Online dental marketing tips—your online reputation
Online review websites have become three-ring circuses where anonymity outshines civility. Will dentists buy tickets to the show?

While perusing dental journals from across the country, I stumbled on a rant from a dentist in a small town in the heart of the Midwest, USA* who was fed up with online review sites. She vented what I believe many of you are feeling as well about websites like Yelp and Healthgrades: “The system is skewed, unfair, and dishonest,” and that “dentists should invest in patient care rather than creating an online contrived illusion.”
She’s right, of course. As a marketing professional, even I agree that the whole online review conundrum is “a circus,” as she called it. Unfortunately, it’s 2015, and this “circus” is the biggest show in town.
What are dentists doing about the “circus” of online reputations and reviews?
If you’ve read Inscriptions recently, you’ll recall what most marketing and creative experts are advising you to do: Invest a little time every week monitoring your reputation on search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo, as well as check out what people are saying about you on sites like Yelp, Healthgrades, and Vitals. “Sure,” you’re thinking, “and while I am at it, my team and I can take a few hours off at the spa for a day of relaxation.”
If that wasn’t daunting enough, marketing experts then advise you that you need to bolster your scores by asking satisfied patients to write positive online reviews to counterbalance the occasional negative review that you receive.

* The internet is instantly accessible, and with mobile devices, it’s an arm’s length away for most people. They can also search and “research” dentists any time of day.
* People have become busier and lazier, and it’s easier just to check the Internet than ask a friend or colleague.  
* People have an alarming false sense that if it’s on the internet, it’s true.
* Online review sites like Yelp give people the insincere yet pacifying satisfaction that they did “some research” before selecting a dentist.  
* To be fair to patients, many of them don’t know how to select a dentist.
Our aforementioned small-town dentist didn’t want any part of this approach. She vehemently refused to boost her review scores on sites like Yelp by asking patients to provide an “artificial, disingenuous accolade” as a way to say “thank you.” She preferred to have patients thank her the way they wanted to, and in many cases that meant an ol’ fashioned handwritten letter.
I admire her taking a stand by not feeling pressure to actively engage with online review websites, but she might have a luxury that you don’t: She practices in a smaller town where competition might not nearly be as fierce as a city like Phoenix, Tucson, or Flagstaff. The truth is, if you’re practicing in a larger town that has a concentrated number of dentists,
I would have genuine concerns for dentists who refuse to have a ringside seat for the circus. The 800lb gorilla that these online review sites have become is not leaving the operatory anytime soon. In fact, an extensive 2011 study found that 44 percent of Internet users are actually looking for doctors and other healthcare providers when they search for health information online.1
Unless you practice in a one-dentist town, which is possible in Arizona, I think, you need to consider the consequences of not managing your online reputation and encouraging happy patients to express their satisfaction online. I wish this dentist luck, but for good or ill, people are (and will continue) using review websites to research a potential dentist. The question is, will you participate or ignore the circus?
* I know this town and area of the country well. I used to live there.
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