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Dr. Edward Zuckerberg, '78, AKA "Inspector Gadget," Talks About Marketing His Dental Practice on Facebook

Dr. Edward Zuckerberg graduated from the NYU College of Dentistry in 1978 and became a fellow of the Academy of General Dentistry in 1984. He has been in private practice for 31 years, the last 29 years in Dobbs Ferry, New York. He and his wife, Karen, a psychiatrist, have four children, including son Mark, the founder and CEO of Facebook, Inc. Dr. Zuckerberg can be contacted at painless.drz@verizon.net or on his Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/painlessdrz.

An early technology adopter, Dr. Zuckerberg's vision and commitment to technology provided the perfect environment in which to nurture his children, Randi, Mark, Donna, and Arielle, all of whom are high-technology adepts. Dr. Zuckerberg computerized his dental practice in 1984, introduced digital radiography in 1997, and went paperless in 2005, which, among other things, enables patients to fill out medical histories online, receive appointment confirmations and reminders electronically, and access secure patient portals to view their records and request appointments.

Dr. Zuckerberg's practice slogan is "We cater to cowards." He has been aided in this approach by his wife, Karen, who formerly managed his office and used her psychiatric training to counsel dentally phobic patients.

Meeting Ed Zuckerberg, it's impossible not to be struck by the thought that "flow" is an apt metaphor for both his personal and professional life. An openness to all the possibilities of technology and of using technology to improve the way he practices dentistry is combined with a love of deep-sea diving, of photographing seas and oceans, and of all things aquatic, which dominate his office décor. Also contributing to the sense of flow is the fact that his office is located in an annex to his home, allowing easy access between family and practice life.

Recently, Global Health Nexus spoke with Dr. Zuckerberg about his commitment to social media as the chief means of marketing and managing his practice.

Global Health Nexus (GHN): When did you start using social media in your practice?

Dr. Zuckerberg: Because I'm related to the Facebook founder, I was an early user of Facebook. But I didn't begin to utilize its full potential until about two years ago, when I got a message from Dave Kerpen, whose company, Likeable Media (Likeable.com) specializes in helping businesses develop and grow their Facebook presence. He facilitated setting up my Facebook page and uses it to show prospective clients that Facebook can provide what he calls "word-of-mouth marketing on steroids."

GHN: How does Facebook help you to market your practice?

Dr. Zuckerberg: The best way to build a practice is by referrals from satisfied patients. With Facebook, you have the opportunity to build referrals by first getting people to like your practice and then letting their Facebook friends know that they like it. My practice is proof positive that, with Facebook, one person with 100 friends can have as much influence as an entire institution.

GHN: What makes Facebook so attractive for advertising a dental practice?

Dr. Zuckerberg: The heart of Facebook's social network is the free page each person or business can set up, which can include photos, interests, personal information, and anything else they wish to include in their online persona. They link to other friends and acquaintances by inviting each other and accepting invitations to be linked online as friends, thus developing their own network. In addition to personal pages, Facebook allows creation of business pages, which are open to the public, any of whom can subscribe to your business page by "liking" it, thus becoming a "fan" of your page.

Your page may include everything a regular Web page has-articles, biographies of staff members, listing of hours, maps and directions, photos and videos. More important, the page is interactive. There is a "wall" on each page where fans can post comments, ask questions, review your practice, and start discussions. With a little computer know-how, you can easily set up the page yourself, or for a more professional look, you can use an outside company, such as Likeable Media.

Facebook lets you target your advertising in ways that no other form of advertising can, and delivers the power of your fans' social networking connections to create the online version of word-of-mouth referrals. In Facebook's ad setup page, you can select from a variety of demographics to target your market, including but not limited to age groups, geographic locations, gender, academic levels achieved and any interest or job title listed on an individual's profile. Of course, the more specific you are in selecting demographics, the more the target market will decrease, but you will get more bang for your advertising dollar as you assure that your message is only getting out to those you want to receive it.

GHN: What challenges does Facebook pose in marketing a dental practice?

Dr. Zuckerberg: The hardest part about developing your Facebook presence is getting existing patients and their acquaintances to "like" your page. According to Dave Kerpen, getting fans for your page starts by listing your Facebook Web address on your business cards, stationery, invoices, Web page, newsletter, office signage, and just about everywhere you have office information listed. Also, offer incentives for your patients and other contacts to "like" your page. The incentive may be in the form of free merchandise, discounts on services, or special offers. For example, people who check in three times at my office are eligible to receive a free tooth bleaching.

GHN: Once you have developed a nucleus of fans of your page, how do you attract new patients to your practice?

Dr. Zuckerberg: What happens on Facebook is that people have "friends," and you can target your marketing to people who are "friends" of those who already "like" your page. As a result, Facebook-the ultimate social network marketing tool-allows you to do many of the things you are already doing to market your practice, but much more effectively and at significantly lower cost.

An important key to the success of a Facebook marketing program is utilizing a selectable category in the ad selection process on Facebook, called "friends of fans." For example, John Smith is a fan of your practice. Most people on Facebook have at least 100 friends, some upward of several hundred. Using demographic limitations, assume that 25 of John's friends fit into your parameters. When your ad appears before John's friends on their Facebook page, there will also be a thumbs-up graphic along with "John Smith likes your practice!" This is the online equivalent of a word-of-mouth referral. Can you imagine if your direct mail could include references to the recipient's friends liking your practice? If that person is looking for a new dentist and they value John's recommendation, you have successfully harnessed a referral without having to ask John to be a missionary for you. This is what is known as the concept of "social search," which is a type of Web search method that determines the relevance of search results by considering the interactions or contributions of users.

GHN: Was the adoption of Facebook a natural fit for you, or was there a learning curve?

Dr. Zuckerberg: It was a natural fit because I've always been a technology enthusiast. For example, I recognized early that digital X-rays reduce radiation exposure for my patients by up to 80 percent. The instantaneous nature of digital won me over very quickly. I pride myself on my ability to evaluate technology. It improves my ability to help my patients understand my treatment recommendations and also allows me to raise the level of care I provide. In short, technology allows me to reinforce my practice vision, which is priceless. This vision is what led me to adopt CAD/CAM, which allows me to dramatically improve restoration quality and efficiency.

GHN: How do patients react to your emphasis on technology?

Dr. Zuckerberg: My patients are used to me being state-of-the-art; they're used to technology. We've been collecting e-mail addresses in the practice since e-mail was in its infancy. We use e-mail to send appointment reminders, recall reminders, statements, quarterly newsletters. I'm Inspector Gadget-my patients always expect to see something new in my office. And this includes providing patients with Internet access and iPods to make their time in my office even more efficient and rewarding for them.

GHN: Given the prevalence and the power of social media in today's world, can you envision the inclusion of social media in continuing education courses for practicing dentists and in practice management courses for dental students?

Dr. Zuckerberg: Absolutely. But every type of business, not only dentistry, can benefit from marketing on Facebook. More than 600 million people are using Facebook worldwide. With more than 150 million in the US alone, chances are good that nearly 50 percent of a dentist's current patient base is not only using Facebook, but is logging on several times a week, if not daily. This is a tremendous opportunity to project your message and reinforce relationships with current patients, as well as tap into a market of new patients.

GHN: Have you ever taught or been interested in teaching?

Dr. Zuckerberg: I actually teach a lot-but not dentistry. I teach bridge; bridge is one of my passions. I've been playing bridge actively for over 20 years and I'm on the board of the organization that oversees bridge activities in Westchester County. I run their Web site and their Facebook page, and I became a certified bridge teacher about 15 years ago. In fact, I've been teaching one course a semester for the past five years in the adult continuing education program at Westchester Community College. My life is full of bridges-the Brooklyn Bridge, which was the link from my childhood home to study at NYUCD; playing bridge; bridges in a dental sense. And of course, the ultimate bridge: technology as the bridge to the future.

GHN: Your son Mark recently announced the formation of a $100 million foundation to improve education among underserved students in Newark, New Jersey's, struggling school system. What are your thoughts about his decision?

Dr. Zuckerberg: I'm extremely proud of him for starting the philanthropic part of his career so early in life.