You may have heard a lot of buzz about Twitter. This article discusses some Twitter basics for dentists. After reading this you’ll be more informed about how you and your practice can utilize Twitter.
Twitter is what is known as a micro-blogging site. On Facebook you have “friends”, and on Twitter you have “followers”. Messages can be no longer than 140 characters in length. If your account is public then anyone can see your posting. If your account is private, then only your followers will know what you are saying. When you “follow” people, their posts will flow in to your timeline in chronological order, and you can view what they are saying. You can post brief messages, link to interesting articles on a website, or attach photos. Twitter is used by celebrities, businesses, politicians, and regular people to collect and disseminate information to people that are interested in them.
Twitter uses something called a hashtag. A hashtag is the # sign followed by a word. For example, during one of the presidential debates CNN may use the hashtag of #cnndebate. You can search for this hashtag and narrow your timeline to a stream of posts and comments specific to that topic as it is happening. The Hugh Hewitt radio program uses the hashtag #HHRS (for Hugh Hewitt Radio Show) so that the host can view messages from his listeners while the show is in progress. I followed the recent Superbowl halftime show (with #halftime) and while Madonna was singing “I’m Sexy and I know it” I found humor someone’s comment that said, “Did Madonna just say “I’m sixty and I know it? #halftime”.
You can communicate directly with other users through @mentions (said “at mentions). If you wanted to send me a message on Twitter you would address it to @elmendodontics. This is also how you identify yourself, and is as specific to you as is an email address. There are specific rules about @mentions and @replies that you should know and can be reviewed here (http://www.1dental.com/blog/2011/05/20/top-10-dentists-in-social-media/) and here (http://blog.twitter.com/2008/05/how-replies-work-on-twitter-and-how.html). Study how these work and understand that @mentions are not private messages.
The best way to get to know Twitter is to sign up for a free account, begin following your interests, and watch how it works. Below are some tips and warnings on how to use Twitter as a dentist.
If you are an information junkie like me, you’ll love Twitter. Use it to follow things you are interested in. If you are interested in news and Hollywood, you can follow a few news outlets and a few celebrities. On the news side you’ll find a continuous stream of breaking news, and on the celebrity side you’ll find occasional comments about their life (or lack there of) and interests. Whether you are interested in gardens or glamor, you’ll find niches in your area of interest. If you follow the right people in the dental field, you can find a wealth of information an breaking news in dentistry. Following people in the dental field who are active on Twitter will allow you to observe what works. Take note of what you are interested in, and do the same.
2. Twitter at Dental Conferences
I have seen very little talk on this topic, but I feel this is one of my favorite and most powerful uses for Twitter. By using the hashtag, you can filter messages specific to that conference. The Chicago Midwinter meeting made use of the hashtag #cds12 (for Chicago Dental Society 2012). Manufacturers, speakers, convention leaders, local restaurants, and alumni associations used this hashtag to communicate with attendees.
Some specific uses for twitter at a convention:
While sitting in a lecture, you can tweet poignant facts and add the tag #cds12. An attendee in another lecture can see what you are learning, while sitting in their own lecture. So if you’re not learning much in your own lecture, you could participate virtually in someone else’s.
If a presenter is on Twitter, you can connect directly with him after the lecture. If they choose to implement it, presenters could even use a hashtag specific to their lecture that would allow listeners to interact specifically with them with questions and tips. This may be a less common use in the dental field, but is quite popular in the tech world. In the future, expect a presenter to ask members of the audience to share a case that they have stored on their iPad. With a quick hashtag specific tweet and a photo attachment an attendee can post his case on the big screen for discussion. Although we may be a couple years off from this, I’m sure we will see it soon enough.
-Alumni associations can tweet messages to their alumni for gatherings and updates.
-Manufacturers can tweet information about their products and specials.
-Attendees can tweet problems about the convention that can be addressed by convention staff
-Local restaurants can advertise their services for conference attendees.
3. Twitter to Connect with People and Patients
Dentists can use Twitter to connect with people. By following people in your community, and having them follow you, you can begin to talk with others. Imagine that a crowd of people followed you everywhere you went (your Twitter following) and imagine walking through the crowd and hearing specific concerns, questions, or interesting conversations from that crowd. That’s what Twitter is.
The best way to do this is to talk to people via @replies. If someone makes an interesting comment, you can reply by writing “@username, I loved your comment about the weather”. If you are doing this with your patients you can begin to build relationships outside the twice yearly visit. You will also find with which patients you share common interests.
Another good way to connect with people is to retweet their comments. If you read something interesting from one of the people you follow, you can click on the “retweet” icon and send the message out to all the people you follow. Likewise, if you tweet something interesting and your followers retweet your post, then, even though you only have a couple hundred followers, your message could reach tens of thousands.
By using the advanced search feature at www.search.twitter.com (click on the “advanced” button) you can search local tweets specific to your search criteria. Search for the words “dentist” within 25 miles of Westminster, CO and see what people are saying: http://twitter.com/#!/search/dentist%20near%3A%22Westminster%2C%20co%22%20within%3A25mi You’ll finally hear the truth about what patients think about the dentist. You can even reply to them and encourage them to visit your office.
Finally, you can use Twitter to connect with local businesses. By following and promoting local businesses and their clients, you will begin to connect with a diverse audience. They will appreciate it when you promote their business and events and will do the same for you. By doing so you start to connect your patients with others in the community who may choose you as their next dentist. When they do, they’ll likely try you out and will probably promote you amongst their friends. It will take a while to build this kind of a following, but even if you become casually involved with it, you will begin to establish lasting relationships.
A Few Ways NOT to use Twitter
1. Constant Self Promotion
I know you love dentistry, and your patients are aware of that as well. Think of your followers as your friends. When your friends come over to your house do you constantly promote your latest tooth whitening special or how they should floss daily? If you use it to constantly promote yourself, you’ll find that people won’t want to follow you, just like no one likes to be around someone who can only talk about themselves. If you have something special going on then tweet about it, but don’t make it the only thing you do. Consider tweets that uplift and contribute to the knowledge or well-being of your followers.
2. HIPPA Still Matters
I saw one dentist who would tweet thanks to each patient he saw that day using the patient’s full name. I believe that would be a clear violation of HIPPA to advertise to the world who your patients are. Imagine if your plastic surgeon tweeted your name after a visit to his office. Mortified? I’d say so. Keep in mind that you are still a professional, and you do not want to advertise patient specific data. Also be aware that nothing is truly private online, and if you find that you are getting very personal messages from patients, you may need to institute some office policies and consent when it comes to these types of relationships.
3. Controversial Material
You may not like the current president, but statistics admit that probably half of your patients probably do. If you feel inclined to comment on controversial material such as politics, abortion, religion, etc. then you may want to establish a separate personal account that you can use as your soapbox. You don’t want to begin losing patients by tweeting inappropriate material.
4. Mundane Material
Don’t bore your followers with tweets about your daily habits, your meals, or what your pet just did on your favorite couch cushion. Too many useless tweets is a turn-off for most people who will simply “unfollow” you. Keep your tweets to no more than a couple per day.
You’ll find that Twitter can be a fun tool for gathering information, making the best use of conferences, connecting with people, and promoting your cause. Keep in mind that many of the people you meet there will probably visit your website. If you haven’t established a decent website, you may want to consider that as a priority. Search engines also look favorably on a website that is linked to active social media accounts such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
Finally, you may find that you don’t have time for all this tweeting. This is a task that could be assigned to a staff member, but not without supervision and guidance. If you are delegating this task, you will need to establish some clear guidelines of what is and is not an appropriate voice for your practice’s account.
Twitter is not a replacement for any of the marketing and practice building tools that you are already using. Consider it as an adjunct and an opportunity to build stronger relationships with others. Start today by signing up for a free account and begin searching for people to follow.