For the last ten years or so, I have been working to understand social media. My career so far has involved a long stint as the director of a small team of digital media creators and marketers. My team and I have literally spent years tinkering and experimenting – and, yes, sometimes playing – with social networks like Facebook trying to figure out how we can get people to respond.
After all of that, what do we know about social media and how can we use it to promote our practice? How will people respond? In this post, I hope to give you a broad overview of social media and we’ll create some additional posts to tackle more of the the nitty gritty details.
Let’s dive in with a few observations.
Facebook started in a college dorm. Early in its lifetime, Facebook was exclusively for students and unless you had a school email account, you couldn’t even get in. Now, of course, all of our parents and grandparents are counted in the billions of Facebook users. They’re probably sending you a game request or an inspirational quote…. right now.
Many of us that use Facebook every day are appalled at the sheer banality of what fills our news feeds. But if we reframe this idea, this speaks to the ease of using Facebook, doesn’t it? If grandmas and grandpas, who have traditionally not been able to even turn on a computer, are now posting selfies from their iPhone, let’s at least admit that times are changing. When you and I use Facebook for our own personal reasons, it’s somewhere on the scale of easy to mindless.
This is not so when it comes to using Facebook – or any of the social media platforms – for your practice. Using Facebook for business purposes requires a special set of skills and a different way of thinking about social media. It’s not a set it and forget it platform. It’s also not magic – creating a Facebook page or a twitter account won’t suddenly send people clamoring to you website’s appointment request page.
The growth of your social networks will happen in phases that might include different tasks. First among these are community building and brand awareness.
Yes. Community building is just a fancy way of saying that you need to get people to like you page. But, with my narrative leanings, I believe that words matter. Focusing on the task of building a community slows you down and allows you a little grace when your page likes don’t reach 1,000 overnight! When you’re community building, you’re reaching out to your already established friends and you’re plain and simply asking them to like you page. You’re posting links to your business page on your personal timeline to levels that some will probably find obnoxious (but, don’t worry, your close friends will get it). You’re setting up a foundation. You’re also giving yourself a small audience to start with.
I have this vision of you inviting people around the camp fire to start telling people a story. In a way, that’s what’s happening.
And the story you’re telling? That’s where your brand awareness comes in. Ask yourself this: what do you want to be known for? In other words, what are the values of your practice? If we could personify your practice, what do you think it would want to be known for? Somewhere in the answers to those questions is the core of your brand. I know we’re getting into marketing terms here and it might be worthwhile reaching out to a trusted colleague with proven marketing experience or hiring a consultant for a couple of hours to flesh this out. The essence though is discovering what my practice’s personality would be like.
If you look at either your or my Facebook page, you’ll find that we post things that are important to us. Sometimes I post about quotes that I hear, or funny videos, or something that challenged my perspective. All of that flows from my own personality and my own values. I value inspiration. I like to laugh and take things in a light-hearted way. Those are the things that I want to share with the world.
What are the things that your practice values? Maybe you value research and the science behind what you do so you share articles from prominent researchers. Maybe you have a very specific focus for your practice so most of the things you post are about a particular issue like addiction or family therapy. Maybe you want to inspire people to think differently so you post quotes that you have collected over the years.
Community building is a long process. But at its core is a sense that you find your voice – your niche. Remember, there are billions of users on Facebook. Chances are there are plenty who value the same things that you do and will want to get connected.
The temptation can often be that, as our community builds, we find a way to insert a sales pitch. If people like us on Facebook, they’ll love to come to therapy with us, right? My experience has been that Facebook is not necessarily the source of dozens of new clients. It might feel like you get some traction when you post quotes or articles but when you post that you have appointments available… crickets.
Can I normalize this for you?
There are a lot of reasons – some are even technical that we’ll cover soon – why people may not be responding to your call to action. Instead of thinking of your Facebook fans as a source of clients, think of them more as a referral network. They are your advocates. When they are talking with their friends and they hear that their friend feels like they just need to talk to someone, your inspirational quote from earlier in the might mean that they think about your practice first.
People often ask if they have to have a presence on all of the social networks (i.e. today, when people say all what they generally mean is Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram).
No. There is enough pressure already that says you have to be everywhere and do everything. You can only be one place at a time and if you don’t have the time to curate a Twitter following and find creative imagery to share on Instagram, don’t worry about it. Only do what you have time for. Focus you efforts in one space.
The follow-up question those with a little more digital experience might ask is “Can’t I just create a twitter account and have Facebook automatically post to it?” I mean, you can, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Part of the appeal of connecting to companies on social is that it still feels like you’re connecting to a real human being. If you’re just posting the same thing everywhere, it can feel less personal. There can be some carry over, but even for the big companies, I’d recommend taking some time to hand-craft content for each channel.
When you create your Facebook page for your business – if you haven’t already – you will realize that Facebook wants your money. In our industry, we might call this a conflict of interest. Wait? Facebook is going to give me a free platform to build a business community but then they’re going to charge me if I want anyone to know about it? Essentially, yes.
Anything you do on Facebook will only go so far before it makes sense to start taking advantage of Facebook’s advertising features. It’s fairly cost effective, but it probably means reaching out to someone who has done it before to get a handle on what works and what doesn’t. It also helps to have solid expectations here too. Again, it’s probably the case that you’re not going to get a lot of calls directly from advertising on Facebook, but you could certainly and dramatically increase the size of your community-based referral team.
Advertising really warrants its own post as well. The benefits are that you can be creative in the way that your ad is portrayed and you can be really specific about who you want to see you ad. Using something called geotargeting you can ensure that your ad only gets seen by people in your city or even ZIP code. At least then you’re not wasting money paying for ads shown to someone in another city who isn’t a potential client for you anyway!
We’ll cover this in more detail, but the message is this: expect to spend money to build your Facebook presence.
Hopefully this has been a good introduction! There’s clearly a lot to talk about here and over the next series of posts, we’ll start to break each of these ideas down. Be sure to let us know on our Facebook Page or in the comments below about the sort of topics that you’re wrestling with in your own practice!