Oral Health Group

Word-of-Mouth vs. Online – Where Do You Stand?

May 15, 2018
by Oral Health

Dental marketing has become a comfortable endeavour, with many Canadian dentists opting to rely on word-of-mouth (WOM) to gain new patients. In fact, 91.9 per cent of Canadian dentists* agree WOM is how new patients learn about their practice. Obviously, it’s an ideal strategy – it requires no money, time or tracking for practice owners. However, with patients’ attention focused increasingly online, where are dentists’ efforts best placed?

While Oral Health Group attempts to educate and encourage the use of online marketing for dentists through our blog and Oral Health Office articles, there’s no denying the benefits of WOM. It’s an easy method to have patients share their good experiences, favourite hygienists and successful treatments. All of a sudden, a community is calling in to book appointments after one of them has a positive experience.


Something to consider: There is a risk of bad experiences spreading through WOM as well. Dental anxiety rates are nothing to scoff at, so when a potential patient hears just one bad review it may be the only influence they need to make their choice. The lack of access to patients in their day-to-day life and inability to respond to these negative comments is a massive setback in relying on WOM to market a practice.

Denying the importance of online marketing is denying a dental practice its chance to grow. Whether it’s a practice’s website featuring testimonials, online Google and Yelp reviews, or interacting on social media, there are different levels of engagement to appear available to patients 24/7.

Something to consider: It can be an overwhelming task to get online (or if already online, to figure out how to improve). Think about team members, where strengths lie, and what will work best. Not every practice can handle all platforms, but there should be an element of online activity for successful results.

Our recent survey showed larger practices agreed that online platforms attract new patients. In fact, while 45 per cent of larger practices agreed their website had been successful, only 32.6 per cent of smaller practices were of the same mindset. The numbers were similar for online user reviews and social media. So who is right?

Trackability – Get lost in the numbers
Obviously, there is minimal data to track when it comes to WOM. While dentists can check in and survey patients on how they heard about their practice, it may not represent the majority. This is where online marketing comes in – there isn’t a single element that can’t be tracked. There is room to assess, learn and grow the practice’s presence online and ultimately effect its success rate. Once comfortable online, a practice can even move forward in trying out online advertising, paid lead forms, direct messaging and more.

Responding – Stay on top of the conversation
As mentioned, WOM doesn’t allow the chance to respond to negative (or positive) messages. The practice is leaving their reputation in the hands of the public to spread the word. The problems arise when negativity is spread – how can a dentist respond? This is where being active online comes into play. A practice receives a poor review or comment on their website, review platform or social media and can immediately apologize, reach out and handle the matter. This not only salvages the relationship with one patient, but broadcasts their quick, caring response to, well, everyone.

Time – Take a minute… or an hour
Tracking and responding may sound time consuming and, honestly, they can be. Sifting through data to understand where your audience is and how you can best reach and connect with them isn’t a quick task. Formulating professional, yet personalized, responses to online reviews takes time. Time isn’t something most practices have to spare, which is where the ease of WOM comes into play. Maybe it’s worth the risk of a negative story spreading from one patient when most are satisfied with a practice’s services.

Experience – Do it well or don’t do it
Online marketing isn’t for the faint-hearted. It takes an understanding of digital platforms to take full advantage of what the online world has to offer a dental practice. Without a team member or hired consultant to handle everything digital, it can easily fall to the bottom of “Things To Do,” which ultimately leaves a practice looking unprofessional (with incomplete profiles, unfinished websites and a lack of online information).

Community – Does anybody care
A practice’s community could be considered the largest factor in this debate. A smaller, suburban community may only have a couple practices to choose from, leaving the WOM method to be perfectly reasonable and successful for those practices. In larger communities the competition can be fierce, so an online presence may be the leg-up needed to stay on top.

This may have your head spinning: Risk WOM to work in your favour, or take a crack at a successful online presence? There’s no right answer and every practice will succeed differently depending on their staff, community and desire to grow.


Let us know: What have you found to be the best avenue for new patients to find you? What’s the major turn-off of jumping into the online world?


*Between February and March 2018, RKI, a third party independent research house, conducted a 10-minute online survey of active, practicing non-hospital affiliated dentists and dental specialists on behalf of Oral Health. Using Oral Health’s subscription list, a total of 398 dentists participated in the study (with 219 completing the survey to the end). Assuming a total of 20,000 dentists in Canada (and 398 total completes) the margin of error for the survey is +/- 4.86, 95% CI.

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