If you think you've read everything you need to know about social media, maybe you should get your eyes checked. When you go, with any luck your optometrist will be Nathan Bonilla-Warford, O.D. in Tampa, Florida, as he can teach you a few things.
Nathan reached out following last week's column about my optometrist uncle, who said my article was posted on an optometrists' forum. His email signature included links to his Web site, Yelp listing, Facebook page, and Twitter account, and he later revealed he's a blogger too. I thought his practical experience as a business owner grappling with social media should be shared with others. Here's an exclusive interview with Dr. Bonilla-Warford.
Social Media Insider: How did you decide to tweet? What's it doing for you?
Dr. Nathan Bonilla-Warford: Another optometrist turned me on to it. Because I blog, it was a no-brainer. It gets my message out about news and events. Twitter has led to new patients and new sales. Now that I have been tweeting for a while, I truly see Twitter (social media more generally) as "The Chamber of Commerce for our generation."
With Twitter you get to see the people behind the business a bit more and, in this day where we are all fed a steady diet of overhyped, irony-dripping marketing, it is nice to see real people. Add local tweetups to the mix and it is awesome, especially for a small business like mine that likes to work in barter when possible.
So I love it. And being the
ONLY eye doc in Tampa Bay who tweets, I've got that self-selected demographic all to myself -- for now. And I am taking advantage of it while I can.
SMI: How much time does it take you to manage your social media presence?
NBW: Well, my wife thinks it takes me a lot of time. Really, though, social media is so integrated with other tasks such as administrative and leisure time that it is hard to quantify the time put in. Perhaps 30 minutes a day total, apart from stand-alone marketing time. I don't think of it as taking a lot of time, because it is fun and rewarding. An important note is that this really only applies to maintenance of social networks. Setting up a new presence DOES take time and effort at first, deciding on what image to present, literally and figuratively, and what the written and unwritten rules are of the new network.
SMI: Are any social media channels more important than others?
NBW: I'm not a guru on this subject, but I think it all depends on your goals and perspective. I pretty much see my blog as the central hub of the Web presence and then other systems/networks making use of that content. However, this is changing as I am becoming more active on Twitter. I am starting to dislike Facebook due to all the quizzes and applications, but I know that it is still popular.
SMI: Is it just you managing it? Do you have anyone in your office helping you?
NBW: I have talked about this with other optometrists. Historically, optometrists are not great at delegating. I'm not sure why. I have introduced social media to my office staff and asked them to participate by writing blog posts. I would like to get them more involved and tweet about office events and allow me to focus more on clinical topics, but we are not there -- yet.
SMI: Who's your target audience? Is there a certain demographic?
NBW: The target audience is tricky. Initially and ideally, the target audience is people (specifically mothers) who live in the area and who are patients or potential patients of Bright Eyes. However, we also provide specialty services of infant & pediatric care, vision therapy and orthokeratology, and there is not a large number of these specialists using social media nationwide. So I am simultaneously creating a national and international audience of people who are interested in this niche care.
This has caused me to realize that I have to create different entities to address these audiences, and I am now working toward this, in conjunction with national professional organizations within these specialties. To some degree, I am leading them to it, because they are thinking about the message spreading from more conventional channels.
SMI: What's your advice to other business owners about using social media?
I think that virtually any business could benefit from social media. There is a small, local house cleaning company that I think is doing a great job (@serranocleaning ). I plan on using their services in the future. Ikea opened a new store in Tampa, and they have been the example of "doing it right" with @IKEATampaFans. They listen to tweets and encourage exchange without spam.
So to any business, especially one that deals heavily with human interaction such as sales or consulting, I would say, "Come on in, the water is fine." But do spend a little time dabbling with a personal account to think about what style and approach works for you, before you commit.
I also feel very strongly that businesses should separate their personal and business social media identities. I know others disagree with me on this point, saying, "You are your
brand." But I just think it is confusing if you are using your office/business name and then sending a bunch of tweets that have no relation to your core concept. I'm not saying to refuse to
show some personal side because that is a good and important aspect, but to keep it relevant to your brand.