“Social Media seems to promise so much but deliver so little” said an optician at our local business awards this week.

I wanted to get some views on Social Media from independent professionals ahead of the Sight Care conference in February and to be fair; her response was fairly typical of many practitioners across regulated industries.

“We know we can’t ignore Social Media, but it seems to be very hard work to get any kind of decent response” she continued.  I pressed her a little and asked how she uses Social Media in her practice and this was her reply:

“I’ve seen one competitor using LinkedIn so we thought we’d give that a go.  Another uses YouTube so we gave that a go and there’s a firm in Guildford who uses Twitter and Instagram – so we gave those a go too.  But it’s not really happening - what are we doing wrong?”

To be fair, there are not many hard and fast rights and wrongs with Social Media, but her answer gave me a clue as to how she could immediately improve matters.

Unfortunately “give that a go” is not and never will be a viable Social Media strategy for any business.  I’m all for experimentation as part of a strategy, but not as the entire plan - and any new business that you do get from this approach will be more by accident than design.  In short, the single thing holding back professional practitioners from seeing greater return from their use of Social Media is not having a clear (and documented) strategy.

Then we have to define “greater return”.  At our last count, there are around thirty eight different outcomes that a professional practice could expect to see from having a proper strategy behind them, and whilst we don’t have time to go through each of them here, it does suggest that there are many different ways that Social Media could work for independent opticians.  That’s important because most businesses tend to assume that Social Media falls within Sales and Marketing activities.  It certainly can do, but there is so much more that you can also achieve with Social Media.

It’s also important that you stop seeing Social Media as an ‘add on’ activity within your business.  After all, we seemed to manage OK before Social Media came along and yet Social Media experts and consultants are now telling us this is something we must get involved with.

In my view, Social Media has now gone way beyond being simply an add-on activity in your business, and it’s only when you create that all-important strategy that you begin to realise that Social becomes an integral part of your overall business and customer proposition.  In short, the communication of high value content through the medium of Social Media is now a key part of what you do as a business. 

When people are referred to you, it’s almost inevitable that they will want to check you out online, and if all they can find is a ‘brochure-style’ website, they are likely to be left wanting.  In the old days before the likes of Twitter, Facebook et al, we used to tell businesses that ‘if you aren’t on Google, you don’t exist’.  Today we could update that to suggest that ‘if you’re not virtual, you’re not real!’  And ‘virtual’ means a lot more than just having a website.

Today’s consumers want a lot more than just a website.  Can you imagine what it would be like booking an hotel, restaurant or B&B without also consulting TripAdvisor?!  Well, we managed it in the past, but today consumers expect to be able to get multiple views and opinions on products and services before they purchase them.  They also want to get a sense for you, your credibility, reputation, professionalism and expertise – all of which go way beyond just having a pretty website.

Social Media provides people with access to information, content, blogs, videos and expertise that go far beyond your website alone.  So make sure that you have a plan to leverage Social Media for the benefit of not just you and your business – but also for customers and prospects.

Please join me on the 27th February 2017 at the Sight Care conference, when I’ll share more proven insights into how to plan your use of Social Media – plus quick wins that you can put in place immediately.

Please follow me on Twitter @philipcalvert