Many marketing professionals look at the over 1 billion worldwide users on Facebook and say you must have a strong presence there to have a successful practice. It’s common for such consultants to discuss the myriad ways you can use Facebook: your profile; a Business Page; advertising and frequent posts. You can do a free search on Google and learn how to get more ‘Likes’ and ‘Fans’ and the referrals should come. As a Psychologist who has experimented with anything and everything Facebook has to offer a private practitioner, I totally disagree with this common advice. I test everything I possibly can online to generate referrals to my practice, and my conclusion is that you can waste a great deal of time and money on Facebook and have very little to show for it if you go into it naively. In this post I’ll discuss why this is so, and review one area I have found that does work well to generate referrals from Facebook.
Yes, Facebook has millions of users, and it also has the longest time per visit of any website (about 20 minutes). But monetizing those eyeballs is not easy, since few people go on Facebook with a primary purpose of seeking information. People go to search engines to find information, and but they go to Facebook to socialize, play games, look at pictures and videos their friends have posted, and comment on those posts. This means the only way you can successfully promote your practice on Facebook is to return to the 20th century model of ‘Interruption Marketing’, where you do what the major TV networks, newspapers and magazines of that era did: you interrupt people’s attention from what they are focusing on to check out your product or service. But we’re in the 21st century, where the prevailing advertising model is ‘Permission Marketing’ (see Seth Godin’s brilliant 1999 book by the same name). As consumers we now get to choose what we want to see and hear. We give people, businesses and networks permission to tell us about their wares – and get annoyed or angry when this permission is violated. And on a rapidly-updating newsfeed such as Facebook, a post about your practice will usually elicit far less interest and attention than the photos from a friends’ vacation or the video of a sibling’s new puppy.
While every practitioner should have a free Business Page on Facebook (see https://www.facebook.com/pages/create.php), gathering Fans for your page or getting people to Like your posts is almost always a complete waste of time. Becoming a ‘fan’ of a Psychotherapist page or liking one of their posts is a quick, superficial action that implies a very low level of engagement with your work (aside: what DOES imply more engagement is when someone gives you their email address; building an email list is a very wise practice-building activity).
The one unique advantage that Facebook has over the search engines involves pay-per-click advertising. Unlike Google, who is forced by their business model to let everyone play the search game, Facebook has an exact way to segment who sees your ads. Thanks to the remarkable amount of personal data Facebook users put on their profiles, Facebook can offer the most highly targeted advertising in the history of business. Pick your target market very precisely – by age; gender; education level; city of residence; marital status; number of and age of children; or personal interests or hobbies – and Facebook has a way for you to get your message out only to that specific niche of people. Specialize in working with children between the ages of 12-15? Want more referrals from women between the ages of 30-65 with a college degree who live only in four very affluent zip codes? Work with married couples? Have a new workshop for Baby Boomer retirees? No problem – no one else but those people will ever see your ad. Combine that with an emotionally engaging photo and a problem-oriented headline (i.e. “Panic Attacks?” or “Still Arguing?” or “Defiant Teenager?”) and you have a great chance of interrupting focus from the social activities to your service.
One important note: when people click on your ad, Facebook gives you the option of having the person visit your Facebook Business Page or leave Facebook and go to a specific page on your website. Get them off of Facebook to your website! There are far too many distractions on Facebook that greatly reduce the chances of someone focusing on your services for more than a few moments.
In summary, approach Facebook with caution and experiment with pay per click ads – but only if you have a very specific, targeted niche. For all others, create a Business page, update it when necessary, and enjoy the social aspects of Facebook. Just don’t expect it to fill up your practice.