Tweeting and blogging about...dentistry? Don't laugh–Dr. Michael Sinkin said it's added patients to his Manhattan practice.
While Web networking may be like pulling teeth to scores of reluctant professionals and small business owners unwilling to spend the time, Sinkin has used it to build his practice–as have countless other businesses.
For example: VaBang!, a modern dance company based in New York and San Francisco that uses Facebook to communicate and build its fan and audience base, or Bambola Beauty, a skincare center on the Upper East Side, which posts beauty tips on Facebook and Twitter to market its products. YouTube is the tool of choice for Acento Group, a consulting and marketing agency in Tribeca.
What have these small businesses discovered?
Fans, followers and blog readers become brand evangelists, spreading content for them. By engaging customers and potential customers, these companies have found a new marketing venue–and a resource to build sales.
FLOSS DAILY, TWEET DAILY
Sinkin's tweets and blog posts about dentistry, as well as his musings on human behavior, have added new patients to his practice. He estimated about a dozen or so in the last three months "between the combination of my website, Facebook and Twitter."
Sinkin, 53, who operates a solo practice with a staff of seven, said, "Social media is a way to reach out so that more people are exposed to you personally. You engage them and they become curious and check me out on my website," he added. "They've already had an introduction to me with Twitter and Facebook. It's a virtual conversation, but a conversation nonetheless. You tweak their interest, and they look me up on my website, and that's when they call for an appointment."
Sinkin recalled how the first patient he found through Twitter became a regular.
"She sent out a tweet saying, 'I just left another dentist and I'm still in pain.' Someone recommended me, and I tweeted her. She came in and I cured her pain."
After she left his East Side office, Sinkin called to check on her, and she repaid his attentiveness.
"She tweeted about her experience: 'You're not going to believe this, but my dentist called just to see how I was doing. That's never happened before.' "
Sinkin uses the Web frequently to reinforce his advice to patients with anecdotes. When President Obama casually mentioned the importance of flossing in a speech this summer, Sinkin moved fast.
"Even the President agrees about the importance of flossing," he wrote on Twitter.
To keep his content fresh, Sinkin transitions from patient to keyboard constantly.
"If you do a Google search, in addition to his website and blogs, you also see his Facebook and Twitter updates," said Betsy Kent, Sinkin's media specialist. "Facebook and Twitter increase his Internet footprint."
THE YOUTUBE CHANNEL
Sick of scoring a C with Hispanic shoppers?
Tune into Acento Group's "Moments to CultuRise," which the company said is the first regular YouTube report that conveys up-to-date cultural and business intelligence on the fast-growing Hispanic market.
"We use YouTube as a place of relevant business conversation, where we have decided to lead the conversation with what we know best - cultural and business intelligence," said Liliana Gil, 33, managing partner and host of the show.
The channel has been instrumental connecting clients to major trade publications, blogs and other media. For example, HispanicAd.com, an advertising news and information site, distributes its content and videos to scores of marketing execs nationwide.
Content from Acento, which was founded in 2008 and is based in Tribeca, has enticed major businesses like publishing giant Meredith (Ladies' Home Journal, More, Better Homes and Gardens, Parents, American Baby, as well as the Spanish-language women's magazine, Siempre Mujer) and organizations like the NBA to reach out to Acento for expertise and advice on how to best reach the Hispanic market.
Other clients include Diageo, Mission Skincare and Serena Williams.
"More than selling and pushing services, our expertise is through practical, value-added business content that helps our current and future clients," Gil said.
Keeping up a steady stream of customers can be as much of a job for salon owner Faith Zelenko as running her business. She sometimes spends up to 10 hours a day posting beauty tips on Facebook and tweeting to market the products and services of Bambola Beauty.
"My old familiar avenues and strategy for marketing don't work today," said Zelenko, 53, who founded the Upper East Side salon in February with her 28-year-old daughter, Kristine Hanover.
"It used to be I would be on the phone or travel to get my products mentioned. Now, I go from my kitchen to my office and don't have time to even go outdoors. If I do go out, it's to take a class on, guess what? Marketing through social networking. The Learning Annex must love my generation," Zelenko said.
"It's all about social networking, banner ads, keywords, Google points and even YouTube," she added.
On a typical day, she said, she might post a segment from "The Dr. Oz Show" regarding skin care and vitamins for anti-aging, or retweet statistics from Planet Green's website on skincare. The goal is to get potential customers excited enough to visit the salon's website and place an order. "We're not just limited to Facebook and Twitter, either," Zelenko said. "We're on LinkedIn and Biznik.com along with several other networking sites."
Sure, practicing perfect pirouettes is important for a dance company, but if you want people to come watch, you need serious social networking skills.
Good thing Julia Sabangan and Jessie Feller, who co-founded VaBang! three years ago, are quick studies.
"We've built our fan page on Facebook up to 379 members over the last three years," said Sabangan, 27, who manages the company's New York operation. Feller, also 27, manages the West Coast troupe.
They use their Facebook page to post events and invite fans to performances. The events page has an RSVP function, which has proved effective in building their audience and getting fans to shows.
They use their Facebook page for virtual fund-raising events, as well. During one recent fund-raiser dubbed Sandwich for the Arts, fans were invited to donate $7 (the price of a sandwich) to support the next season in New York.
"Being a nonprofit, aggregating small donations from our audience and fan base has been crucial to our development," Feller said.
VaBang! also displays videos of its work, announces new members, shares stories and uploads photos of rehearsals and photo shoots.
"It allows our audience to become part of our artistic process and see what we do on a regular basis," Feller said.
"We encourage people to write on our page their ideas, comments, suggestions and questions. Julia and I know people we haven't seen since high school and college who know what we are doing because of Facebook, which has been crucial in exposing our work to a larger base and spreading the word about VaBang! Our dancers also have the ability to share our page with their friends, and it becomes much more viral than sharing an email," Feller added.
Sabangan said she and Feller tried MySpace, but found it wasn't as effective as Facebook.
"We're open to using Twitter, but don't think it holds as much power as Facebook," she said.
"Dance is a performing art and, thus, visual, so having video and photo capability is crucial for us," Sabangan said.
"In dance, you have to see the form and the aesthetic to understand what the company is about. Text is many times less effective as a means of communication in the performing arts."