Making Sense of Social Media & Its Place In Your Practice.

Are you thinking about hitching your dental practice to the social media band wagon? Before you climb on-board in search of new social media frontiers (or if you are already on-board, but the going’s been tough), take a few minutes to read this Q & A with rising social media star, Debi Davis, Owner, 3D Communications.

Q: How many of your friends, family, and business colleagues are involved in social media?

A: I can count on one hand the people I know who AREN’T using social media. Of those I know who ARE using social media, I’d say 98% are using it for personal use and 75% are also using it for business.

Q: How do you respond to the social media critics who say there are lots of people talking, but not very many people listening or acting when it comes to social media?

A: I agree that there is a lot of “noise” out there. I think that’s simply a reflection of where we are in the evolution of this phenomenon.  Social media is still novel to many people and they’re experimenting. This experimental phase provides a rich environment for research and an active landscape where we can track trends and identify areas of opportunity.

I think there may be a perception that people aren’t listening because there isn’t a direct, track-able link between social media and a “buy” button. Marketers – who seem to be the biggest social media critics – are still hanging onto traditional methods for measuring ROI. They want to measure impressions and distribution and hits, and relate them to dollars and sales. There are myriad tools for monitoring social sites, all of them seeing heavy use. These are all forms of listening.

Social media isn’t designed to be a sales tool. It’s a social tool. As a social tool, consumers are using it to have conversations.  In other words, they’re talking AND they’re listening. They’re listening to each other. These conversations among consumers are what is shifting the playing field and putting the consumer in control.  On the other hand, marketers are used to broadcasting and they’re trying to fit into a space that thrives on conversation, not selling. When marketers start selling, the consumer – who is in control – can unfriend them, unfollow them, filter them and even report them as spammers.

It is important that marketers create new dialogues for their involvement in social media. Sociology and anthropology are important to understand, in the context of social media. Marketers have to stop trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.  They have to stop trying to market and sell based on traditional methods, in a society that has been reshaped by technology and has embraced social media. It’s important marketers understand that the tables have turned, the playing field has shifted–the consumer is in control.

Q: Has Social Media evolved to the point where it can show ROI?

A: Social media may be past its embryonic stage, but just barely. It’ll be a long time before we have a formula for ROI – if ever. I say this because I see social media as a way to create value rather than generate sales. Of course, creating value and generating sales are related, but indirectly, which is one reason it’s difficult to come up with that ROI formula.

The fact that businesses continue to insist on promises of ROI is an indication that businesses don’t recognize social media for what it is: a social platform. That means we’re still a long way from finding a way for businesses to fully benefit from social media – at least in traditional terms. While it’s very tempting to jump onto the social media bandwagon because that’s where the market is these days, businesses have to resist the urge to push their way to the front of the line and jump up on stage and start hawking their wares.  It simply doesn’t work that way.

ROI implies that a return can be bought with an investment of some kind. But social media is a game changer. That may mean that ROI, as we have known it, doesn’t apply. If a business intends to use social media to reach their market, their investment will be quite different. They can’t buy their way in. They have to earn their return.

It’s also important to recognize that social media isn’t a silver bullet. If a business, product or service lacks quality, social media can’t fix that. In fact, because social media is so pervasive and is driven by the consumer, if there are weaknesses, social media will reveal them.

Q: How do you define value or ROI when assessing the success of using social media?

A: How I define value or ROI is going to be different from how you define each. What’s most important though, is how your audience defines value and ROI. And that, in turn, will determine your ROI.

I recently posted a blog, Why Questions are Better Than Answers, which demonstrates a process for finding answers to subjective questions such as this.  The question, “how does my audience define value?” can’t be answered without answering questions such as “who is my audience?” and “how will my audience use the information I share with them?”  This is the kind of strategic thinking behind a successful social media initiative.

Q: You note the importance of “earning your return.” What are a few ways that can be done?

A: In regard to social media, earning a financial return is the same as earning trust and earning recognition. The trust and recognition are the return – it’s what creates new business and loyal customers.

  • Engage in conversation; i.e., if people leave comments or inquiries on your Facebook Page or your blog, respond to them, and respond in a timely manner.
  • If you’re a B2B business, frequent the Facebook Pages and blogs of prospects.  When the opportunity presents itself, contribute valuable content such as advice, or a link to information that you’ve found helpful. Of course, don’t use this as an opportunity to sell. If your comment is truly valuable, people will click your name and/or URL that are contained in the comment and they will come to you . . . that’s the “in-bound marketing” effect.
  • On Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube or any other platform that allows for engagement, initiate engagement. But don’t do it gratuitously; learn to search out the right opportunities (using search tools and keywords), and identify the communities, connections and conversations where you can add value.  Then, start participating.

Q: How do you define content marketing? Do you see content marketing as an important part of using social media outlets?

A: I define content marketing as a blog post or article written for the purpose of supporting or reflecting marketing objectives. If you’re using social media for business, to complement your marketing strategy, then yes, content marketing is important. It is the bridge between your social network and your website.

Your social network is where you listen to your customers and participate in conversations. This is a great place to introduce your content marketing, aka your blog. This can be particularly effective if your blog is relevant to the conversations on your social networks. By offering up valuable content within the context of a conversation, you will attract people to your blog.  By doing this, you’re effectively driving traffic to your website. Your website is where you do business.

Q: Are there certain industries that social media is tailor made for?

A: No one industry has cornered the market on social media success. There was a time when financial services and health care deemed social media methods inappropriate for their purposes. However, in the past couple years organizations like Mayo Clinic and H&R Block have run best-in-class social media campaigns.

Q: What do you think the time commitment is for effectively using and managing social media?

A: You can effectively use social media in as little as 45 – 75 minutes a day, 5 days a week. However, using social media EFFECTIVELY has less to do with the amount of time you spend on it, and everything to do with the quality of your strategy for using it.

Start with a social media strategy. As part of it, identify how much time (and other resources) you are willing to devote to social media.  Then, start—and stick with it.

According to a this Social Media Marketing Report: “A significant 56% or marketers are using social media for 6 hours or more each week and 30% for 11 or more hours weekly.”

If you simply set up accounts on a few social media platforms and then start pounding out marketing messages that are hitting random networks, your time will not be well spent.

Another important factor to understand is that the effectiveness of social media as a marketing tool won’t be apparent overnight. Social media was not designed to be a selling or marketing tool. The relationships developed on social networks can certainly bolster your marketing efforts. But, there is no short-cut to the hearts of the people you want to attract and convert. Social media takes time, your personal time.

You get out of social media, what you put into it. If you don’t have the time to put into social media, you should plan on putting money into it. That is not to say that you can hire an agency to handle it, and all you have to do is pay the bill. Effective social media requires authenticity and transparency that reveals your business is run by you (remember, it’s SOCIAL media). So, it’s important that you are involved.

An agency can align your social media strategy with your business and marcom strategies. It can help identify the tools you should use, the communities and networks you should connect with; it can address issues around metrics and measurement that target pre-defined growth goals. You’ll see that your social media strategy should not be an add-on, but an integral part of your business operations. This makes it difficult to say how much time is being devoted to the social media strategy, because done well, time spent on your social media strategy overlaps with time spent on your business strategy.

Q: In a recent post, you talk about listening as a way to create engagement. How long did it take for your listening to turn into engagement, and then relationships?

A: I recommend that people use social media as a consumer before using it as a marketer. Spend at least three months monitoring, listening, and practicing passive participation. The objective is to learn what is acceptable behavior in the social media space. Learn what you like and what you don’t. For example, it’ll become crystal clear that spamming and selling are unacceptable, and you, as a consumer, will quickly unfriend, unfollow, and block anyone naïve enough to think they can get away with it.

During this period of passive participation, you’ll find opportunities to comment, and to pass along interesting information that comes to you, and to even post your own status updates. But do it with the intent of joining the conversation. Understanding and appreciating the experience of using social media as a consumer, is paramount to using it successfully as a marketer.

Q: When it comes to following and followers, is it quality or quantity?

A: It’s all about quality. Wouldn’t you rather be surrounded by people with whom you have something in common? In the early days of social media it was novel to watch your numbers ramp way up. But, I think that novelty has worn-off.

Q: What are the most important social media guidelines to follow?

  • Identify a singular, well-defined objective for using social media.
  • Have a strategy that addresses the 6 Ws (who, what, where, when, how [much/many], and why).
  • Commit to consistency over the long term, or don’t waste your time at all.
  • Have a budget for social media.  Only the tools are free – your time isn’t.

Q: What are the top considerations for a business getting into social media?

  • It’s not a matter of “if,” but “when” you get into social media. The sooner, the better.
  • Social media will replace some of your operations and it will complement others; don’t try to manage it as a stand-alone function.
  • Think big.  Start small. Act fast.
  • Create a well-defined social media a strategy that includes objectives.

A: I recommend using Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.  These are the three most popular sites and it makes sense to be where the masses are. YouTube, the second most popular search engine, is also a great option. But, content and quality are very important, and must be kept fresh.

Debi Davis is the founder of 3D Communications, located in Denver, CO. She has over 30 years of communication industry experience with top-tier companies that include 3M, MCI, Towers Perrin, and DENTSPLY International.

Davis’ focus in on “you and your business.” She strives to understand your needs, concerns, and objectives through a unique blend of communication strategies—strategies that include social media and business coaching, with a “human touch.” She can be found online at or via email at debi (at) 3ddebi (dot) com.


  1. Matt Swenson says:

    Hi Dhru, thank you for visiting Your Dental Edge. I really like your point about social media offering “return on relationship” (ROR), it couldn’t be more true. As odd as it may seem, social media really is about building relationships and earning trust.

    Yes, it would be great to have this article published on, it’s a great site and resource for dental professionals.

    Thanks again!
    - Matt

  2. Hi Matt

    Great read. I think you have made many valid points.
    I see social media as a ROR rather on ROI – ROR standing for return on relationship
    It is a harder job building relationshps and trust on social media but the dividends are long term.
    Would you like this to be published as an article on ?

  3. Matt_Swenson says:

    Hi Dr. Logan, I agree, Social Media is barely out of its infancy stage (as Debi mentioned in her article), but is already a permanent part of our personal and professional landscape. In fact, so much so, any marketing plan that does not take into account or include social media, is out dated.

    Thanks again for taking the time to read and visit my blog. Please share it with others and check back regularly for new posts. And, please consider submitting a “Practical Product.”

    - Matt

  4. Edward Logan says:

    Whether we middle-aged and older doctors like it or not, social media is here to stay. It is true that online marketing, including having a social media presence will continue to play an ever-increasing role in the success of our practices.

  5. Matt_Swenson says:

    Hi Dr. Keane, I agree, social media is an amazing communication tool—With its best applications being both its educational and interactive abilities (Sounds like I am talking about a dynamic, living thing. If you think about it, social media really is.).

    In regard to your question about who your target would be, I think it’s your fellow specialists, GPs, and patients alike. If you started a blog, some posts may be for all three groups, and some may just be for one group. Consider educating your patients (help them be smarter and stronger dental consumers), communicate best practices or tip & techniques with your GP partners (strengthen your relationship and patient care communication with them), and share a unique talent or area of expertise with your fellow specialists (e.g. your affinity for advanced learning and research).

    There are a lot of different areas to jump into social media. But, consider starting with a social media plan, make sure it is manageable, start small, and build. For example, maybe start with a Twitter account and respond to other Tweets. Or, if you start with a blog, start with information for one of your target groups, rather than all of them at once.

    At this time, my favorite dental practitioner blog is, “The Science of Dentistry” by Dr. Todd Welch ( His blog is educational, informative, easy to navigate, and offers information for both dental professionals and patients.

    Again, thank you for sharing and taking the time to read Your Dental Edge!


  6. Tom Keane says:

    Very informative article Matt and Debi. I have been thinking about social media for my practice for some time and this article gives great guidlines for so doing. My biggest concern is my quite directed message as an oral and maxillofacial surgeon. To whom do I direct it? Would the links for concerns about oral surgery be interesting for dentists and physicians but not appropriate for patients?

    The time has definitely come for dental and medical professionals to get into social media. It has the potential to allow dentists and phyciscans to freely communicate as we have not been able to before. As I look at it, social media is not a marketing tool in health care, but is an informative and educational tool. The potenital is boundless with the advancements in research. The innovations that make dental treatment have better outcomes than at any other time in history are coming so fast.

    Thanks very much for posting this Matt and thanks Debi for your expertise.

  7. Debi Davis says:

    I never thought about the sense of isolation that dentists might experience due to the one-on-one nature of their work. Another great reason for using social networking.

    With an objective of connecting with other professionals, LinkedIn would be a good choice. There are a vast number of active dental groups that have formed on LinkedIn. I imagine the discussions and information exchanges could do a lot to minimize feelings of isolation.

    Thanks for your perspective, Ben.


  8. admin says:

    Hi Ben, thank you for taking the time to read “Making Sense of Social Media & It’s Place In Your Practice.” Debi has really been immersed in social media for quite some time now. So, when a few dental offices asked me to expand on my “Websites That Work” article, I knew she was the one to answer the tough and detailed questions.

    Thank again for taking the time to visit my site!
    - Matt

  9. Ben Young says:

    A very helpful article, Matt. The Internet elements to marketing and ROI are not obvious. She makes a great point that the social networking element when it comes to business have more to do with listening and responding to a customer pool than it does selling things. Because dentists are for the most part isolated intelligent people, I think it is a great way to stay connected with other thinking people — for mental health if for no other reason (and I know there are many more).

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