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Social media marketing is an essential part of driving growth for a practice, but a lot of dentists struggle to understand the evolving digital landscape and how to implement a solid online strategy. In this Dentist Money™ interview, Seth Dahle of My Social Practice offers his expert advice for boosting patient counts using social media and other digital channels. He explains ways to improve your online reputation, the most common digital mistakes made by dentists, and how the best dentists get the most out of marketing.
Reese: Welcome to The Dentist Money Show, I’m your host, Reese Harper. I am here with a good friend, Mr. Seth Dahle, of My Social Practice. It is a digital marketing agency that I have been trying to get in for an interview for a while now. They specialize in working with dentists all over the country and strangely enough before the show I was surprised to learn they work with dentists all over the world. Seth, how are you doing today, man?
Seth: Thank you, Reese. Thanks for having me here today.
Reese: So this is a global company as of recently, or have you been doing this for awhile? I didn’t know that!
Seth: Yes, thanks to the internet and social media we have clients in New Zealand, Australia, England, South Africa, and other places.
Reese: That is crazy, how awesome. Tell me a little bit about your background and how you got into marketing and how you got into dentistry. Tell me what My Social Practice is all about.
Seth: I’ve actually been in dentistry for over ten years. In 2006, I worked for a dental marketing company for a few years. Then in 2009, I kind of left out on my own. I started My Social Practice with a couple of other partners, so I have had the chance to speak all around the United States. I’ve also been able to attend many of the big shows and meet a lot of people in the industry. I never thought I’d be here with dentists ten years later.
Reese: That’s awesome. Is that something you thought you would grow up to be? Be a professional basketball player or work with dentists as a digital marketing agency?
Seth: You know I never thought that I would be working with dentists at all. My only dental experience before ten years ago was getting my two front teeth knocked out in a basketball game.
Reese: For those of you who don’t know, Seth is a beast of an athlete. He played college basketball and he beats me up on the mountain on his mountain bike a lot. It’s been fun to chase along.
Seth: You’re too kind.
Reese: Is there anything else about your background that you would like to share?
Seth: Ya, my social practice has been working with dental offices for just over six years now. We have two different things we really focus on specifically. On the social media marketing and the other is reputation management. The main goal of what we do is to help dental offices better market their practices through social media which we feel like is just an extension of their internal marketing. I know a lot of dental offices really like to drive new patients into their office through word of mouth and referrals and by providing great service. This is just an extension of what they are already doing in their offices.
Reese: Tell me a little bit about how marketing is heading digital? How would you describe that from a dentist’s perspective? A lot of dentists are spending a lot of money on things that aren’t digital. How do you view the world through that lens? How are things evolving?
Seth: Ya, I would imagine that most of our listeners have in the past participated with some form of marketing, whether it was a yellow page add or a billboard or direct mail. Some people may have dabbled in radio and television ads. What is happening is that there has been a big shift in marketing. Everyone is headed towards digital, everyone may see a direct mail piece come to their mailbox, but one of the first things they will do, if that mail piece is interesting, will be to google that doctor’s name and check out their website. From that point it becomes digital. They will look at your reviews on Google and Yelp. They may check your social media accounts to see what is going on in the practice. No matter how someone finds you, even if your patients, friends, peers, recommend your practice to another friend, they will most likely go online and learn more about you.
Reese: Totally, yes, that is so true. I am not as in tune with dental marketing as you are, but when I look at it I always think that it is all generic and I don’t know how they differentiate. I look at one dental website and I think, “there are a few generic pictures of some stock photography.” I don’t even see the doctor for three pages. He is back in the back under the contact us tab. Is that effective? It just seems to me like it is all of this generic stuff.
Seth: Speaking specifically about websites think about a website as like an online brochure. The question is, “how do you market an online brochure?” Ten, fifteen, twenty years ago you handed out your brochure to all of your friends and you hoped that they passed it on to their friends. Now it is sitting out on google and you hope someone finds it. The way someone markets the online brochure is a pay per click add or SEO. Social media marketing allows someone to show the practice culture. You can show who you are.
Reese: Show that it is real, right?
Seth: Yes, you get passed the suit and the tie and the perfect picture and you move to see what is going on in a day to day basis and see who the people really are.
Reese: To me, if I am trying to make a decision as a new patient where I am going to go, I just want to see more than just some stock photography and generic, stale images. Social media seems to be a great way to accomplish that, right?
Seth: Yes, it comes directly back to participation. You guys are in a relationship business. You are not in the teeth business. The reason people refer you is because they like you. Assuming that you do good work. People get caught up in the work when it is the relationships that actually drive new patients into the practice.
Reese: You guys work a lot on the social media side and on reputation management. How does reputation management get either negatively or positively affected today. Why should someone be concerned about that?
Seth: Good question. When we speak about reputation management, specifically, we are talking about online reviews. There are hundreds and thousands of places where someone can leave a review online. You can do it solicited or unsolicited. Anyone can go to Facebook, yelp, google, yahoo and leave a review about the experience they had at your office. For reviews, specifically speaking about google, it is the biggest search engine. In fact, there is a local, online expert, called Ma’s Local. She talks about the value of reviews. It is actually an important part of you ranking locally so more people can find the practice online when they are looking for a dental related service in the area. There are a lot of studies coming out that just basically say that people care what other people say. They will actually believe someone they don’t’ even know more than they will believe your own website. If the review is older than 3 months, than 75% of the population will discount it. Finally, if your patients refer you or let’s say you take some insurance in your office and people are looking up your name and they see you along with three or four other competitors in the area. The first thing people do is pull out their phone, or go to their computer, and they google your name. They will see what other people have to say about you. If you don’t have a strong online reputation then you could be losing patients.
Reese: In the past, I don’t know that there was that much of a decision making process that involved google search. Referrals were happening more than they might happen today. It seemed like thirty years ago you probably did build a practice through ground roots reputation and people talking to their friends about you, which still happens. But a lot of people today discount that process a little bit and honestly go to see what your reputation is online. That could be a huge gap in the visibility people have about you if that is not transparent, I guess.
Seth: I think what is happening is it is just growing or it is different. Word of mouth marketing is still around. That is how most practices want to build their patient base is through referrals.
It is just happening a different way. It is not happening at a sporting, civic , or church event. It is happening online on Facebook, Instagram, by people reading reviews from what your other happy patients have to say.
Reese: Let’s go down a different route real quick. What are some of the biggest mistakes that dentists make in their marketing in general? In their digital marketing?
Seth: I think the first one which we have been briefly talking about is that dentists are completely unaware of their online reputation. They don’t know it is out there or they don’t care about it, or they don’t put any effort into it.
Reese: They discount the value that it might have.
Seth: Correct. For example, the google plus page that is linked to your google local listing or business page. They have been around for about eight years now, but every single day I will see dentists who only have three or four, or two reviews. That is less than one a year. If you really want to establish yourself online, but also establish yourself as someone that people want to come to your office, that is a great place to start.
Reese: What is a number where I have got a meaningful number of reviews? How many reviews make it meaningful to an average consumer?
Seth: I would say that it is different in each area. Some areas like Chicago, Seattle, New York, where it is a little bit more mainstream, I would say in the hundreds would be important. Really what I would do is just do a search with city and dentist or city and cosmetic dentist and see what your competitors are doing. That gives you a baseline. If there is someone that has 150 reviews and you only have five or six, than the baseline should be up to over a hundred reviews. In some areas it might only be ten, fifteen, thirty reviews. All of the reviews are beneficial to you. You don’t have to get a review from everybody. You guys already know who your favorite patients are that love you, so start there.
Reese: That is great advice, what is another mistake you see that people make besides being unaware of their online reputation.
Seth: I think the second biggest mistake that I see is that dental offices just want to buy marketing, they don’t want to participate in marketing. They are willing to write a check, but when it comes to participation, not so much. The offices that really get it, and kill it, and get lots of new patients and are growing and thriving are part of the marketing efforts. The ones that seem to always be struggling just want to pay money for someone to do it and don’t want to actually have to participate at all. Marketing is a big deal. It is from the front end all the way to that first visit. There are fifteen or twenty different touch points that you guys need to be aware of.
Reese: We have that problem in our business as well. People just want to pay us to fix all the problems but they don’t want to participate. Often we get the question, “do I have to respond to emails, or do I have to talk to anyone, or can you guys just make me wealthy and figure it out?” I think it comes from dentists being so busy, they are being pulled in so many different directions. It can be hard to dedicate time to anything and engage with their team in doing anything. They feel like they are just running around and spread thin all of the time, but a lot of things in business management require dedicating time and leadership and team building. You don’t just get to write a check for the best outcomes. The best outcomes require participation.
Seth: Oh yes, I totally agree with that. This is the participate and get it. They grow a lot quicker.
Reese: You can’t just write a check, that is number two.
Seth: You can’t write a check and hope it works.
Reese: How do you think people do it measuring the results of the checks they do write and the participation they do get involved in? How do you think people are at tracking and measuring results? How is that?
Seth: I think with any type of marketing, regardless of what you guys have done in the past, it could even have been a phone book add you run ten years ago, it is important to track results. Just because it doesn’t work for you, doesn’t mean it doesn’t work for somebody else. There are some areas today, in 2016, people are still running phone book ads and still getting a result on it. Where as some people try lots of different types of marketing that have or haven’t worked. That could be radio, direct mail, tv adds, the important thing is to track. I lot of people will ask what is my ROI, or how much money will I make back? They just ask that because they have been trained to ask that, but they don’t have a baseline meaning, “What is the lifetime value of a patient?” “What dos it cost to acquire a patient?” Other questions that come into play that they have to have the data and information on before you can actually start measuring other things.
Reese: Do you think that’s important? From my perspective, I look at knowing the cost of customer acquisition, and think some of those factors are so important! But I feel like they are pretty foreign concepts to a lot of business owners. Not just dentists, but dentists in particular don’t seem to have a good handle on what their budget should be for marketing and then the cost of obtaining a new patient is. They are not dedicating resources to that in a proactive way.
Seth: I totally agree. It is another one of those things that takes time, effort, and energy. It can easily be pushed to the background. Probably the easiest way that I hear dentists think about this is, “is my practice growing? Is my practice leveling out? Is there a decline?”. One thing to look at is attrition. If they are growing it means that your new patients are coming in faster than you are losing attrition or people walking out the back door. If it is the same and you are bringing in twenty new patients a month than your losing twenty patients a month on the back end. If you are declining than you realize that from a ten thousand foot view this is how people identify their business. It does take some time, energy and effort to actually dig down and get those numbers. How does that vary from a specialty to specialty. We have a lot of orthodontists, endos, OS, GP, pedo, how would you look at maybe different specialties in terms of the numbers that they should be tracking? If I look at a general dentist I want to think of my total number of active patients, and you have got to define that by a range of time. What is an active patient from your perspective?
Seth: This probably goes more towards a consultant, but I have heard anywhere between nine months to eighteen months is what you consider an active month.
Reese: I have heard eighteen is on the high side. So you measure your number of active patients, that is someone who has come in for at least the last year or maybe up to eighteen months. If you want to be generous to yourself. They should be coming in every six!
Seth: If you want to pad the numbers.
Reese: If you kept track of that every year, just wrote that number down every year, and then you looked at the number of new patients you had and compared that to the number of total active patients that you had, you could start to do some math right? Would that be a lot different between specialties? Would OS and Perio just do procedures? How would you recommend that?
Seth: Again, I would defer this to a practice consultant. I know that Perio, for example, they do the procedure and then pass that patient back.
Reese: So you might just look at the procedure count, right? Probably the same thing with Endo and measure it similar to a new patient. Would Ortho be the same way? Patients in treatment? People that are currently in braces right now? Looking at that and the new ones?
Seth: I think this also ties directly into, who are the practices marketing to? Are they marketing to the general public or to other dental offices for referrals?
Reese: How many people do you think track those numbers? Out of ten that you meet how many would actually be tracking those numbers?
Seth: I think one to two do it really, really well. Then maybe a couple of others try, but do it ineffectively. I would say half of them just don’t do it at all. They don’t even try to capture the data. They don’t know it offhand, they don’t track it, or they just say, “well, I know someone knows how to find it in my software.” Other than that, they do not have an up to date idea.
Reese: How many dentists do you think could find it in their own actual software. Again, how many out of ten are familiar enough with their own software to go find those numbers?
Seth: I would have to bet one. One out of ten.
Reese: It seems like a big thing to not know! For something that is so important for the longevity of your personal wealth and net worth and your retirement. Everything is based on the direction of your collections and the count of your active and new patients. Those are your main metrics of health, right? A lot of people are not very familiar with those numbers.
Seth: Ya, the practices that we see that are thriving and growing and really doing a great job know their numbers. Their are people that can do it without knowing the numbers, I don’t know if you could say they are lucky or they just live in a great area. But if you really want to grow, it is something you should know.
Reese: What are some tips you could give regardless of who they work with or who they are hiring. What is some advice you could leave people or tips they could take away and implement.
Seth: I think number one is that marketing is not an exact science. You may try things that just don’t get results, but you can learn from them and do something else. A lot of people feel like because one form of marketing wasn’t successful that no marketing is successful. They don’t realize all of the different variables that came into play to make it successful. It could have been an effective marketing campaign, but the people that picked up the phone could have been ineffective and it could have ruined the campaign or visa versa. You could have had great people trained and ready to go, but it just didn’t work. I think it is really important to identify the money spent and try to create some type of results and learn from it. Don’t make the same mistakes twice. Don’t just do it because you have always been doing it.
Reese: I get that all the time where people say, “I tried that and it didn’t work.” I get the sense that they tried it for 60-90 days.
Seth: I think that’s a great point, a lot of forms of marketing take awhile to accomplish the goal. I heard a statistic one time that said the average patient needs to come into the office somewhere between six to ten times before they are willing to refer a friend or family member because they need to create that trust. If it is six to ten times and they are coming twice a year that is 3-5 years. You have to create a great experience for them to refer you to the practice, that is an example. On the flip side, if you are trying to do a direct mail campaign and you run it for three months and then pull the plug or you do a social media campaign where you post every day and then stop at 60 days, it won’t work. You need longevity and people have to know you are going to be there in order to participate.
Reese: Any other thoughts or tips that you would say besides this one of persistence, making sure you implement a strategy, review it, see what works, make adjustments, don’t give up on marketing. What is another concept you would like to leave?
Seth: I think I touched on this earlier, but maybe just to bring it back, is to participate. The dentists are in a relationship business and people refer you because they like you.So you have to participate, don’t write the check and forget about it. Get involved, there is a lot you can be doing, especially in your office. Dental offices have a unique business where they have a patient come into their office hopefully twice a year or more depending on the specialty. You have a captive audience. They aren’t going anywhere. They are sitting in your chair for at least an hour. There are a lot of different things you can be doing with that patient while they are there to help you market your practice, but too many people let the patient come and leave without even thinking about it.
Reese: That is great insight, this has been a good interview with a lot of great takeaways. I think some of these are things that I see happening consistently with our clients. These are things we like to see improve. We really appreciate you coming and dedicating some time to this, I know you are really busy, we appreciate you making the effort.
Seth: Thank you, we will see you on the trails!
Reese: Yup, we will do it, man!Practice Management