September 21, 2023
Vicente Lombardia, Training & Education Manager Europe

How to use social media to grow your dental practice 

Social media can be a great way to reach your patients, but it’s only one part of a well-crafted online presence. Learn best practices for dental practices regarding websites, search engines and social posts. And see how sharing smiles on social media can help grow your practice.


Billions of people use social media every day, but posting as a dental practice
has nothing to do with your everyday selfie: using social media professionally
should be seen differently from posting personally. Social media can be a
valuable tool for a dental office, but only if used thoughtfully and strategically.
And that means so much more than simply posting online now and then – it
means understanding the full scope of the patient experience.

The “Patient Cycle”

In every walk of life, we evaluate our experiences based on how well it meets our expectations. The same is true for the patient cycle – and their expectations are set early, the first time they encounter your presence online. Most of the time, when we talk about the patient experience, we are focused on chair time. But most patients don’t recommend a practice to friends and relatives based on the technical aspect of how the dentist fixed the problem. Patients don’t care which technique is used, as long as their teeth look nice when they leave. It’s the “intangibles” that earn a glowing review: how the patient was treated as a person, how the office looked, how easy the appointment was to make, or how kind people were on the phone.

Each of these moments are touchpoints in the patient cycle:
1. Pre-service: how does the patient find your practice? (word of mouth, reviews, online presence, etc.)
2. Making the appointment: is it easy? can it be done online, or only by phone? do you have long hold times?
3. Entering the office: how is the patient welcomed to your office? how do they interact with reception?
4. Doctor makes a diagnosis
5. Patient receives a treatment proposal
6. Patient receives treatment: this is the core of your service, but only one aspect of the entire patient experience
7. Follow-up: do you send reminders about follow-up visits?

The cycle then repeats: either the patient continues their relationship with the practice or, if their experience wasn’t up to par, they start over with someone new. While each of these touchpoints is important, the pre-service stage is both critical and often overlooked. The time before the patient makes an appointment is an opportunity to build your brand, attract new patients, establish your expertise, and ultimately grow your practice. Today, that means cultivating an online presence and making use of social media.

How social media fits into an e-marketing strategy

Nowadays, not having an online presence is simply untenable for any business. Your website or social media presence can be a patient’s first contact with your practice. This is your opportunity to show yourself as a trustworthy professional,
and to make future patients feel more comfortable reaching out for a first appointment.

But before you start posting online, it’s vital to have solid goals for your efforts – and have a plan beyond social media. After all, “likes” don’t translate to patients in the chair. To make the most of social media, you need to understand its broader role in marketing and how it can, and should, work with other channels.

A well-rounded e-marketing strategy has three interrelated touchpoints:
1. Search engines
2. Social media
3. Website

When you post to social media, you can share attention-grabbing snapshots in the moment, but these can be quickly buried in viewers’ feeds. That’s why it’s equally important to guide your audience to your website, where you can go into more detail – and to cultivate your search engine presence.

Building the perfect website

Before you start posting on social media, turn attention to your own website. Social media can only provide so much information, and it doesn’t allow your audience the opportunity to interact in a meaningful, productive way. They can comment, share, and “like,” but they can’t get a full picture of your services or make an appointment. That’s a job for your website. This is why, beyond helping increase brand awareness, social media should drive patients to your website.

However, getting patients to your website is only step one. Once there, your website needs to do several things:
Communicate your expertise in an accessible, relatable way
Attract new patients with professional, friendly language and attractive, modern design
Help increase treatment acceptance with useful information about treatment
If your website doesn’t do its job, your social strategy can’t pick up the slack – no matter how many people click on your posts. Your website is the virtual equivalent of your front door. How you present yourself will build patients’ expectations of how you treat them.

Remember to keep your language accessible: technical dentistry jargon can put a barrier between you and your patients. You want them to understand their options and feel empowered, not confused. In addition, make sure to use upbeat, nonjudgmental language to help patients see you as a partner in their care, rather than an adversary. Learn to speak your patient’s language, even if it isn’t the most technically accurate. And make sure to use keywords that apply to your target audience to help patients find you online (around 4% to 6% of the total words should be search terms).

Once the information is in place, make sure to update it regularly. This can be as simple as adding new before/after photos, for example. At a basic level, this tells the search engines (and patients!) that you are still in business. But you can also condition search engines to seek your updates: if you regularly make changes, you should see your visibility increase. Perhaps even more important, by keeping your practice’s website current and relevant, you effectively show your patients that you’re up to date on technologies and trends. It also shows that you’re passionate about your work – and their care. This applies to web design as well. A poorly designed, hard-to-navigate website may give patients the impression that you’re also stuck in the past, which is counterproductive. Also make sure your website is mobile-friendly. More than half of web searches are made on mobile devices (phones or tablets); if those devices can’t properly see your website, you’re losing half your audience.

If you don’t already have one, consider an online scheduling program. Not everyone can look for a dentist during business hours, and some people may be uncomfortable making a phone call. Patients are already reluctant to come to the dentist anyway, so this is an opportunity to make it easier for them. When you begin the interaction by offering an accessible way for patients to make an appointment on their schedule, you take some of that labor off patients’ shoulders.

Search engines: a link to engagement
How do you ensure patients can find you online? And how does it relate to social media? Websites are prioritized on search engines based on several factors, including relevancy and updates (which we covered above), and inbound links. Inbound links, also called backlinks, are outside links that lead to your website. This includes dentist locator websites, related professionals’ websites… and social media. Include links on your website, especially if you have a blog or case studies, so people can share your content. When more links lead to you, search engines decide that your content is more relevant – so they rank your practice higher in search results. Social media can be a helpful tool in this regard: the more you share valuable, engaging content, the more likely your audience will like and share it, and the more likely it will be linked elsewhere. If you haven’t done so already, you should immediately create a Google Business Profile. Google is by far the most popular search engine; establishing your practice on the platform is vital to visibility and engagement. Creating a Google Business Profile allows you to control your practice’s information across all Google services – plus it’s free! You can add and update essential information like hours, location, website and contact info, share photos, interact with patient reviews, and appear on Google Maps as a local result.

However, this process is organic, and isn’t guaranteed to produce results in the short term. That’s where paid ads can be helpful. By nature, they boost visibility, but they also enable you to be precise with messaging and keywords. For example, your website won’t list your neighborhood, but people will search for a dentist close to where they live or work. Paid ads can help you reach them. Plus, you can harness their ability to target specific audiences on specific platforms and measure your success through specific metrics. You can even test what messages resonate best with your audience by comparing clickthrough rates.

On a related note, the last thing you want is for a negative review to be the first result when someone searches for your practice. Never ignore negative feedback from an actual patient: always respond, apologize for what happened, and invite them to discuss it with you further offline. Don’t engage further on your website or social media – but don’t leave complaints unanswered.

Making use of social media

Your goal is to catch people’s attention, to make them want to see themselves in your chair – and then to drive them to your website, learn more about what your practice offers and, ideally, make an appointment. I use 6 steps for building a social media strategy:
1. Set up SMART targets and metrics (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-based)
2. Choose target audience and channels
3. Benchmark your competition
4. Elaborate your content plan
5. Define your key messages
6. Start posting!

But what exactly should you post, where, and how often?

  • Where: The first question any practice should ask when developing a social media strategy is: which platform will work best for you and your goals? While it can be tempting to pick one at random and get started, each has its own unique user base and tone. The choice comes down to your objective and target audience. If you want to specialize in younger patients or teenagers, Instagram is a great choice. It’s largely a visual platform and is a great place to share photos of transformed smiles. Similarly, TikTok is very popular with teenagers, but requires a lot of creativity. If you are looking for people in their forties and older, try Facebook.
  • What: Make a plan covering different types of content: clinical posts, reshareable videos, information-rich infographics, and some lifestyle posts. The audience does want to see the person behind the professional. I recommend one lifestyle post for every 3 clinical posts. That combination will give you a good, well-rounded presence on social media for a feasible time commitment. Always ask yourself: would I save this content? Would I share it? Never post just for the sake of it – only when you have something worth posting. (And remember, patients don’t like to see blood, but they do like before/after closeups. Just make sure to get written, signed consent and store it with your patient data.) Bear in mind that social media platforms prioritize content based on how long it keeps the audience engaged – so consider how well your posts will pique patients’ curiosity before posting. A before and after picture may get a glance but could just as easily be scrolled past. On the other hand, a carousel post (or video) showing a step-by-step process, complete with captions, is more likely to keep your audience with you. Just make sure the information is valuable and worth reading!
  • When: Social media isn’t like a search engine, in that your updating frequency will not affect how well an algorithm ranks you. That depends on the impact of your content. You need to strike a balance between staying visible and interesting without overwhelming your audience (and your own ability to come up with relevant content). I recommend posting once or twice every week.

Finally, measure your results. Interactions and impressions are indicators that your content is having an impact. But the key indicator is the traffic that those posts drive to your website. Your content may be very engaging on social media, but if no one goes to your website, then your objectives are mismatched.


There are many ways to be present online, but it all starts with a good website that’s easy to find. Then, you need to drive the right traffic to it by using search engines and social media. Take advantage of the ability to target audiences and measure outcomes.

The effort you put into your online presence signals to patients that you will put the same level of care and attention to detail into their smile. And remember, people may forget what you say or even what you do, but they will never forget how you made them feel.

My final tip is to always put yourself in the patient’s shoes. What information would you want to find, and what would you want to share? Because it’s good for you to write about your own practice – but having patients writing about you is even better!

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