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Monday / May 23.
HomemibusinessFacebook: Is this the end?

Facebook: Is this the end?

Researchers in the United States forecast that Facebook will lose 80 per cent of its users by 2017 leading commentators to predict the social media behemoth is heading the way of the floppy disk and the Walkman. So, as an eye health practitioner, is it still worth investing the time and energy into your Facebook site, and social media in general?

Now 10 years old and with 1.1 billion users around the globe, Facebook is the dominant social media platform, but for how long? Researchers from Princeton University in the United States recently made the startling claim that Facebook is like an infectious disease, experiencing a spike before its demise1.

The online paper, published by John Cannarella and Joshua Spechler, doctoral candidates in mechanical and aerospace engineering, predicts Facebook will lose 80 per cent of its user base in the next three years. They applied a modified epidemiological model to describe the dynamics of online social networks’ user activity, using publicly available Google data.

“Ideas, like diseases, have been shown to spread infectiously between people before eventually dying out, and have been successfully described with epidemiological models,” they wrote.

I’m not interested in 15,000 likes if they’re from Taiwan. It’s about having relationships with the people we have…

It is just one of a number of recent studies suggesting that Facebook is in its death throes. Other studies suggest it is only used by older people, as teens jump ship in favour of Instagram, SnapChat and Vine.

So is this the end of Facebook? Is it now time to log lout and switch off social media altogether.

Digital strategist Gina Lednyak, founder of Lednyak Social Media, doesn’t think so. She believes Facebook is still an essential business tool.

“Just as you will always have someone to answer the phone (in your practice), you will need someone to help with your social media presence,” Ms. Lednyak says. “It’s just as important.”

Although she concedes that there are some “red flags”, Facebook is still “incredibly effective” for maintaining contact with patients and creating awareness of your brand or practice in a localised way.

According to Ms. Lednyak, it takes between seven and 11 “touch points” before a consumer becomes a customer. Doing this online through social media, is a smart way to reach out and touch people, she said, drawing them into your practice or consolidating your relationship with them.

Daunting

For people who are not “digital natives”, that is, those that remember a time before the internet, plunging into social media can be daunting. Ms. Lednyak said the number one rule was to plan your social media strategy.

She recommends setting aside a couple of hours each month to plan your content for the next month. Then, at the beginning of each week, spend some time scheduling posts or updates. Once that’s done, schedule a few minutes a couple of times a day to check your Facebook page.

“It’s extremely important to respond to comments – not doing so is like someone walking into your practice and you turn your back, pretending not to see them. It’s exactly the same.”

The second rule, she said, was to “reach out for support”. She suggests bouncing ideas off a colleague or friend is a great idea.

Louise McCarthy, the practice manager at Paul McCarthy Optometrist in the inner western Sydney suburb of Drummoyne, said she was initially “apprehensive” about setting up a Facebook site. As a member of the Provision network, she attended a seminar on social media and received support to develop a social media profile.

The Facebook page, which has about 100 members since it was established in August last year, features posts ranging from cartoons, fun eye facts, practice news and recipes containing eye health foods.

“I was concerned initially about the time commitment – I can see the potential for it to be time consuming. You have to manage it, not let it manage you.”

Ms. McCarthy said she spends “perhaps half an hour a day” on social media, visiting relevant blogs and sites to search for fresh content. While she checks the site daily, she doesn’t post every day.

“The response has been great,” she said. “It is only early days and we’re looking to build our following… at this stage it is mostly one way traffic (in the Facebook posts). The challenge now is to increase the two way traffic and get conversations happening.”

Building Community, Not Selling

Another, more established Facebook page belongs to The Eye Practice in Sydney. Manager Nicole Kokkinakis set up the practice’s Facebook site in September 2010 and has gathered more than 500 members. She also maintains a Pinterest account, tried (then abandoned) Twitter and is planning a foray into Instagram.

She said Facebook isn’t about bringing in new customers, or selling them products, but building relationships with the practice’s current patient base.

“I’m not interested in 15,000 likes if they’re from Taiwan. It’s about having relationships with the people we have…You’ve got to remember that a lot of patients only come in every two years. You can easily lose touch. If you touch base with them more often, it becomes more personal.”

While many of her posts relate to eye health, practice news and eye fashion, she’s not afraid to share personal stories, such as her daughter’s graduation.

“I can’t tell you how many posts we had congratulating her – it has got absolutely nothing to do with selling,” she said.

She said it was particularly pleasing when patients started conversations with each other, through the practice’s Facebook site, commenting on each other’s experiences. “To me, that’s what my page is all about.”

She said an important function of Facebook was to allow patients to contact the practice at any time, particularly if they had urgent questions or problems. Ms. Kokkinakis has set up alerts for Facebook activity, and has the page open all day in the background but generally posts between once and three times a day.

Return on Investment

Ms. Lednyak said the benefits of social media are extremely measurable, if you have a clear idea on what your goals are.

“Facebook is not a direct sales tool, but it is the optimum way to get your business in front of a large amount of targeted eyeballs.

“Facebook is significantly more measurable than any other marketing activity out there, you can track impressions of your brand, the number of people who see each post, and even create coupons your customers can redeem in store.”

Where to Now?

While Ms. Lednyak said a good website and Facebook presence were vital, there were other platforms that were suitable for eye health professionals. She said Pinterest, a pin-board style photo sharing site, had been effectively used by one practice as an effective way to display its stock by making it available on tablets in the waiting room, allowing patients to flick through its Pinterest pin boards.

She said Instagram, “a dynamic, visual network” that could be useful for showcasing beautiful images or product shots. Twitter, she said, was a bit more difficult for optometry practices to use, although it was a good platform for online retailers.

Ms. Kokkinakis said the most important thing about creating a social media presence was to keep up and keep an open mind to the possibilities the various platforms present. Her initial instruction in Facebook was from her children, she went on to do some courses, and educate herself about social media. She said it was a case of learning “through trial and error” about what works for you and what doesn’t work..

“It is hard to keep on top of all the new platforms – things keep changing. You have to keep doing it – you have to keep educating yourself.”

Reference

1. Cannarella J. and Spechler J., Epidemiological modeling of online social network dynamics, http://arxiv.org/abs/1401.4208