For the practitioner living in this digital age, in which many newspapers and magazines are bidding farewell to their print-based editions, developing an online strategy takes on newfound significance.
The Web is the number one resource consumers use to collect health-related information. They visit and bookmark popular health and beauty sites to discover the newest treatments, and regularly monitor these sites to see what procedures are popular, what really works, and who else is having them done.
Most of your patients are learning about your practice and credentials and services you offer online, as well as those of your competitors.
A very powerful online tool, the blog is a shared online journal in which you can post short entries about your topics of choice. A blog is, in effect, a Web diary or “micro Web site” (or microsite) that provides updated headlines and news articles—often including links and material from other sites—that are of interest to the user.
Blogs may also include journal entries, commentaries, and recommendations compiled by users. Most blog readers can easily leave comments in response to your blogged opinion.
Blogging is, therefore, not about controlling the dialogue. It is an organic evolution of a conversation. Many physicians incorporate a blog as a special subsection in their practice’s Web site, whereas others create a separate domain name for their blog (eg, drsmithsblog.com).
Blogs are essentially real-time “cyber focus groups.” Honesty and openness are essential to the successful execution of a blog as a marketing tool. At the core of every successful blog is great content. How you define “great” content will vary somewhat, but it should be content that is unique and relevant to the reader. The content may include text, links, photos, and/or video. The most interesting blogs contain a sampling of all of these modalities to generate the widest response and readership.
To start a blog, WordPress (www.wordpress.com) and Blogger (www.blogger.com) are two free sites that host millions of bloggers. WordPress offers custom page designs and templates, integrated statistics, automatic spam protection, backups, and content or design add-ons (or plug-ins). Because it is such a popular platform, it is easy to find WordPress experts to help you build out your blog and fine-tune the programming and features. Literally hundreds of applications, tools, plug-ins, and widgets can be downloaded to assist you with every conceivable programming issue you may encounter.
THE ART OF CREATING A VLOG
Video blogging, or “vlogging,” can be a daunting project for the novice. This is a relatively new concept that is quickly gaining traction, especially among search engines such as Google. Unlike text-based blogs, video blogging requires some equipment purchases and software tools. Though professional video bloggers may use sophisticated cameras and microphones, you can get started just by using the video recorder function on your digital camera or phone, or in conjunction with your Skype telephone service.
It is a good idea to write a script for your initial video blogs in order to guide you through the recording, although you can improvise along the way to avoid appearing as though you are reading on camera.
It is important to remember to prepare your video recording area so that the lighting and background are optimized. You can use a backdrop for your vlog or a bare wall if you prefer, although sitting at your desk will often be more natural and comfortable for you.
Dress for your target audience in clean scrubs, a white coat, or suit jacket as appropriate—potential patients might not want to see a physician in overly casual clothing. If you are a first-time vlogger, you may need to ask your staff or a video-savvy friend for guidance. Record several takes to make sure you get the best possible sound bites and video quality.
Though this process may take a little getting used to, it is a skill worth mastering. You may choose to run your recording material through a movie editing program, which can greatly improve the professionalism of your vlog, or have an experienced video professional help you with editing. Titles, credits, background music, and simple special effects can be added with video creating/editing software, such as the Windows-based Movie Maker or Mac-based iMovie, if desired.
It is not necessary to choose a vlog over a standard text-based blog format. You may elect to alternate between text- and video-based entries to keep your blog more varied and add another dimension of surprise for your readers. Video blogs can also live on YouTube, which is by far the largest video community online.
PROMOTING YOUR BLOG
What happens when you post an entry to your blog? In most cases, it just sits there. A few people may read or view it. Some may even post comments or send it to a friend using Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or via text message. Most blog posts will not gain much momentum unless you have someone driving the marketing of your blog. Rather than viewing publishing a post as the end point, it is just the beginning. The initial work has only just begun, and what you do in the minutes and hours after your blog post goes live can exponentially increase its reach and effectiveness.
Promoting and marketing blogs should be integrated into your overall online marketing strategy to drive traffic and build awareness of your brand. Once you publish your blog, don’t leave it to chance that your targeted audience will read it.
One of the most effective ways to get the word out and leverage every new post is to reach out to other bloggers about it. Having another blog or blogger recommend your post(s) to their followers is a very powerful method of getting the word out. However, getting other bloggers to link to your posts takes time and will not occur overnight. If you don’t have an established profile or a preexisting relationship with the bloggers who you are pitching, they may not pay much attention to you.
For example, refrain from pitching posts to other bloggers unless they have direct relevance to their blog and readers. Only pitch your best, most interesting, and unique posts, so that you will have a much higher success rate at getting a link. Avoid suggesting links to purely self-promotional posts, which will most likely be declined. Tell the target blogger what your post is about and why it might be relevant to their own blog. Keep your pitch brief and direct; if the blogger wants the details of your post, then they can click through to the link provided.
Always personalize your request with the name of the blogger and the blog to show that you have a specific interest and are not casting a wide net for any blog in the “blogosphere.” Ultimately, it will be up to the blogger to decide if your post is relevant for them.
You can also promote yourself from within your blog, so you need not rely only on external partnerships. An increasingly large source of traffic for blog posts is social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. You can use a mixture of automated and personalized tools to drive this traffic from your blog to social networks.
WHICH WIDGET IS WHICH?
There are a plethora of social widgets that can be embedded in your blog pages and used to add functionality to your blog (see www.mashable.com). Widgets, according to widgetbox.com, are “simple, fun, and useful applications that can be embedded on a Web page, blog, or social media page.” Some widgets serve a key business or marketing function and are invaluable.
The simplest widgets allow you and your readers to post your blog content directly to Facebook or Twitter (via broadcasted “tweets”)—or they do so automatically on your behalf. Even if you opt for an automated tool as a time-saving measure, widgets work best if you also diversify by adding your own personal links to external content or by asking your readers questions to foster interactivity.
The more entertaining and variable your tweets are, the more effective they will be and the more likely they will be accepted and clicked on by your followers (and re-tweeted). A series of preformatted auto-tweets and Facebook posts lack personality and make your blog seem as though it is on autopilot. The goal is to foster community by engaging in a dialogue. Your blog should be seen as a dynamic entity, with a unique personality of its own.
You can also use social messaging to promote posts that have received numerous comments and seem to be creating buzz. A good rule of thumb is to wait about 24 hours after your post goes live to send out a follow-up tweet if there is a particularly hot conversation surrounding your blog post. In fact, this can drive even more traffic than the first automated tweet, as it alerts your followers to a budding conversation rather than to the content alone.
Linking back to your own blog is another method to keep readers engaged and encourage them to explore more of your content. If you search by word or category, you can find a few posts in your archives that you can link back to a current post. Find places where you may have discussed similar topics before and add your link as “related reading.” Internal links also improve your search engine results on sites such as Google and Yahoo!.
Wendy Lewis is president of Wendy Lewis & Co Ltd global aesthetics consultancy, author of 10 books, and a regular contributor to PSP. You can reach her at on Twitter at COSMETICMED.