this is where you capture the attention of new users visiting your proﬁle and you only have a few words to do so (the Instagram bio is limited to 150 characters, including spaces). Brieﬂy describe what you do in your office, what people can expect from your account and, of course, how they can contact you (i.e. make an appointment) (Fig. 3A & 3B).
Fig. 3: Different features of an Instagram account.
Do not start posting random pictures, stock photos or ﬂashy promotions. According to specialists, people on Instagram do not respond well to photos with text in them either. Think about your photos as a way of telling a story of who you are as a dentist and choose the images accordingly. Remember, Instagram is primarily about the visuals. A clear message with a deﬁned narrative must come through when glancing at your feed. For example, Instagram is a great resource for showcasing your work or sharing behind-the-scenes photos of you and your staff. Video samples and photos of patients having a good time are also very positive (Figs. 4 & 5).
Fig. 4: @dentedecrianca_a1kids is the account of a pediatric dental office that showcases the doctors with their young patients smiling and having a good time, while also education on various aspects of the oral health of the children.
Fig. 5: @drhugomadeira features a combination of lifestyle and amazing before and after cases.
It goes without saying that it is important to have good quality, well-lit photos, even if they are taken with a phone (many photo-editing apps allow you to enhance your images).
The caption that accompanies a photo should be well thought-out. It may be a few words or a few paragraphs, depending on your style and your message. Finally, make sure your content is valuable in some way (inspirational, educational, motivational, or simply nice to look at) (Fig. 6).
Fig. 6: @smileteam_orthodontics is an example of an account with a rather small following, but excellent visual content and engagement. Note the use of geotagging and the “call-to-action” at the end of the caption on their post.
Hashtags and Geolocation
The term “hashtag” was only added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2014. #Hashtags are keywords that organize and categorize your photos and video content. Following your caption, you may use up to 30 hashtags that will make your post visible in the corresponding hashtag page. In this way, you will be making yourself visible to new users (i.e. potential customers/patients) who may stumble upon your account and decide to follow you.
Geotagging is another means to making yourself more visible. When sharing a post, you will be presented with an “Add location” option. Adding your location is a great way to get engagement from your local community.
Insta Stories and IGTV
The Insta Stories feature is another way of sharing content with your audience. Your story will appear at the top of your followers’ feeds, but it will also be visible on your proﬁle page by tapping your proﬁle picture. This content will be available for 24 hours only and then disappear.
Making a story on Instagram is very easy. Simply click on your proﬁle icon at the top left and capture your content. Your device will likely ask to use your camera. For video, hold down the camera button for as long as 10 seconds. You may also try a “boomerang” or use different stickers such as the location sticker, hashtag sticker, mention sticker, question sticker, poll sticker and others. You can add text as well.
This feature allows you to get more personal with your audience. While your page is your portfolio, your Insta Stories is a diary of ongoing events, allowing your followers to know you a little better. Did you get a new camera or a new piece of equipment? You may want to post a clip to review the camera or tell your followers what this new equipment does. You could also do a live tour of your office. The ideas are endless.
For longer videos, you can try Instagram TV. This feature has been added to adapt to the trend where people are watching less television and more digital video. IGTV is built for your phone; videos are full screen and vertical and can last up to an hour.
Growing your Audience
Growing an audience can be challenging for new users, but remember, you don’t need thousands of followers to be considered an Instagram success You do want to capture a big enough audience that will translate into a new funnel of customers/ patients.
Making good use of all the standard Instagram features is a very good start. Following accounts with a similar target audience and interacting with them (liking, commenting, tagging) improves your algorithm and Instagram will reward you with more visibility to new users.
One of the quickest ways to grow your following is by getting a shout-out from an inﬂuencer. Inﬂuencers are individuals recognized by the public as people whose opinions and recommendations can be trusted. Your very own patients (unbeknownst to you) may be local inﬂuencers or micro-inﬂuencers willing to work with you to help you grow. When an inﬂuencer posts a photo or an Insta Story recommending your services, you can be sure that a good number of their followers will be interested in ﬁnding out who and where you are. Even if your patients are not major celebrities, encourage them to share their visit to the dentist and to tag you. This may potentially motivate their friends and family to look at your page.
Another way of growing is by using paid ads. Advertisements can be customized according to your preferences of your target audience. You can control the gender, age range, location, interests and behaviors of the users who will watch your ad. Interestingly, you will also have access to the statistics resulting from your campaign to improve your approach in the future.
This quick overview is targeted to those who are new to Instagram or do not regard themselves as techies., Even so, it may seem diﬃcult to digest and the suggested strategies may look to difficult to implement. You may not be a techie, but perhaps one of your staff members is. There are also many marketing companies offering services to grow your social media.
While this article is focused on the Instagram platform, others such as YouTube and Pinterest should not be disregarded. The internet world continues to expand and evolve at rates unforeseen a decade ago. The world of social media is undeniably here, are you in it?
About the Author
Dr. Paola Ochoa graduated with Honors from Cayetano Heredia University in Lima, Perú. She has a degree in Occlusion and Oral Rehabilitation from Universidad Científica del Sur and has received extensive training in Brazil and the United States. She is the co-founder of Infinity Dental Clinic in Lima, where she is the director of the Area of Esthetic Dentistry. She received her fellowship from the International Academy for Dental Facial Esthetics and is a member of the American Society for Dental Aesthetics. In 2018 she became a Diplomate of the American Board of Aesthetic Dentistry.