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The first step to building a profitable practice starts with getting new patients in the door. But the key to long-term growth comes directly from your existing, loyal patients – the ones who show up consistently and refer you to their friends and family.

These are the patients who make their appointments without needing to be prompted by a marketing campaign or rigorous follow-up, which means the “cost” of each visit is dramatically lower. Often, these people become your own personal marketing gurus, spreading your gospel in their local communities, school districts, PTA meetings, little league teams, and churches. So how do you hang on to these patients, and nurture new ones like them?

“Engagement” is Critical to Success
Nowadays, people love to throw around the word engagement, without ever explaining why it’s important. Engagement is essential because it forms trust and recognition. It’s the missing link between a casual stranger or first-time visitor, and the people who come back year after year.

Social media gurus might be good at updating a Facebook page, but you need to be more strategic if you’re going to systematically and reliably infuse patient engagement into your online presence. The problem is that engagement is challenging to see or measure. It’s intangible. And it’s easy to ignore. Yet without it, it’s difficult (or impossible) to develop the trust that gives people confidence to make a second appointment or refer you to their friends. So here are three ways to increase engagement and improve loyalty.

1. Social Media Marketing
You’ve likely heard the basics of social media marketing. So instead, we’re going to focus on a small subset of this that can provide fast results for little investment of time or money: promotions. Social media promotions are effective because they introduce something new and unexpected, provide valuable incentives to increase interaction, and can even use “viral hooks” to lure new people in.

The best promotions to increase engagement prioritize interactivity in the form of a photo, video, caption, or essay/idea contests (note that something like a sweepstakes – only entering a name and email for a chance to win – can increase reach, but typically not engagement). Your practice can quickly plan, set up, and execute a social promotion by following these easy steps:

  1. Sign up for simple, inexpensive software like Pagemodo and start brainstorming a Holiday promotion.
  2. Think of ways photos and videos, text, and essay/idea contests can best reflect you and your practice.
  3. Start drawing a crowd by finding partners (like other wellness organizations or business owners) who can cross-promote and even contribute their own ideas and input.

Following these steps can also help you kick-start your social media presence. Because if there’s one area where social media struggles, it’s with scale. Fortunately, that’s where email marketing comes in…

2. Lifecycle Email Marketing
Email marketing is old and tired. People are bombarded every single day. As a result, they’re hitting the “spam” button more than ever before. Nevertheless, it’s still the most effective marketing channel for repeat visitors (outperforming social media by a huge margin). Therefore, our objective with email marketing is to make it more effective by sending the right email to the right person with the right message at the right time.

That’s where lifecycle emails come in; these are messages that try to speak to what your patients may be experiencing right now (if it’s cold/flu season, for example, address that). The market research firm Gartner found that using “event-triggered” techniques like these resulted in a 600% lift over traditional outbound marketing programs.

The best part about lifecycle email campaigns is that they scale. You can set them up automatically with specific rules for whom to message, and then just step back to let them run. You don’t need to constantly monitor and make significant changes day-to-day (although you should always tweak and make minor improvements based on the results you’re getting).

For instance, you can set up a series of ten emails to go out over the first 60 days after somebody has their first visit to your office. The content of each email can be simple and educational. You’re providing useful information, but more importantly, you’re forging a bond and a relationship. Because of this, be sure to keep the emails personalized, informal, and non-demanding (down the line, once you’ve built up  familiarity and trust, it’s absolutely kosher to ask for things like reviews on Yelp, referrals, and more). You can run simple automated campaigns like this with most major email marketing software providers like MailChimp or Constant Contact. If you want to get more advanced, then Ontraport and Infusionsoft are two great providers.

3. Persuasive Content
Last but not least, try re-evaluating all of your patient-facing content in this new light. In my experience as both a patient and a consultant, I’ve found find that too much practice content (like website copy, brochure, emails, and social media updates) is as sterile as an operating room. To really forge a bond with people, you can’t just educate them into submission. You also need to entertain them and connect with them emotionally.

This in mind, the solution to successful content comes down to a few key elements:

  • Topic: Think about the broad questions and concerns your patients have spoken about during their visits; you can use your platform to address the most popular.
  • Theme (USP): An informative topic isn’t enough, though. Make sure to infuse it with your unique angle.
  • Style: By this I mean not just classic copywriting principles like the words you pick (and the ones you don’t), but also your tone or voice of telling a story.
  • Format: Decide if you going to write a dense, academic essay or a simple, conversational post. Or are you going to try video and other multimedia?

While it’s good to have role models, what’s true for one physician in one area at one point in time might not necessarily hold up for you. So always remember that the surest way to develop, nurture and grow customer loyalty is to intimately understand your patients and why they come back to you, specifically (and don’t go anywhere else). The best marketing strategies, social media updates, email newsletters, or content is simply dictated by patient preferences and needs. All you have to do is listen, react, and respond.

Brad Smith is a digital marketing consultant and the editor of The Doctor’s Journal, an online publication that chronicles how healthcare is changing and evolving. His advice has been featured in well known online media properties like the New York Times, Business Insider, and more. This is one of a series of posts on The Doctor Blog about marketing for physicians.

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    I have a blog based on the same information you discuss and
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