One of my favorite fairytales growing up was Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” It is a story about a gullible king who is approached by two swindlers posing as tailors. The crooks promise him a magical suit of clothing that is “invisible” to those who are incompetent. Not wanting to look stupid, he and all of his subjects rant and rave about his beautiful new suit as he parades down main street wearing nothing at all. Along the parade route the king is confronted by a small child who states the obvious; "He isn't wearing anything at all!” Sometimes I think we also just follow the crowd when it comes to practice promotion when what we really need is for someone to point out that the emperor is really naked! Today I want to be that someone.
Social media consultants make a living educating us about the “latest and the greatest” social media strategies for our offices. They tell us how to set them up but rarely stick around to see if they actually work. Having made similar presentations around the country myself the past two years, I’m afraid that I have also been guilty of promoting some social media services just because they seem popular. Now, with a couple of years’ experience under my belt, it is time for me to re-evaluate.
One social media site that receives a lot of attention is Twitter. Twitter is a mobile phone centered communication service that asks the question “What are you doing now?” and allows you to answer in 140 characters or less (the maximum size of a cell phone text message). It is like global text messaging. This service is very popular among celebrities, politicians, and the news media. News travels faster over Twitter than anywhere else, including the major news networks. A perfect example of this was in February 2012 when Whitney Houston passed away. News of her death appeared on Twitter 27 minutes before any of the TV networks. Twitter is an excellent way for fans to find out where Justin Bieber ate lunch, what shoes Kim Kardashian is wearing today, and the next campaign stop of your favorite politician.
After an entire year of promoting Twitter in my orthodontic practice, here’s what I’ve learned. First, Twitter is a lot of work. To be effective you have to constantly monitor and participate in the discussion. Checking it once a day or worse just a few times a week doesn’t work. Second, I have learned that Twitter is mainly popular among high school students. It is optimized for cell phones and that’s exactly what this age group has on hand. Staying current requires checking your Twitter feed constantly, and that’s not a problem for teenagers. High school kids love to message each other and Twitter is like texting on steroids.
Acknowledging that Twitter is very popular among its avid users, I’ve discovered that there just aren’t very many of them. While 65% of our orthodontic patients and their parents are on Facebook, only 7% have Twitter accounts, and only 2% actually use them. Additionally, users are mainly interested in keeping up with their friends and celebrities. They do not use Twitter to find an orthodontist!
I’ve tried hard to make Twitter work for our orthodontic office. I’ve had my staff Tweet several times daily about practice events, new blog posts, office hours during bad weather, etc. After my one-year experiment (which in social-media is an eternity), I don’t have a single success story to share! And while I’ve heard all of the pundits say that it helps your main website’s SEO, I haven’t seen any evidence of that either. Hoping to share something positive about Twitter in my lectures, I’ve even contacted other orthodontic social media gurus to find examples of success they’ve had with their clients. Not one consultant had a single success story to report. If none of these “experts” can come up with a good story either, I don’t think my conclusion is too far off base.
Don’t misunderstand; there is nothing wrong with Twitter itself. But in my opinion, Twitter in its current form is not worth the time and effort if you’re objective is to promote your orthodontic practice. So at the risk of being labeled incompetent and stupid, I’m going to say it: “The emperor’s not wearing any clothes. He’s stark naked!”
Dr. Greg Jorgensen is in private orthodontic practice in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. He is currently the chairman of the American Association of Orthodontists’ Committee on Information Technology. He has published numerous articles and lectures nationally on social media. His own blog is aimed at patients and covers topics such as Damon, emergencies, SureSmile, soft tissue lasers, and retainers. Check it out at http://www.gregjorgensen.com/blog/.