By Rob Goszkowski, DrBicuspid.com associate editor

February 27, 2014 -- DrBicuspid.com is pleased to present the next installment of Leaders in Dentistry, a series of interviews with researchers, practitioners, and opinion leaders who are instrumental in changing the practice of dentistry.

This February, Facebook celebrated its 10-year anniversary, and in that time the company has helped define the way that people communicate. The social media giant is nearly ubiquitous in its use by Americans, and it is still growing in certain demographics. And given its recent, headline-grabbing $16 billion purchase of WhatsApp, a messaging app, the company is aggressively protecting its relevance in the tech world, where irrelevance can descend quickly upon companies of all sizes.

As of September 2013, the odds are good that if someone in the U.S. uses the Internet, he or she uses social networking (73%) and specifically uses Facebook (71%), according to data gathered for the Pew Internet Project. Given Facebook's penetration, it is inevitable that social networking would have an impact on the lives of dentists. And Edward Zuckerberg, DDS, has had a unique perspective of that relationship as both a dentist and the father of Mark Zuckerberg, a Facebook co-founder and the company's CEO. Dr. Zuckerberg, who hosts continuing education courses on the topic of social media and how to use it to benefit dental practices, spoke with DrBicuspid.com to talk about Facebook and how social media is being used by new and long-established practices.

DrBicuspid.com: Why was Facebook so successful when other social networks fizzled?

Edward Zuckerberg, DDS
Edward Zuckerberg, DDS.

Dr. Zuckerberg: It was developed as a tool with unlimited potential for people communicating with the world. I think that one of the smart things Mark did was to observe what was going on around him at the time. MySpace had a foothold; he saw what the problems with it were. I don't think he was looking for something with that kind of scope or to be the next MySpace, but, fortunately, he built enough tools into it to allow it to evolve.

Speaking of evolution, Facebook's demographics are shifting; seniors are now the fasting-growing segment.

Even in my own lectures, I've noted how the average age of attendees at them has shifted. We shouldn't be surprised by that at all. If you spoke with my colleagues 15 years ago, they probably didn't envision themselves being in practice in 2014. The economy had a huge run up by 2000. Then all of a sudden we had the bottom drop out twice. So you have a lot of dentists facing the reality that they have to keep working.

They see all the younger guys using more and more tech than they are using, stuff like Google AdWords and Facebook. They're not ready to jump in whole-heartedly, but they're at the lecture to learn a little bit more about it.

Outside of dentistry, seniors have the most expendable free time in the population. Combine that with a desire to learn and a desire to keep in touch with their grandkids and kids, to see what's going on in their lives. Many are lonely -- they've lost spouses and it's a way for them to stay in touch, particularly if they're housebound. So this is an amazing tool for them to be a life companion.

Additionally, seniors are just an obvious growth place, because there are limited growth places in other age groups, at least in the U.S.

What was your first impression of Facebook? Did you say, "Well, I suppose this is something that could work."

[Laughter]

Or did it strike you as something that, as you said, had limitless possibilities?

I looked at this computer age as one that has incredible opportunity, because everything that had been created and done the old-fashioned way had to be recreated for the computer -- things that us older guys didn't even think about, because we grew up without them. But my kids had them from very early ages. I think my son had his first when he was 9. These kids were used to doing everything on the computer, and they didn't like to be told that there was something that they couldn't use or do on the computer.

So when Mark showed up at Harvard, it was common for them to hand out to the freshmen this book with the picture of people's faces who were the entering class that year. I remember my son's reaction when they gave it to him was, "Why are you handing this to us? What a terrible waste of paper and trees. It would be a lot easier for me to find them -- instead of leafing through hundreds of pages -- by typing their name in and searching for them."

The answer they gave him was something like, "Yeah, we're working on that. We expect to have it up in a couple of years." And he thought, "A couple of years? That's ridiculous. I could build this in a week." So something inspired him to build it.

I don't think it was his intention at that point in time for this to be a commercial enterprise. But I think one of his friends saw the potential in it and said, "Hey, Mark, don't go giving it to the school for nothing. Let's keep it for ourselves and spread the idea and do it for other schools, too."

I got some word about what he was working on at the time, I couldn't possibly envision the magnitude and scale that it would come to 10 years later. The format made it more useful than a resource for looking up people to see their faces and where they went to high school. It became an interactive tool to chat with people, and it was able to expand to this whole dynamic presence. So it transcended the original idea and became your place on the Internet.

I don't think the concept of making an electronic version of a face book was such a genius idea. I think it was natural for kids of that era to question things that weren't available electronically and figure out why they should be, how to best do it themselves, and figure out how to make a good product. I don't think back in 2004 these kids thought about this being their meal ticket or IPO. I don't think that at all.

What are dentists interested in at these social networking lectures?

Obviously, I'm very passionate about this as a tool for dentists to communicate with their patients, but I also talk quite a bit about technology. With any continuing education, dentists are looking for ways to bring back some excitement into their practice, ways to do things better than they are now so they're inquisitive when they come.

“I'm very passionate about this as a tool for dentists to communicate with their patients.”

My lecture is both introductory and intermediate. I'd love to do a follow-up course that is more intermediate-to-advanced and see how many of them are really putting this into play. I make myself very open and available by email to my student attendees. I encourage them to follow up, but I don't get a lot of people taking me up on that offer, which is surprising -- and a little bit discouraging, too. It's either one of two things: I did such an amazing job that they don't need any help because I've made it so clear. But more realistically, it's such a complex thing, and people are using my lectures to learn a little bit about it.

A main concern among dentists or business owners is negative reviews posted on their practice's Facebook page.

All reviews, if they're on a venue like Facebook, where there's the ability to respond to it, should be acknowledged. You should thank people for a positive review. But you should also address reviews that aren't positive head-on. I'm not talking about reviews that are so obviously hateful or using strongly negative language -- you have the ability to ban the user or delete that review. I'm talking about the type of review where you can tell it's a cry for help. They feel like they've been mistreated, and they don't know how to vent their displeasure, so they're using your Facebook page to do it. That's an opportunity for customer service.

In the past, I have responded to a negative comment and turned it into a completely positive outcome. It probably saved the relationship with the patient. If we had simply deleted it and the patient would have looked at our page a day or two later and not even seen the comment posted, they would have thought that we didn't give a damn and went to another office.

Other people might bring up complaints about fees or unexpected pain after treatment. The way to handle those sorts of things is to take them into a private conversation, but put up a comment saying, "I'm sorry you're in so much pain, but don't we don't want to make public the information about your private, personal medical care that we're rendering to you. We're going to contact you directly via phone or email to continue the discussion." So show people with the message that you're not ashamed. Let's face it, no one can please everyone 100% of the time. If you are, you're a pushover and someone is taking advantage of you.

There's always going to be people who are unhappy. We don't do it too often, but at our regular staff meetings someone might raise the possibility of firing a patient -- if the patient is abusive to the staff or the doctor, frequently misses appointments, things of that nature. Over the years, of the patients we fired, I can't think of one that we regret.

What is the best way to get your practice's content noticed on Facebook?

Obviously, the best content out there is original content, but that's also the hardest content to come up with. The proper mix would be some original content, maybe once a month I'll generate a piece of original content that will be based on something I'm passionate about or inspired to write about, a situation that came up in the office and I was proud of the way we handled it, etc.

The other option is to get content that's not in the form of a Facebook post, but maybe an interesting article. Something like what DrBicuspid.com posts in the newsletter. Granted, most are geared toward a dental professional readership, but every now and then there's a cutesy story like the rising cost of the tooth fairy. I turned that into a very engaging post about adjusting for inflation from when I was a kid. Then people chime in what they got as a kid or what their kids are getting. And someone then asked at what age will teeth start falling out. I posted a chart as a follow-up, outlining when primary teeth are lost and replaced.

Anything you're doing that is going to generate engagement by your fans is worthwhile: asking patients to post content, maybe about positive experiences they've had; writing biographies about staff members; pro bono cases; volunteering for their church; and charity work that's not related to the practice are common among dentists. This is great stuff to put on Facebook to show users that there's a human side to the doctor.

In 2014, is it too late to get involved?

It's still early enough in the game that dentists who use it can have a competitive advantage over those who don't. But I don't think it's like a Yellow Pages listing where you have to be in the book in order for patients to find you and it's an obligatory thing.

This is another way for patients to feel more connected to the office, to feel like this is their dental practitioner. I have certain patients that always comment on my posts -- they're reading, clicking like, and sharing. I know that by providing content, my office is their go-to place for dental information.

Why should someone who goes to a dentist for dental work have to go somewhere else for their dental knowledge or questions? Why shouldn't that office be everything dental to that patient that it can be? And if it does that, it's going to strengthen that bond and the patient will think twice about leaving.

It's also a way to announce new technologies, so patients are aware of what's going on in your office when you get that new CAD/CAM machine. They may not have ever had a crown, but they're going to read about the fact that you can do a crown and walk out with it the same day. When a friend complains about a temporary crown that keeps falling off, they'll say, "Just go to mine in one visit."

I understand that a lot of dentists don't feel comfortable with Facebook. There are certainly professionals such as myself and consulting firms out there that are available to help those that don't think they're capable of handling it themselves. I try to show in my lectures that it's really not that difficult and they can do it themselves.

To me, it's an invaluable tool that's being terribly underutilized.

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Last Updated hh 4/11/2014 2:21:54 PM