The article below appears in the February 2020 Practice Management Bulletin.
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Content That Evolves with Social Media
The opening shot of the TikTok video shows an orthodontic patient at home, eagerly opening a bag of Skittles, with the words: “The chances your orthodontist shows up at your house to catch you eating Skittles are low.” In the second shot, Dr. Grant Collins appears at the patient’s window, with the caption, “But never zero.”
The video is an example of how Dr. Collins addresses treatment compliance challenges using humorous approaches popular with tweens and teens. He also has developed many other types of content suited to the interests of demographic groups that use other social media platforms.
As a result of his efforts, Dr. Collins has garnered high-level attention on social media. Known online as The Braces Guy™ (@thebracesguy), he has 1.3 million subscribers worldwide across Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Spotify and TikTok. His social media content has received over 100 million likes, shares and comments, and has helped bring more than 6,000 new patients through the doors of his Rochester, Minnesota office in five years.
When he was beginning his orthodontic career after completing his residency at the Mayo Clinic in 2013, however, Dr. Collins did not even wish to own his own practice.
“I searched for positions throughout Minnesota,” he says. “There simply were no openings. As natives of Rochester, my wife and I preferred to stay here if we could, and it became clear that opening a practice was the only way to guarantee that.”
Once the practice opened, though, the challenge of bringing in patients quickly became apparent.
“No one called on the first day we were open,” he says. “I then refocused to have a strong community relationship as fast as possible, and also become very active on Facebook.”
Dr. Collins began doing various types of local volunteer work and as his staff grew, his employees joined him in these efforts. As his patient base grew, he began offering support to patients by attending community activities in which they were involved such as theater, dance, musical and sporting events. In addition, having been an undergraduate varsity soccer team captain while he attended St. Olaf College, Dr. Collins volunteered as a coach for one of the local high school teams. And a significant part of his pro bono program is free treatment that he provides for pediatric cancer survivors in the community.
Strong Social Media Presence Began with a Hit on Facebook
It was an outside-of-the-box approach to Facebook content, however, that first brought Dr. Collins’ practice significant local attention.
“Watching how people interact with others is a great interest of mine,” he says. “I wanted to put people in the spotlight who were very positive, but would not normally receive much attention, like the mailman or a cashier at the store – if they agreed to my request. Soon after I opened my practice, my family went to a fair and as I watched a lady who was giving out parking passes, I found that she was simply delightful in how she engaged with everyone. I chatted with her for a few minutes and took a photo with her, later posting about her on Facebook. The post had a tremendous response in the community – and then a local TV station picked it up.”
With his practice quickly becoming well-known, Dr. Collins began regularly posting videos and other content, using a general approach for Facebook’s varied audience. As newer social media platforms emerged and became popular, he noted the characteristics of each platform’s audience before becoming active on it.
“I think it can’t be emphasized enough that you have to customize your content on each platform,” he says. “Facebook is still very popular, of course, but as I saw a shift of some adults and many kids to Instagram because they liked the visual emphasis there, I wanted to provide appealing content for that platform. Parents are the decision-makers about orthodontic treatment but relating to kids is still very important.
“And of course, YouTube became a game-changer in terms of heavy engagement with videos among people of all age groups,” adds Dr. Collins. “Adults tend to like videos with information, explanations and demonstrations, while younger people like relatable humor. But whatever the content, users expect high quality in what they are watching.”
Fine-Tuning Video Creation Skills Helped Lead to Success
Dr. Collins began developing his video production skills at every opportunity. Videotaping his training sessions with new team members as they began their jobs, he posted the videos online for use by future new hires as well as for access by other orthodontists.
“Using video editing tools available on the platforms makes the production process easier,” he says. “On the creative side, I really enjoy producing videos for consumer audiences that each audience will find relatable and/or helpful, without too much selling. I think that I can bring my personality into the content and so I keep it more authentic by producing it myself, as opposed to hiring a professional to do so.”
Dr. Collins does have some professional assistance with video production, however – from his wife, Kimberly, a vocalist with a music degree.
“Kimberly is very good at selecting music from the platform apps that is the best fit for the content of a specific video,” he says. “YouTube has many musical options available for which they have usage agreements, and other platforms are making progress in that area. I also have help with some of the visual content from my younger sister, Jenna, who is the creative director and marketing coordinator at my office.”
TikTok Opens Up a Vast Opportunity to Reach Young People
Earlier this year, Dr. Collins first began posting on TikTok, a mobile video sharing app with comedy and talent primarily emphasized in its 15-second videos.
In 2018, Digiday reported 50 percent of those who used Musical.ly (which later changed its name to TikTok) on iPhones were between the ages of 13 and 24; with 60 percent in that age group on Android. A majority of users are female. Tweens are also known to be heavily engaged with TikTok although the terms of service state that users must be at least 13 to sign up.1 TikTok has had approximately 80 million downloads in the United States, and 800 million worldwide.2
TikTok provides an opportunity for Dr. Collins to both engage the tween/teen audience not just with humor, but also with information of interest to them. Since many kids enjoy learning about how things work, for example, one of his TikTok videos, “How to glue braces on teeth,” includes shots of the bonding process, with each step briefly described.
“That’s an example of how you can simply use what you do every day in your office as content,” says Dr. Collins. “When we can, we share day-to-day aspects of orthodontic treatment with as original of an approach as we can.”
For example, some of the practice’s TikTok posts show scenes with bracket colors. One video has a Harry Potter theme, with colors set to show the colors of each of the four Hogwarts houses in the series. A Christmas-themed TikTok video shows photos of holiday bracket color designs, created and named by each member of Dr. Collins’ clinical team.
“Offering a variety of bracket colors is something that many practices do because it’s a way that we can make treatment fun for young people,” says Dr. Collins. “So, why not showcase that in your content?”
Additional posts from Dr. Collins on all social media channels include demonstrations of making retainers and removing braces; cleaning a yellowed retainer in the ultrasonic machine; and preparing braces-friendly-recipes. And like many orthodontists, Dr. Collins likes to share before and after treatment stories, which he presents as “transformation” videos.
“Not every patient wants that kind of attention,” says Dr. Collins. “If someone is willing to be videotaped when their braces come off, though, we can use a still shot of the patient before treatment and then show their reaction when they first see their smiles after treatment. That reaction can make a fun transformation video.”
The humorous videos on Dr. Collins’ Instagram and TikTok, which make up some of his most unique content, reflect his long-term comedic interests.
“I have drawn a lot of inspiration from old-fashioned TV comedy sketches like those on ‘Saturday Night Live’ that I really enjoyed watching while growing up,” he says. “I look at my videos as just very short versions of that type of comedy.”
Often featuring non-compliant patients such as the Skittles eater described at the start of the article, the humorous videos include silly behavior by characters with Dr. Collins playing himself in a serious role – or occasionally, playing patients or parents as well. (See the “How is it going wearing your rubber bands?” image series on this page.)
“If I didn’t like the process of making videos so much, I wouldn’t spend as much time on it,” says Dr. Collins. “Beyond practice marketing, it’s a creative outlet for me and the comedy videos reflect the silly side of my personality. I know that wouldn’t be true for everyone in orthodontics, but there could be many other ways of approaching this successfully. I think the keys are to identify an approach to content that fits your personality, because authenticity is really important – and, find ways to approach serious topics like compliance without taking yourself too seriously.”
1. Patel S. “Hearst now has both Seventeen and Cosmo on up-and-coming app Musical.ly.” March 17, 2018. Downloaded from https://digiday.com/media/seventeen-hearst-brings-cosmopolitan-musical-ly/
2. “TikTok.” Wikipedia. Last updated December 31, 2019. Downloaded from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TikTok.