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Should I Use Social Media for my Physical Therapy Business? If So, Why and How? [Article]

Social media. Some people love it, some people hate it and the rest of us tolerate it, mostly begrudgingly. However, as a small business owner you’d be a little bit mad to ‘diss’ it. Yes, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever hit on something that will go ‘viral’, despite your best efforts and yes, you can get yourself in hot water if you’re very outspoken. Perhaps more importantly, you can waste a huge amount of time on social media, and never get any kind of return on that investment. But in reality, that will only happen if you post without having a solid strategy. In this article, I’ll outline the strengths of having active social network pages but more importantly review what you can achieve for your business by having a good social presence. I will look at the key objectives for healthcare-based businesses and explain what you should be prioritising and why. Lastly I’ll answer some frequently asked questions like which platforms should you be using, how many times a day should you be posting and whether or not you should you be spending time on more than one platform. We also cover some social media trends for 2020. Hold onto your horses….!

Content covered in this article includes:

By Tor Davies, Co-Kinetic founder

Social media has become a vast and wide open canvas, and taking full advantage of it requires careful strategic planning. A good social media strategy, not just should, but WILL, have a positive and demonstrable influence on sales.

Let’s jump right in and look at some of the strengths of a social network and also what you can achieve with a social media presence.

What Are The Strengths of Social Networks?

  • They’re great for building relationships - specifically designed for human interaction, engagement and sharing
  • Great networking potential
  • You can do it all from the comfort of your living room
  • You have access to a huge, highly targetable group of people
  • Reviews and testimonials, which feature highly, at least on Facebook, are very influential sales converters
  • Social networks are widely used - 67% of the UK population are on Facebook, 72% of Australians, 60% of New Zealanders, 77% of Canadians and 69% of Americans
  • All the major social networks are free (until you utilise paid ads)
  • People are on social networks, primarily to socialise, so they encourage a more personal, value-add approach, than a sales approach which suits healthcare practitioners.

What Can You Do with a Social Media Presence?

I’ve divided this section into subjective and objective goals. If you know me, you know which my favourite will be, but I’ve covered both because I’m trying to give you a ‘global’ view of how social media can help build and support a business.

Subjective Goals (Relationship-Building and Influencing)

  1. Interact with your customers/develop and build relationships – ask for opinions, reply to concerns – do a free Q+A once a week – could use one post and always link back to it and pin it to the top of the page on that Q+A day – builds engagement and reduces the risk of people asking the same questions
  2. Humanise you and your business - good in healthcare because health is intimidating to many – having a good social media profile can break down barriers of the unknown and make you less intimidating
  3. Establish and build trust and reputation – our health makes us feel vulnerable, we have to expose pain which can be very personal, trust is a key element in the decision process to become a paying customer
  4. Networking and participation in local groups helps to raise awareness of you and if the group is a local group, you know your audience is targeted
  5. Establish your brand as a thought-leader by publishing content particularly when new research emerges or something topical happens in your industry
  6. Encourage reviews and testimonials which are a key feature of particularly Facebook, and are one of the most powerful influencing factors for sales conversions
  7. Partner with external influencers or other complementary local businesses to promote each other – word of mouth as a marketing strategy can generate 20% of all sales
  8. Social media is a great way of staying top-of-mind
  9. Your competitors are most likely to also be on social media which means if you’re not, you’re potentially losing customers. On the plus side, it also gives you a way of keeping an eye on your competitors
  10. Social media is a great way for customers to research YOU
  11. Search engines may already be using “social presence” as a factor in their rankings, something which is likely to grow with time.

Objective Goals (Nice and Quantifiable)

  1. Generate email leads using email lead collection forms or information requests in return for free downloads
  2. Reviews, testimonials and social proofing
  3. Utilise paid advertising to target new customers or retarget previous visitors to your site or social media profile
  4. Increase traffic to your website – important if you publish a blog, good if you combine with email lead collection
  5. Carry out research – use polls and ask questions
  6. Reporting and analytics – proving direct ROI

Objective Goals and Preferably SMART Goals

The most important thing when it comes to social media, is to start with what you want to achieve from your efforts and at least some of these goals need to be specific and measurable, so that you can be confident you are getting a return on your investment.

As small businesses, most of us don’t have the luxury of assigning budget that doesn’t result in something quantifiable. Bigger companies have more financial ‘space’ to do it, for most of us, we don’t. Return on investment is super-important and the same goes for social media.

It may not therefore surprise you, that as I’m quite a results-orientated person, I’m going to start by prioritising quantifiable objectives, and particularly the first three in the list below.

Goal 1: Using Your Social Networks to Build an Email List

For me, Facebook is one of my main ways of building my email list. I do this in the same way that I recommend you do it. That is by giving away content and knowledge, in exchange for an email address and an opportunity to build trust and continue to add value. At the same time in a very low key way, I take opportunities to raise awareness of what I can offer, to help you do the parts of your job that you don’t necessarily enjoy, more quickly and hopefully also more effectively.

The trouble is that as we know, Facebook in particular, has dramatically reduced the number of organic (unpaid for) page posts that are shown on personal profiles. And when I say dramatically, I mean it. Nobody actually knows the real number, but it’s believed that less than 1% of your Facebook followers will even see a Page post that you post.

That means if you have 300 followers, only 3 people are likely to see a post you publish on your page. Just 3 people. And of course the 3 who do, will be the ones who engage most frequently with your content. Which means it will always be the same handful of people that see all your posts…not that helpful when you’re trying to spread the word about your business further afield, at least without paying to do it.

But to be fair, why shouldn’t we have to pay for it? Just because social networks have always been free, why do we expect them to help us grow our businesses for nothing?

We accept that we have to pay to promote our business in a local newspaper or magazine, or an online directory, but we begrudge having to pay a social media network like Facebook, despite the fact that we can target in such a specific way, that no local publication could get near in terms of specificity.

Never in the world have we had the power, literally at our fingertips, to be able to target for example, men with a serious, club-level interest in cycling, between the ages of 35-50, who live within 5 miles of our clinic. But we can through Facebook, and damn that’s worth paying for if you ask me!

I’d rather spend £500 collecting email leads of, or promoting a professional bike fit service, to 200 people who live within 5 miles of my clinic who I know have a serious interest in cycling, rather than to 20,000 readers of Cycling Weekly who live all over the country, potentially all over the world, who may or may not even see, let along open that particular copy of the magazine I’ve placed my ad in. Not only that but my ad has got to be spotted through the noise of everything else going on in that magazine which is way too much of a gamble in my view (and I’m a publisher of a magazine!).

And if you take one step away from selling an actual product or service in that ad, and concentrate on building your email list by offering targeted content to the audience you’re interested in, by offering high-value content in exchange for an email address, then you suddenly own that contact. They become part of your email list, which if you follow my recommendation to nurture those leads, by continuing to add value, instead of spamming them with sales offers, that lead becomes infinitely more valuable, and you’re in charge, not Facebook. Suddenly, that £500 has become a real and genuine investment.

Goal 2: Social Media and Social Proofing or Word of Mouth Marketing (WOMM)

Another key part of my strategy is to build social proof through my social networks, in the form of reviews and testimonials about the things I do (be it my webinar) or the subscription services I provide, in the words of the people who are actually using my content.

I can tell you that my products are amazing until the cows come home, but in this day and age, where there is so much spin applied to so many aspects of our lives, it’s hardly surprising that most of us wander around feeling perpetually dizzy and confused. The words of my subscribers and webinar attendees are many times more powerful, persuasive and believable for prospective customers, than anything I could ever say, and quite rightly so.

The same is true for your patients.

This is why I place such an emphasis on it in my webinar (details at the end of the article), and why it ranks so highly in my 20% of activities that will give you 80% of your marketing results.

‘Word of mouth’ referrals are probably the oldest and most influential form of ‘marketing’ in the world, (can anyone think of anything that’s been around longer?), and with the addition and value placed on social proofing on social networks, it’s influence looks set to continue growing.

Some Statistics (1)

  • 83% of consumers say they either completely or somewhat trust recommendations from family, colleagues, and friends about products and services – making these recommendations the highest ranked source for trustworthiness [Nielsen]
  • 90% of people trust suggestions from family and friends [HubSpot]
  • 70% of people trust consumer reviews online [HubSpot]
  • 74% of consumers identify word-of-mouth as a key influencer in their purchasing decision [Ogilvy Cannes]
  • 68% of people trust online opinions from other consumers, which places online opinions as the third most trusted source of product information [Nielsen]
  • 88% of people trust online reviews written by other consumers as much as they trust recommendations from personal contacts [BrightLocal]
  • 70% of consumers reported always or sometimes taking action based on online consumer opinions [Nielsen]
  • However…only 33% of businesses are actively seeking out and collecting reviews

How many reviews do you need in order for social proofing to count? In 2014, 4-6 reviews were deemed sufficient to get 56% of people to trust your business [BrightLocal]. In 2017, the stats were suggesting that viewers would read at least 7 reviews before making a decision [RealTimeReviews.com]. In 2019, TrustPilot are saying you can never have enough reviews.

I certainly believe the more the merrier, as long as the reviews are real, genuine and authentic, and they don’t all have to be good, as long as you deal with the negative ones in a positive way.

There are a couple of other factors about reviews that are important in addition to the stats above.

  1. They represent user-generated content and user-generated content is being increasingly prioritised, particularly in search engine rankings, so it’s very feasible that your reviews will positively impact your SEO, perhaps increasingly so as time goes by.
  2. Social proofing is a great way to quickly build credibility with new customers and strengthen your credibility with existing customers.
  3. Online reviews boost conversions all the way through the marketing funnel, or customer journey as I prefer to refer to it, all the way from, in my case, encouraging people to sign up to my webinar and trusting my information, through to purchasing my subscriptions.

Goal 3: Use of ‘Paid Social’ or Paid Ads

As I’ve already described, utilising ‘paid social’ like Facebook ads, can be extremely powerful when you have a proper strategy and a quantifiable goal that can generate actual revenue ie. building your email list which you then nurture and convert using conversion events (see my webinar for more details).

You can obviously also use paid ads to promote events which lead to direct sales, I just happen to be a fan of a more subtle, less-salesy, more value-add approach. It might be a slightly longer game plan, but ultimately it will reap better rewards. Or you can use a combination of both. But if you’re going to spend money, please make sure that you have a way of generating a return on investment ie. a full customer journey in place which leads to paid bookings.

You can also use retargeting very effectively. For example you could promote an event such as a mini-bike fit, to people who have visited a blog post on your website on cycling injuries. Because you’re targeting someone you know has a specific interest in the promotion you’re running, your ‘conversion’ rates ie. getting that person to take the action you want, is likely to be much higher, than targeted colder people.

Other Quantifiable Goals

Increase Traffic to Your Website

Publish a blog post on your website (ideally with an inbuilt email lead collecting component – see my webinar for more details) and use social media to promote this blog post.

This is great for establishing trust and building reputation and authority and obviously you can use tools like Google Analytics to see the number of people this pushes to your site. I have a couple of caveats. Yes, blog content is good for SEO but it’s hard to quantify and it takes time to have an effect. If you add in an email lead collection component, in other words offer your reader even more value content in exchange for their email address, then that blog post becomes even more useful.

Supplement promoting those social media posts which lead to your blog post, with paid advertising so that it reaches a much wider (but targeted) audience, and things get much more interesting. But you can’t just publish content to your blog, and expect it to work wonders without investing in promoting it.

Polls and Surveys

These are great for building engagement as well as getting a better feeling for what your audience is looking for or interested in. Why not say something like, you’re thinking of producing some injury leaflets on the following topics, offer a list of topics, and ask them to vote. Or you could ask people if they’ve ever had trouble sleeping as a result of back pain – yes/no. Then post a link to a leaflet with advice on getting better sleep if you suffer from back pain.

It’s a good idea to build the engagement first, before you go and provide the leaflet, because you’ll get more traction on the post. Again you could supplement this by using paid ads to push the post out more widely.

Reports and Analytics

The beauty of most social networks is that they provide this for you, for free. You can gather all sorts of data, and it’s all collected and analysed for you without you having to get involved with spreadsheets.

Subjective Goals

I think the first section went into this in sufficient detail but the ways I feel social media can benefit healthcare practitioners most of all under this category are:

  • To build and reinforce trust, authority, reputation, credibility and confidence in YOU - by publishing content on your social network that is authoritative, reflects knowledge, professionalism and helps to increase awareness of, and reinforce the role you can play in various elements of health
  • To build trust and break down barriers by showing the human face to your business
  • As we’ve mentioned above, drive positive reviews and patient sentiment
  • Build relationships in the local community by participating in local online groups, particularly ones consisting of people who match your target customer
  • Demonstrate thought-leadership by publishing relevant, timely content
  • Staying top-of-mind so when someone reaches their clinical tipping point, you’re first to pop into their head

Some Frequently Asked Questions

Next let’s quickly look at some practical elements of your social media strategy. These are the questions I get asked most frequently...

Which Social Networks Should You Prioritise?

My answer to this question will always be, go where your customers are. Research the demographic breakdown of the social network you’re looking at, and if a large number of your customers are on there – all is well and good.

Instagram is growing at a rate of knots. It’s just caught up with LinkedIn and there’s no doubt it’s only going to get more popular. But as of Oct 2019, its biggest user demographic worldwide, by a long shot is people between the ages of 18-34. If this is the age group of your customer base, Instagram is your social network (2). That same age group make up 58% of all Instagram users in the UK specifically (3). If that’s not your age group, by all means keep an eye out on the numbers as they move fast, but you’d be better off prioritising another social network which has a higher proportion of your customer base.

Incidentally, 57.4% of Facebook’s users in the UK specifically, are age 35 or over and that demographic also applies worldwide (4). Sure, this time next year, maybe even in 6 months, those numbers may be different, but for now, that's the real picture.

That said, as Facebook has so dramatically reduced the number of posts that it shows on personal profiles, this could be an argument for trying Instagram. Even if your target demographic is smaller in numbers, you may still manage to get your content in front of more people. The trouble is….who owns Instagram? Yup, you’ve got it, Facebook! So I suspect it won’t be long before Facebook start to squeeze organic posts on Instagram, and drive us just as they have with Facebook, towards paid ads.

Should You Be Posting to Multiple Social Networks?

Better to do one well, than spread yourself too thin and do more than one badly. First and foremost, get a good, solid strategy in place. Set some SMART goals. Achieve those goals. If that’s working, then by all means invest a bit more time, testing another platform (while continuing with the other platform) to see if you can achieve better goals, but make sure you’re comparing like with like.

Most people I work with don’t have a strategy full stop. And pretty much nobody has goals, let along SMART goals, but they’re still stressing about posting to Facebook and Instagram and maybe even Twitter. But without a strategy they’re just wasting 3 x as much time, instead of 1 x as much time.

As far as I’m concerned you’re asking the wrong question. The questions instead should be have I got a strategy with SMART goals and a clear way to demonstrate my return on investment on one social network? Am I following the strategy consistently? Am I achieving the goals I’ve set, if not why not, do I need to re-evaluation/recommit? And finally, if the honest answer to all those questions is yes I’m crushing it on one social network, then by all means test whether you can achieve those same goals (which should be overarching business goals) more effectively, by introducing a second platform.

People, please stop going after every new shiny thing! Get your foundation strategy and your processes in place first. Currently few people can legitimately prioritise focusing on any social network other than Facebook unless your ideal customer is skewed to a different demographic than most physical therapy practices or you deliver a service which you can promote better to the same size audience, using another platform.

How Often Should You Post?

  • Facebook and LinkedIn the recommendation is between 1-2 posts a day. Focus on quality and adding value.
  • Twitter the recommendation is 15 posts a day (what a load of twittering frankly!).
  • Google+ the recommendation is 2 posts a day
  • Instagram 1-2 posts a day

But to be honest guys, this is so dependent on the type of content you’re posting, the quality and value to your followers and remember, most people won’t see your organic posts, particularly on Facebook.

What Time of Day Should You Post?

Frankly these numbers change faster than Donald Trump’s mood swings and you’re getting down to very small, possibly even non-existent incremental gains at this point. You’d be better off getting the big stuff right like strategy and consistency before worrying about this level of granularity.

Tor’s Top Tips

  • When you are using social media for business, you should make sure to keep your social media profile updated consistently, and maintain a constant presence for your business’s exposure. Remember, “out of sight, out of mind” is very true where social media sites are concerned.
  • At all times be authentic and focus on adding value wherever you can
  • Have a strategy and stick with it consistently
  • Make sure you have at least one or two goals in your strategy that are quantifiable and can demonstrate a return on investment
  • If you use repeat text like hashtags on Instagram, there are a couple of tools that can help. Apparently Apple has a function called text replacement (5) which lets you save shortcuts for commonly used sets of text (thanks to Vic Paterson on my Business Success for Physical Therapists Facebook Group for this tip (6)). There is also a Windows and Mac piece of software called Text Expander (7) (which I use many times a day and saves me a shed load of time, which does something very similar.
  • Need some practical down to earth advice about setting a marketing strategy, sign up for my webinar (8)

In conclusion, social media if used with a good strategy, can help you to achieve things that no other communication medium in isolation can achieve as effectively, in other words it helps you kill many birds with just one stone, and we like effective use of time.

I hope this article has given you a clear idea of what and how you can utilise social media to greatest effect for your business. I will be putting together a webinar in the next few months, so keep your eyes peeled for my emails.

Social media trends in 2020

  • Facebook – for first time in 5 years marketers plan on decreasing their organic* marketing on Facebook
  • Messenger bots haven’t caught on – only 14% of marketers plan to use it
  • Instagram is hot – it’s now the second most important platform behind Facebook (just surpassed LinkedIn) and more marketers plan to increase their organic posting on Instagram in 2020 - but there’s a catch to that which I’ll cover under the “Which channels should I use?” section
  • Marketers are prioritising engagement – probably because of Facebook’s changes to the news feeds prioritisation
  • Interest in YouTube is high – 62% of marketers plan on using it more in 2020 and it’s the lead video channel with Facebook native videos just behind
  • LinkedIn is on the up too, with 52% of marketers plans on increasing their use of it in 2020
  • But Twitter is down with only 35% of marketers planning to increase their use of it
  • Facebook dominance is still strong – 94% of marketers use Facebook compared with 73% Instagram
  • Facebook ads is still the dominant paid social channel with 59% of marketers planning to increase their use of it in 2020

Reference: Social Media Marketing Report 2019 (9)

Note: Remember, this is a survey of marketers, NOT business owners. That’s two very different beasts when it comes to the data. The priorities of marketers may not necessarily be exactly aligned with the priorities of a small business owner. More later!

References, Further Reading and Information Sources

  1. 40+ Word-of-Mouth Marketing Statistics That You Should Know
  2. Distribution of Instagram users worldwide as of October 2019, by age and gender
  3. Instagram users in the United Kingdom (UK) as of May 2019, by age of users
  4. Facebook users in the United Kingdom as of June 2019, by age of users (in percentage)
  5. Apple’s Text Replacement function – scroll down the page to find the text replacement component
  6. Co-Kinetic Business Success for Physical Therapists Facebook Group
  7. Text Expander
  8. Sign up for Tor’s webinar "Discover the 20% of Marketing Activities That Will Give You 80% of Your Marketing Results"
  9. Social Media Marketing Report 2019 (free download) – survey of nearly 5,000 marketers on how they’re using social to grow the businesses that employ them
  10. The Complete Guide to Social Media for Small Business