Social media success story: Marketing a medical practice

Here is one of the toughest marketing challenges I can imagine — engage customers with a medical practice, which of course is surrounded by patient privacy issues. To make things even more difficult, the practice specializes in cosmetic surgery — not a subject people usually want to pronounce in a public sort of way.  Add in a recession and some intense competition, and you have yourself one massive marketing mountain to climb.

Unless you possess the business savvy of Lisa Reath. Lisa is the marketing manager of her husband’s medical practice (and a graduate of my social media marketing class) and she’s developed one of the most interesting and successful social media marketing programs I have seen — under some tough circumstances.

Lisa had been trying to promote the business through traditional media but was excited by the possibilities of the social web.  “We made our share of mistakes at first,” she said, “but things started to click when we learned that our marketing should focus on being authentically helpful instead of the traditional sales-orientation.  We’re doing this by providing targeted patient education in a fun way using new media. Our goal is to establish a relationship with patients so that when they come into our office, they feel like they already know us.”

The medical practice deploys a variety of social media methods:

“Given the privacy expectations with plastic surgery, we have had surprising success with Facebook,” Lisa said. “It’s largely because of a quiz game we play every week with our fans. We came up with the “Truth-O-Meter” to establish ourselves as an authority and sort through all the misconceptions surrounding plastic surgery.”

Every Tuesday morning Dr. Reath posts a question on the Facebook page. A winner is randomly chosen from the correct answers and announced by a short YouTube video every Wednesday. Between 30 and 60 people answer each week, including many potential new patients.  Prizes include giftcards, skin care products and contributions to charity in honor of breast cancer awareness month.

And a nice side effect of Truth-O-Meter Tuesday is that the practice has a growing collection of relevant videos on YouTube!

Facebook is now the fourth leading contributor of traffic to the clinic’s website.

Dr. Reath keeps patients current by blogging on hot topics in plastic surgery. Recent blog posts include:

New “Bridalplasty” Show: Bad TV. Even Worse Medicine.

The List: Every Board-Certified Plastic Surgeon in Knoxville

New Trend: Patients Having “Work” to Find Work

“I think our most successful marketing effort is the new 33-page interactive eBook written by our staff,” she said.  “It is designed to be read online or on an iPad, downloaded free, easily forwarded and linked to.

“It was written in response to the increase in the number of patients coming to our office with problems after having surgery with doctors who are not Board-certified plastic surgeons. Our idea was to offer patients free information about breast augmentation that is helpful but not easily found online. Chapters are informative but also entertaining (otherwise no one will want to read it and forward it to their friends!).

“Since we designed the eBook to be a helpful resource, we went out of our way to try not to directly sell our practice.”

The results

There are measurable gains from the social media exposure:

  • The social media efforts have dramatically increased traffic to the medical practice website and resulted in new customers. Many people who participate in the contest request additional information and typically when they come in to collect a prize they become a customer for skin care products.
  • Within the first month of publishing the eBook, the practice received six new customers solely based on that publication. In addition, patients are forwarding it to friends and relatives who are considering the surgery.
  • The constant contact with patients through social media provides an opportunity for the medical practice to stay connected and at the top of mind when it comes time for an elective surgery or procedure.

I’m proud of Lisa and think this is an enegerizing success story in an unlikely place. Agree?

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  • I have discussed very similar ideas to the Truth-O-Meter Tuesday with a number of clients. That being said, none have gotten rolling on it, so I’ll probably be citing this example, and of course, a big congrats and well done to Lisa. It sounds like her work has been pretty impressive.

  • Josh_Muirhead

    Well I have to start of by saying – Is this a new design for your blog Mark? I often read you on my Google Reader, but I like the new look! Also, this Livefyre thing – nice touch

    Alright, this was an interesting, and promising post – We’ve been working with a number of clients, non of them from the medical industry – Why? because when I talk to my network, those from the medical indsutry feel that Social Media isn’t for them – It’s a “Waste of time, and traditional means are better”

    With this post, I’ll have something to fall back on, and I really enjoy the fact they found success in a few different means – i.e. Facebook, Blog and eBook (totally not suprised about either the Blog or eBook)

    One thing I would ask is what their conversion rate was per tool? A little harder to tell through the eBook, but through their blog and Facebook, where people taking actions they were hoping, or just enjoying a fun game.

    Either way this is great – Thanks Mark

    Josh Muirhead

  • DennisCorley


    This is an exciting success story. I am curious to know how Lisa was able to define her target audience and “make them aware” of the tools she created? Also, I would be interested in the timeframe for the campaign to achieve results.

    Good case study.


  • Lisa_Reath

    Mark, thank you for your kind comments. Your class really inspired me to be “authentically helpful” with our social media efforts..and it’s really paying off.
    Josh, you are asking the big question about conversion rates and how it has affected our bottom line. One of the things we have noticed is that we have a lot more people who visit our facebook page than we have fans. So we know they are checking us out to get a sense of what our office is like before they come in for a consultation. Some of our fans are current patients but most of them we have never met. Several have become injectable patients of the practice after winning a $100 giftcard, and last week’s winner came in immediately and commented on our page about her experience.
    Anecdotally, we get comments every day in our office from people, including new patients, who say they love what we are doing on facebook.
    It does take a lot of time, that’s for sure. I’ve talked to many in the medical industry who say they tried social media and it did not work for them. But those are the same ones who are using it to sell. That’s why I am so glad that I took the class and got started out on the right foot.

  • Lisa_Reath

    @DennisCorley Hi Dennis, Good questions. We have an email list for our practice that I try never to overuse. We sent out 1 email announcing our Truth-O-Meter Tuesday contest. I also have a social plug-in with our facebook feeds on our website. Many new fans are friends of people who have won.
    The second question is easy! I have 31 videos on youtube, so we started our facebook page 31 weeks ago…last April.

  • markwschaefer

    @Josh_Muirhead Thank you for being a loyal reader Josh. Yes, this is a new design I unveiled about two weeks ago. Still a work in progress but a good step forward.

    The fact that this was a medical example is what really fascinated me. I had always had the same reaction from my friends in the medical community. But Lisa found a way to do it with fun, spirit and integrity.

    Thanks for your comment!

  • markwschaefer

    @Lisa_Reath I think it is important that you got help to learn about social media that ultimately created some new opportunities and insights. I see so many people floundering around and I think how much better off they would be to just take a step back and spend some time learning about the channel and marketing in general.

    It’s funny that many business owners would never think of doing their own accounting or legal work yet so many don’t think twice about doing their own marketing : )

    Thanks for your good work Lisa!

  • markwschaefer

    @ericpratum Thanks Eric. I’m sure Lisa would be willing to give you a few pointers if the medical thing ever happens!

  • Josh_Muirhead

    @Lisa_Reath Hi Lisa, thank you for answer the question, and yes it was little bit of a big one (but hey, we got to ask them at some point). I was also interested not so much in bottom line, but in actions – i.e. Did people who went to your blog download the eBook?

    Also, did you use any other tools finding that they wehre not as productive? i.e. Twitter, YouTube, Linked ext.

    Finally, if you’re not using YouTube, would there be a possiblity to take away some fears but showcasing some of the tools / techniques? Showing people what they are about to get into often has a calming effect – just an idea

    Again, thanks for your answer

    Josh Muirhead

  • DennisCorley

    @Lisa_Reath Lisa,
    Thank you for your willingness to help. Wow. You strike me as more than “the average bear on the street”. Good for you. It does motivate me. I wish you continued success.

  • Lisa_Reath

    @markwschaefer @ericpratum Eric, Thanks for your kind feedback. I will be happy to help out any way I can. Good luck!

  • Lisa_Reath

    @Josh_Muirhead Josh, again..great questions. Yes, people who went to our blog definitely downloaded the eBook. It has been up since October and we have had 1159 downloads so far. That doesn’t directly translate into patients since many of them are outside Knoxville but it is a good educational tool wherever you live.
    Twitter has not been as useful for us mainly because David is busy operating during prime tweeting time. I never want people to think “Dude, when does this guy operate.?!”
    Good idea about using youtube for tools and techniques. We do use it to post our Truth-O-Meter Tuesday videos each week. They give patients the chance to get to know David and our staff before they come into the office.

  • @Lisa_Reath That sounds awesome. I’m excited to hear about your success because it’s not easy to market in these kind of areas.

    I really suggest readers check out an interview Cliff Ravenscraft did a while back. It’s with a dentist who has really boosted his customer income through podcasting. It’s a unique story of how to show your audience who you are and what you do. Inspiring stuff.

  • Lisa_Reath

    @jonbuscall Thank you Jon. I am always looking for new ideas so I will definitely check it out.

  • jennwhinnem

    Hi Lisa, What a fun way to engage your patients! This is great stuff you’re doing.

    I’m wondering, did you have to worry about, say, hospital regulations, or anything specific to HIPAA? I ask because I’m a patient, and I previously volunteered for an Adult Advisory Board. One of our doctors really wanted to get a blog started, but the hospital he’s attached to prevented him from doing so.

  • jennwhinnem

    Hi Lisa, What a fun way to engage your patients! This is great stuff you’re doing.

    I’m wondering, did you have to worry about, say, hospital regulations, or anything specific to HIPAA? I ask because I’m a patient, and I previously volunteered for an Adult Advisory Board. One of our doctors really wanted to get a blog started, but the hospital he’s attached to prevented him from doing so.

  • Lisa_Reath

    @jennwhinnem HIPPAA is a big concern with everything we do and you bring up a good point. Our goal is to use social media tools to help educate the general public about issues surrounding plastic surgery. So we always keep it general and never comment about a specific patient or their medical care. And certainly never use it to give medical advice.

  • steve_dodd

    Hi Lisa, what a terrific approach. thanks for sharing this Mark! It just goes to show everyone that with a little creative effort, SM can add value to just about any business!

  • It is awesome to hear a success story like this in an industry that has a lot of entrepreneurs with an old-school mentality when it comes to communication. Although medical practices may be late to adopting social media, they will probably leverage its power more than most industries due to a strong need for doctor-patient communication. Thanks for sharing!

  • johnwhitepaper

    Killer eBook. I’m envious.

  • Lisa_Reath

    @johnwhitepaper Why, thank you!

  • MarcW

    @markwschaefer @Lisa_Reath Lisa and Mark, a great story here. It’s good to see smaller retail business that truly is focused on growing their business (something that is a must for elective plastic surgery and non-existent for regular MD’s) do so using Social Media so intelligently. I am seeing this elsewhere around the country though not as well done as what Lisa has done here. One thing I will point you to Lisa is “localized” review site that provides a social media function on behalf of physicians in local markets that don’t want to do it themselves (I have no relationship with the company). What is interesting is that they are using a “Yelp” Like review model and then marketing the results through social media platforms by having their reviewers subscribe to their fan page. Everytime a review get’s written anyone subscribing to their page gets the feed (review) which means any friends of theirs will also see it.

    You don’t need to do this but one of the things they are doing is engaging localized offers (e.g. Groupon) to drive demand generation to wider audiences. Not everyone needs a breast augmentation however if you can find a procedure that has a wider footprint it could be worth exploring for your practice.

  • Lisa_Reath

    @MarcW @markwschaefer Very interesting Marc. I can hear the wheels spinning already. Thanks for your helpful feedback.

  • wendysoucie

    I am also working with a plastic surgeon who wants to drive more traffic to his website and calls for his services. The challenge is the amount of personal time he wants to put into this. He wants it all but with no sweat equity. He wants a Facebook page but doesn’t want to maintain it with information relevant to the needs of the client (possible patients don’t want to hear about breast augmentation with every post). He wants to get more traffic but doesn’t want to write 250 – 400 words each week to add content of value.
    If you don’t want to put in the time – like this family coop effort – then just buy your adverting. It won’t work as well and will cost way too much, but you won’t have to do so much work.

    Social media takes time, and passion.


  • markwschaefer

    @wendysoucie Hang in there Wendy! A common problem. Thanks for sharing today!

  • DennisCorley

    @wendysoucie Wendy,
    Hers an idea. Why not hire someone to do the copy writing. The doctor then calls a voicemail phone number and leaves a one to two minute voice dictation of the “point” of the Blog post. The writer writes the post in effective form. The doctor reviews by reading it. This takes the doctor 4 minutes to have a well written post with expert content. And it’s a lot cheaper than ineffective traditional advertising. Just a thought.


  • DennisCorley

    @wendysoucie Or “here’s an idea”. Whichever works for you….

  • Lisa_Reath

    @DennisCorley @wendysoucie Hi Wendy and Dennis, I think most physicians are similar to your client Wendy. We do spend a lot of time trying to come up with creative ideas that will resonate with our target population. When it does work and you get a genuine comment like we did yesterday, it makes you feel like a million bucks. Still sometimes my “client” gets a bit sick of talking social media over the dinner table. 🙂

  • wendysoucie

    @DennisCorley thanks I will look to suggest just that. I will need to find one that is social savy for SEO purposes of the post, maybe a good VA.

  • Erica Moss

    What a terrific case study! Health care is such a challenging field when it comes to social media marketing, so it’s refreshing to read about someone who hit a home run. Two great reminders here: position yourself as the thought leader, and be helpful.

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  • Nancy Latady

    Since coming across Dr. Heath’s website I have shared with my own medical practice clients these wonderful examples of what practices can do to engage and educate their patients. This is at the core of effective practice marketing. Great work!

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