There are questions about whether using social media builds practices. I weigh in on the topic here. Following is an email interview with Dr. Kelly Flanagan, a friend and practice owner in Naperville, IL. His practice extensively uses content marketing and social media to promote their practice. It is working well. Learn how they are doing it.
Q1. I know that a few years ago you left a large mental health practice to start your own smaller practice called Artisan Clinical Associates. And I know you already had several viral blogs out there when you began. How did your social media presence affect your practice development?
In 2011, I realized that, as a therapist in a large group practice, I had become too dependent upon referrals from the practice. I was not generating very much of my own clientele. I knew that to begin my own practice, I would need to establish my own referral stream.
Around the same time, I came across the term “content marketing.” Content marketing is the idea that by providing consistent and useful content via your website and social media, you can make yourself a reliable and sought-out resource for large swaths of people.
So, in 2012, I began a blog at drkellyflanagan.com. I initiated a social media presence on several platforms including Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin. Then I published one blog post weekly. I posted it at the same time every week, to mirror the regularity and helpfulness of therapy. I used the social media platforms to disseminate that writing. People clicked back to my website to read the content. I then offered a free short ebook I had written as an incentive for signing up for my mailing list. Between the use of my mailing list and the utilization of social media, my blog following grew and several natural referral streams developed. This allowed me the freedom to begin my own practice. In addition, I have fallen in love with writing. I published my first book in 2017.
Q2. I presume that when you started your own practice you got more focused on your marketing efforts and your branding in general. Did that change in focus have some effect on your blogging?
When we began Artisan Clinical Associates in 2015, we built blogging and content marketing into the foundation of our approach to outreach and marketing. We committed to publishing one new blog post every other week and sharing it with our mailing list and in our social media outlets. We also chose to hire only employees who are also comfortable with producing blog posts and content to be shared in social media. For about a year, that model continued to be highly effective for producing referrals to our new practice.
However, in 2016, a number of factors combined to reduce the “organic reach” of blogs everywhere. For instance, Google discontinued its feed reader. Facebook changed its algorithm. People began to increasingly go to social media to share content associated with politics and culture, rather than personal development.
So, in the last two years, we have recognized that our marketing and outreach plan must change. We are now focusing on a combination of both electronic content marketing, as well as traditional outreach methods, such as face-to-face networking and speaking at live events.
Q3: In recent days I notice that I have been pulling back from Facebook and other outlets. Part of that was my attempt to avoid the hostile political stuff out there. Part was my awareness that following everyone did not make me very happy. What are you noticing in the blogging and social media world? (What I really want to know is if I am the only weird one?)
I have good news. As I began to allude to in my answer to the previous question, you are not the only weird one! We are all noticing that social media is changing quickly. First, increasingly, it is becoming a place for debate about politics and culture first. The lack of proximity to one another in those discussions can promote more aggressive and hostile behavior than would normally arise in a face-to-face discussion.
Second, people who used to enjoy social media as a method of an authentic engagement or thoughtful discussion about matters of personal growth seem to be returning to more traditional methods of doing so. They are gathering in person, reading books, and going to conferences more frequently.
Third, the emphasis on the development of social media has been on promoting content that is visual in nature rather than written. The emphasis is on content that is consumed very quickly and thus requires less sustained attention. Therefore, those who are seeking thoughtful and in-depth engagement with a particular topic or a particular conversation are beginning to seek that elsewhere once again, as well.
Fourth, there is mounting empirical evidence that the relational dynamics produced by social media, particularly for kids and teens, are problematic. Rather than promoting healthy socialization and true connection, increase loneliness, increase depression, and increase anxiety are increased. In fact, Apple just announced that it will include new features that encourage people to engage less with their phone and their social media. We all need to engage with real people and the real world more.
Q4: How do you structure your week to make the space you need for your writing, therapy, and life?
The word “structure” is important. The word “schedule” is important, too. As I often tell my marital therapy clients, when you look at their family calendar, they have blocked out time for all of the most important activities in the family’s life, but they have not blocked out time for the absolutely most important activity. I suggest they schedule time together for connection and intimacy. I ask my marital therapy clients to literally schedule in together time on the family calendar. In the same way that they are scheduling the appointment time to see me.
So, I structure my week around therapy, writing, and life, by literally scheduling each of those activities into my personal calendar. For instance, this summer, when the kids are home, I have only two mornings a week to write, Thursday and Friday mornings. So, on those days my calendar is blocked out for writing from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. In the same way that I would not schedule anything over attending one of the kid’s musicals on the family calendar, I also do not schedule anything over my writing time.
I try to practice the same time thing for the other more relational aspects of life. For instance, I have a recurring weekly appointment to have breakfast with my oldest son. And I have a recurring monthly appointment to have breakfast on the second Sunday of every month with each of my kids in rotation. Like anything else in life, if it isn’t in the calendar, it’s not going to get done. The question for every therapist is, do you value your passion projects and your people as much as the therapy clients that you put on your schedule? If you do, put all of those things on your schedule, too.
Q5: What is the strongest reason to get involved in the social media world?
Over the last couple of years, the reach of blogs and content marketing that therapists produce has decreased. I nevertheless believe that there are still very strong reasons for therapists to join the social media world. In particular, social media allows me to strike a healthy balance of personal revelation and professional helpfulness. New clients give me feedback that they chose to see me because they did not feel intimidated by me. They felt they could trust that I was a normal human being with normal human experiences, too.
Also, by presenting an authentic side of yourself in social media, you will be more likely to attract the kinds of clients who will resonate with your style of therapy. This increases the odds that clients will stay in therapy once they have begun seeing you. It reduces client turnover. In social media, you can establish some trust with the client before you have ever met them. This expedites some of the work of rapport building. I will continue my involvement in social media. I want my future clients well-informed about the kind of therapist and the kind of person I am. They can know something about me even before they make that first call.
Tell us something about you and your work. Thanks.
Dr. Kelly Flanagan is an author, speaker, podcaster, licensed clinical psychologist, and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He blogs regularly at drkellyflanagan.com. His writing has been featured in Reader’s Digest, and he has appeared on the TODAY Show and in The Huffington Post. In 2017, Kelly published Loveable: Embracing What Is Truest About You, So You Can Truly Embrace Your Life, and it debuted as the #1 New Release in Interpersonal Relations on Amazon. He is the host of The Loveable Podcast. Kelly is married to another clinical psychologist named Kelly, and they have three children who are in eighth, fourth, and second grade.