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In a 2013 poll, 72 percent of Internet users said they “looked online for health information of one kind or another within the past year.” When users look online, are they finding your practice? When they look anywhere for that matter, are they finding you?

Your marketing choices have a huge impact on whether users are finding you in the first place and whether or not they like what they see when they find you. So what marketing choices should you be making? Five top marketing strategies are to establish a strong brand, make your practice easy to find, take advantage of user-generated content, respond to online comments and reviews, and start a conversation. By implementing these give strategies, you’ll create a solid foundation not only for your marketing efforts, but for improving your practice as a whole.

1. Establish a strong brand.

TOMS entered the market with shoes very similar in price, quality, and style to those of their competitors. TOMS became popular and successful—but how did they do it with a product that wasn’t unique in such a competitive industry?

The answer is branding. TOMS’ brand centers around helping people in need, and their brand story centers around their founder’s story. As you can read on the company’s website, when Blake Mycoskie traveled to Argentina in 2006, he “witnessed the hardships faced by children growing up without shoes. Wanting to help, he created TOMS Shoes, a company that would match every pair of shoes purchased with a new pair of shoes for a child in need.” In short, TOMS’ brand message is that they offer fashion and compassion.

“With social media, brands are now more than their price points, they are living, breathing entities with personalities, goals and values,” says Stephen Golub, vice president of digital marketing agency DXagency. TOMS is a great example of making those three aspects clear.

What personality, goals, and values do you want your practice to exhibit? Once you’ve narrowed that down, you can work on the physical manifestation of your brand. All of your branding—from the color scheme to the logo and practice name—will depend on your central ideals. Keep these style choices consistent across media so your patients can easily identify and become comfortable with the personality, goals, and values of your practice.

2. Make your practice easy to find.

Did you know that online listings and pages for your practice can be made automatically without your knowledge? That’s right: there may be pages for your practice on Facebook, Yelp, or Google that are listing incorrect or off-brand information about your practice.

The good news is that you can claim these local listings, allowing you to take control of branding, make sure information is correct, and ultimately help your patients to find you. Provide as much information about your practice as you can and make your listing stand out. Include photos, specialties, hours, and short, personal descriptions of your practice and key staff. It’s better to err on the side of too much information than too little.

3. Take advantage of user-generated content.

User-generated content (UGC) is just what it sounds like: content created by users or, in your case, patients. Whether that be pictures your practice is tagged in on Instagram, videos linked back to you on YouTube, or lively discussions on your Facebook page, user-generated content is something you want to cultivate. Patients may find content from their peers more trustworthy than content from you: millennials, specifically, trust UGH 50 percent more than they do professional content and other types of media.

“The benefits are many,” says Simon Slade, CEO of SaleHoo, “and the output of effort on your part is small.” What can you do to get these benefits? Here are some ideas:

  • Invite patients to share thoughts, photos, and videos about your practice on their social media accounts. Reshare the content on your own page.
  • Ask patients for help—everyone loves to give their opinion! Topics you can ask about are endless, from what magazines you should have in the waiting room to whether your scheduling service works well. Starbucks’ white cup contest is a great example of connecting with your customers in this way.
  • Have a spot to leave reviews on your social media pages and website. You’ll learn a lot, and you’ll be able to start a personal dialogue with each patient.

This leads us to our next tip.

4. Respond to online comments and reviews.

Responding to your patients’ online reviews and comments is an oft overlooked way to engage with your patients. It can be as simple as thanking patients for positive reviews or more involved as you answer questions or concerns.

And don’t ignore negative reviews and comments—they’re important. You see, 86 percent of surveyed consumers say their decision to buy or not to buy is influenced by negative online reviews. When you respond thoughtfully and helpfully to these, two things can happen: you solve the problem your patient is reporting, and more patients will gain respect for your practice.

5. Start a conversation.

To reapply a bit of wisdom from Dolly Levi, “[Medical knowledge], pardon the expression, is like manure. It’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around, encouraging young things to grow.” Marketing is about more than just increasing revenue; it’s about using what you have to make people’s lives better. And if you gain more patients along the way, that’s a great bonus!

One way to “spread around” what you have to offer, “encouraging young things to grow,” is to use your social media accounts to give free medical advice. Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson of Seattle Children’s Hospital started the “Seattle Mama Doc” blog to talk about her work as a physician and offer childcare health advice to mothers. She now has over 36,000 Twitter followers, As a result, she was able to establish a social media network of over 26,000 Twitter followers, and she was included on TIME’s 140 Best Twitter Feeds of 2013. Does that sound great for business or what?

By sharing relevant and authoritative content freely, you not only gain a following, but you also offer a service that only medical professionals can.

In our information-rich world, a solid marketing strategy is everything. By establishing a strong brand, making your practice easy to find, taking advantage of user-generated content, responding to online comments and reviews, and starting a conversation, your practice can be a clear voice among the noise. One last bonus tip: your ultimate goal should always be to provide the best possible care for your patients. Give your patients an experience worth sharing. As you do so, the news about how great your practice is will spread naturally by word of mouth, and your practice flourish.

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