They have no problem mastering an X-ray gun, a botox needle, or nitrous oxide. But sit a dentist in front of Facebook or Yelp and things become more complicated. For dentists attending the Greater New York Dental Meeting at the Javits Center in Manhattan, the shiny new tools and techniques offered in the main hall of the convention center might easily be learned with a manual. But mastering online marketing means attracting potential new patients so dentists and their office staffs were eager to learn how to do that.
At 9 a.m. on Tuesday, a three-hour class titled “Essential Online Marketing Strategies to Attract New Patients,” on the lower level of the convention center drew almost 40 dentists, hygienists and administrative assistants. They piled into a small classroom that would comfortably hold two dozen people but was instead overflowing into the hall before the session’s first hour had elapsed.
At the front of the room was Dr. Leonard Tau, a cosmetic dentist with a private practice in Pennsylvania. A self-taught online marketer, he called himself “the reputation doctor” and admitted he was “a very good salesman.” An energetic, engaging and straight-talking speaker, Tau was as quick to crack a joke as he was to tell someone they were mistaken or misguided.
“I go back to when the only marketing you could do was bold type in the Yellow Pages…” said one of the dentists in the classroom before he was stopped by Tau.
“How many people still advertise in the Yellow Pages? Anybody do that still?” Tau asked. No one raised their hand. “Good. Let’s get that out of the way right now.”
After that, the Yellow Pages were never brought up again, as Tau and the class tackled “The Tau Template,” his guide to Yelp, Google, Facebook, YouTube, blogs and website design. The students scribbled furiously and snapped photos of the presentation slides as Tau shared tips on how to deal with bad reviews (“Don’t reply to them.”), how to improve their customer service (painless injections help, he says, as does a bowl of paraffin wax for patients to dip their hands and receive some moisturizing) and whether clinics should charge a fee for patients who don’t show up to an appointment (“If you want them to never come back, go for it”).
“You have to wow them,” Tau said. “If they have a bad service experience, they will definitely go online and talk about it.”
For many in Tau’s audience, every aspect of online marketing was new and they wanted to learn how to control everything from where Google placed them on a search results list to how Facebook might bring in new patients.
“We’re hungry for this information,” said Lorraine St. Pierre, a dental assistant for a family dentistry practice in Old Tappan, N.J. St. Pierre, the clinic’s dentist and one other assistant attended Tau’s class. It was the first time anyone from the New Jersey-based practice had attended a class on online marketing. “We’ve taken on this media because we need to learn, because we’re not the young crowd. We’re definitely going to blog, but we need to know how.”
Tau, 44, has been speaking about online marketing since 2010. At first people didn’t listen, he says, because dentists thought what he was doing was “taboo or crazy.” And while there is still a large contingent of people working in the dental industry who refuse to embrace online marketing, Tau says that number is getting smaller. The older generation of dentists can be particularly hard to reach, he said.
“I work with two doctors, one young and one old,” said Agata Ehrlinger, a hygienist working in Manhattan who attended Tau’s class. She said she was planning on presenting the new marketing information only to the younger doctor because the older doctor probably would not use it. “[Online marketing] is slowly happening for us, but not as fast as we would like it to happen,” she said.
Tau’s class and the nine other social media-based classes offered during this year’s convention were filled with people like Ehrlinger who said she was just “trying to keep up with the times.” It’s the second year the convention has offered 10 social media-based classes, increasing from the six they offered in 2015, and the four sessions offered in 2014 — evidence that online marketing is more important to dentists than ever before. And while it’s clear that the dental industry is trying to embrace marketing on the internet, it hasn’t been easy.
“If I have a business site on Facebook, and I post, very few people see it,” said Jay Marks, a dentist working in Danbury, Conn., who did not attend Tau’s online marketing class. “That’s the medium now. The Yellow Pages rep doesn’t even call me anymore. Paper stuff is out.”