Social media in a conservative industry?
In this week’s interview of Online Marketing experts here in the Tampa Bay area, I had the chance to hook up with Dr. Nathan Bonilla-Warford (Dr. Nate), owner of Bright Eyes Family Vision Care in the Westchase area of Tampa. He sprang onto the Tampa scene early this year with…
I’ll just let him tell the story.
Mark Regan: Tell me a little about your background and how you came into your current incarnation of optometrist and social media evangelist..
Dr. Nate: I’ve always been a little bit techy when thinking about a career, I considered basic science, but was concerned about not having enough person-to-person interaction. After considering lots of fields that would be science/tech based yet involve daily working with people, I settled on Optometry. I have been extremely happy with my choice.
I have also been interested in “social media” from the early 1990s in the form IRC, usenet, and MUDs and even without video, audio, or graphics beyond ASCII art, I was impressed with how well the internet could unite people independent of geography. I worked for AOL for awhile after college and before optometry school. Once I became a business owner, it was a no-brainer to use these tools to make connections and market my “real” skill of eye and vision care.
Foursquare Day – April 16th
Mark Regan: We came to know each other through your fame in naming April 16th (4/16) as Foursquare Day. How has this international level of fame changed your Westchase business? Were there any downsides?
Dr. Nate: Well, Foursquare Day was great. I basically just got lucky – I had a simple idea and ran with it. Lots of other people got excited about it and because of that I was on TV, in the paper, and mentioned in lots of blogs and websites around the world. I met lots of great folks.
People now find out about my practice via foursquare, but even more importantly it opened doors that lead to speaking appearances at national meetings and a paying gig blogging about social media and the eye care industry. The only real downside was that I basically didn’t sleep for three weeks while not cutting back on my day job. Working during the day, blogging at night. It was brutal.
Local Online Marketing
Mark Regan: With respect to local online marketing, what should more owners use to drive their business? I’m thinking, review sites, directories, SEO, social media, location-based marketing, etc. But you may have others.
Dr. Nate: Small business owners are busy people and they can’t simply tell “marketing” to do things. I’m not saying they have to do everything themselves, but they should educate themselves enough about social media so that they can intelligently make choices about what to do, what to delegate and what to outsource.
I think we are at the point now where every local business should have a Facebook page, even if it is updated less frequently. A blog really matters, both for the customer education and the SEO value, but it requires more time and attention. Claiming and monitoring review sites are important, but I think that the demographics of Tampa Bay are such that a business should limit the amount of time put in.
Mark Regan: I’m guessing the typical optometrist considers their market potential to be a 25-mile radius around their office. What would you say to these folks to open their eyes beyond that limitation?
Dr. Nate: I think that the average optometrists actually thinks it is smaller than 25-mile, maybe more like 10. It is interesting, though, because I have patients that come from Gainesville, Bradenton, Sebring, etc. They come because I have special skills such as computer vision syndrome and children’s vision and they find me via the internet.
So when I talk to other eye doctors, I encourage them to think about what sets them apart and then totally own that niche. Claim that area and dominate it. For example, I want to be the THE EYE GUY to the Tampa Bay tech scene. The fact that I just got published in Mashable is huge, even though obviously most readers aren’t in my neighborhood.
Mark Regan: Do you feel businesses in the healthcare space have a disadvantage over others due to legal issues, liability, regulations when it comes to exploiting the latest and greatest in online marketing strategies?
Dr. Nate: I do a podcast called Peripheral Vision with a friend about social media for eye care professionals. We talk about this all the time. Yes, health care does have few disadvantages. Some of these are state and federal laws that limit what can be said and what kind of information can be released.
But that isn’t really the biggest hurdle. Most health care professionals are very conservative and are used to have a lot of control over everything. Social media is new and it feels like giving up control of information and image to others. What many don’t realize is that they’ve already lost control – they just don’t know it yet – and embracing social media is a way to regain control.
Location-Based Social Networks
Mark Regan: Bonus question: What are your thoughts on location-based social networks like Foursquare, Gowalla and Facebook Places? How do you see them helping businesses?
Dr. Nate: Well, I remember when I was being interviewed a year ago and was asked what I thought was going to be big in 2010. I said location-based services, but I had no idea how white-hot it was going to get – for me personally or the the concept. However, a very small percentage of people, I think hovering around 5% use these networks.
Facebook has the opportunity to explode that number, but from a business owner perspective they’ve totally botched the roll out in a really disappointing way.
Nevertheless, I think businesses should take advantage of the LBS networks, because even if a small percentage of people use them, it gives businesses one more way generate content and interest. It remains to be seen if LBS ever becomes standard.
Mark Regan: Thanks Dr. Nate! How can people find out more about how you use social media in your optometry office and connect with you?
Dr. Nate: You are totally welcome. Thanks for being a Patient Spotlight for me. I love to spread the word about social media. First, I host a regular social media chat for the Westchase Area Business Association at my office. People can find out more on the Facebook page. They can also read more on my blog, Bright Eyes News, or find me on Facebook or Twitter.