In more than 20 years of helping dermatologists with their marketing, Etna has been a part of many success stories, but we’ve also learned a lot from the failures we’ve observed. Too often, we see clinics that come to us maybe 2 to 5 years in that have made some painful mistakes. In this post, we’re going to look at examples of these and share 12 lessons we have learned and talk about how you can avoid painful mistakes that have the potential to complicate business in the years to come.
If you are new to practice, or would just like a refresher on some solid digital marketing best practices, this post is for you.
Lesson #1: Hire the Right People
It can be challenging to determine, especially early on, which roles are essential. But most experts agree, it’s not about the specific position you hire for, but the individuals you bring on to fill those roles. If you’re looking for inspiration to help guide you in developing an organizational structure and hiring the right employees, I recommend Powerful by Patty McCord of Netflix. It’s a great way to ground yourself and set some inspiring ideas for the people you bring into your practice from the very beginning, and how you approach recruiting throughout the life of your clinic.
Lesson #2: Choose a Domain With Room To Grow
This lesson may come too late for some of you, but if you’re starting a clinic, one of the first decisions you’ll make is a domain name—a website address that will represent and serve your practice. It’s easy enough to purchase a name that’s your location/city, plus your specialty, e.g., “Raleigh Dermatology,” or to buy your own name. The challenge that we see in both of these instances is they’re not forward-looking enough and they can limit you in the future.
What if you relocate your business someday? Or maybe you want to bring in new associates at some point in the future. It’s more and more difficult as time goes on to shift authority and popularity from one domain name to another. A short-sighted decision could limit your opportunities in the future. We recommend branded domain names, things that aren’t tied to a specific region or the name of an individual inside of a practice, because it gives you the flexibility to grow.
Lesson #3: Collect Assets & Consent To Use Them
You will likely accumulate different kinds of assets over time, such as before-and-after photos, patient testimonials, or educational video content. It’s important to ensure that you own those assets, especially if you’re part of a larger medical group or organization, and that you get appropriate consents to use those even if you part ways with your current practice. Make sure you own and control those assets and that they’re properly consented going forward.
Lesson #4: Make Time for Video Content
Whenever you have the opportunity, dedicate time to developing your on-screen capabilities, the ability to speak comfortably and easily to the camera. Great video content is a tremendous asset for your website and other marketing channels, such as social media and blogs. The value of compelling video content is only going to increase, so this is a way for you to gain a competitive edge in your market.
Lesson #5: Prioritize Email Subscriptions
While it can be very difficult to get traction on platforms like social media, email marketing provides an often overlooked opportunity. Email marketing in the healthcare sector continues to outperform a lot of other online marketing channels. In fact, about 1 in every 4 people who receive your email marketing communication will actually open it, and about 1 in 10 of those will act. That number may sound small, but as your clinic grows over time, the larger your list size, the more profitable email marketing becomes. As you grow that list, it’s going to become less and less expensive to reach more and more people who have had an experience with your clinic. So commit to the idea of capturing subscribers both on your website and inside your clinic from day one.
Lesson #6: Crunch the Social Media Numbers
You may have your sights set on making social media a major driver for your business. The fact is, it’s become increasingly hard to gain attention on social media. It’s a noisy and crowded environment, and platforms like Meta, owner of Facebook and Instagram, are actually stacking the algorithms against you because they want to force business owners to buy ads.
If you aim for an organic social media strategy, I caution you to avoid buying followers. If you’re a typical business, you have a million followers who are, at best, marginally engaged. Your brand’s organic posts will get less than 1% visibility. So that means that anything you post will reach about 15,000 people in the best-case scenario.
But there’s a different kind of social media mathematics that can work in your favor. Followers can share and comment on your posts without the restrictions placed on businesses that limit content visibility. A very small number of highly engaged fans can help you significantly amplify the reach of your content. For example, just 135 loyal and engaged followers on Facebook, if they have an average of 338 followers, will reach about the same number of people, about 15,000, as that business with a million marginally engaged followers.
Lesson #7: Use Predictive Modeling To Minimize Risk in Pay-Per-Click
Many dermatology clinics choose to turn to pay-per-click advertising or paid search marketing in order to buy their way to the top of search results and attract patients right away. However, those marketplaces today are very expensive, and it can take anywhere from 200 to 400 clicks to get a single patient inside your clinic. If you’re paying several dollars per click or more, you can easily end up paying more for the patient than you will earn through their treatment—a money-losing scenario.
At Etna, we minimize the guesswork and the risk by using predictive modeling. This scientific approach to PPC tells us in advance, for the particular procedures you’re interested in and the market where you’re operating, whether or not you can profitably operate PPC.
Lesson #8: Plan for Multi-Channel Patient Service
Today’s patient expects you to communicate with them on the phone, by email, in an SMS text message, in live chat, and often on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. From the very beginning, you need to set your people up with the right technology and the right training to engage in multichannel customer service. Ensuring you’re interacting with people where and how they want is essential to acquiring and retaining patients.
Lesson #9: Think of Reputation as Marketing
The importance of online reputation can’t be overstated. The reality is that the healthcare sector is second only to travel and restaurants in terms of the importance of online reviews.
You need to recognize that your online reputation is one of your most powerful forms of online marketing. While there are very strict laws against falsifying or attempting to overly manipulate your online reputation, there are lots of tools that are legal and ethical that can help you to encourage satisfied patients to share their real stories online. Leading dermatology practices will invest in tools to both protect and monitor their reputation while actively cultivating positive reviews.
Lesson #10: Get Expert Guidance To Stay in Compliance
Your marketing team may not have all the awareness and skills required to protect you and ultimately things like your board certification or your medical license. Even agencies that supposedly specialize in digital marketing or offline marketing for the medical space, don’t all fully understand the laws, codes, and guidelines that will restrict what you can do and say in your marketing communications. This is especially true if you’re working towards board certification; you need to be very careful and involved and have open conversations so that everyone understands the guidelines that control what you say, and, more specifically, how you say it online. Make sure that you have expert guidance somewhere on your team so that you don’t end up compromising some of those important relationships and registrations that are going to allow you to continue to practice.
Lesson #11: Safeguard Your Logins for Online Profiles
It’s likely that you engage members of your team or an outside agency to establish and maintain profiles online for you and for your clinic. These might be things like your Yelp profile or your Google My Business profile, or your listings on sites like RateMDs. All those profiles are established with an individual username and password that will allow you to access and control that content forever. While some of them have specific tools or protocols to help you recover access should you lose it, some don’t. Losing control of a profile can mean losing control of how you’re represented on the web.
Any member of your team creating these profiles for you should use an email address that’s established for the practice that you own and control. They should also use a password that you designate so that you are the ultimate party in control of all those listings should that person leave your practice. Similarly, if an agency sets up local profiles for you, ask them how you will ensure that you are given control of those accounts in the event that you part ways.
Lesson #12: Tailor Marketing Strategy to Your Unique Goals and Circumstances
Finally, recognize that every dermatology practice is a little different; they have different ambitions, operate in different markets, and have different areas of interest. Digital marketing can feel very overwhelming, but the right partner will take the time to sit down, understand you, your market, and where you want to go, and grow and develop a strategy that is completely unique to you. Listen for a credible narrative that relates and shows an understanding of what your ambitions are, and how the recommended tactics are going to support growth in the way that you want.
These are some of the most important ideas that we’ve seen from dermatology clinics that have made some missteps along the way. Hopefully, some of these will help you make smarter choices for your own future.
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