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The Social Life of Dentists

By now it’s not news to anyone that the internet has transformed everything from the nature of interpersonal relationships to the way goods and services are sold, delivered, experienced, and used. This post is the first in a series that looks at how these phenomena are specifically affecting practicing dentists today. In particular, we highlight the fact that dentists, dental practices, dental service providers, and industry suppliers are all taking note of the social phenomenon coined the “Groundswell” in Charlene Li and Josh Bernhoff’s great 2008 book by the same name. We’ll look at  how and why dentists have been learning to use web-based social technologies as tools to improve both their personal and business relationships.

Feeling the Groundswell

Li and Bernhoff characterize the groundswell as a social movement “in which people use technologies to get the things they need from each other” rather than directly from corporations”. These “things” include goods, services, information, references, relationships, and more. Manufacturers and service providers are no longer the only “authoritative” and complete source of information about the products and services available on the market. Grassroots networks enabled by the low cost infrastructure of the web now provide consumers of all stripes with an ever growing library of user experience, reaction, and opinion that can help others find needed information and make good decisions.

What do the numbers show?

In September of 2010, Net 32 Inc., developer of leading B2B online comparison shopping marketplaces, completed a social technographic survey of 229 dentists.  This study, one of the first of its kind in the dental industry, revealed much about how dentists are currently utilizing some of the social tools that have now become a ubiquitous part of the web 2.0 experience. Of these dentists 70% visit online forums on a monthly basis, 58% are regular users of social networking sites, and 71% use online ratings and reviews to give product feedback and make purchasing decisions. These numbers clearly indicate that the professionals surveyed are becoming comfortable with web based networking tools. However, what we are really looking for is some evidence that social networking activity is becoming viewed as an important business development activity.

It’s Social Continuing Ed

One of the first insights to come out of this study is that dentists, along with many other professionals, now see the web as an important source of continuing education. However, they are not always looking for this education in the form of a nicely packaged class provided by a university, business development consultant, or other service provider. They are harkening back to their medical school days when they often learned as much from their fellow students as they did from their instructors. Now, they seek out the same trusted network of co-learners on forums and blogs that allow them to both absorb the opinion and insights of other, fellow professionals and offer their own input to this same community. All of this interaction takes place in a format that conveniently transcends the restrictions of time, location, and cost frequently associated with traditional learning environments like classrooms and conferences. These digital venues are equally attractive because they are responsive environments that usually adapt to the demands of their participants. Those involved in the exchange determine the direction and content of exploration and discussion.  Therefore, busy, established dentists can and do derive a lot of value from forums and blogs. Interestingly, this is born out in the numbers seen in Net32’s survey where roughly 61% of dentists who are regular users of these tools stated that they use them to seek clinical coaching. Roughly 42% of this same group is also seeking business advice from the same sources.


Next Time

Beyond professional use of forums and blogs, Net32’s survey yielded more valuable information about how dentist extract business value from the web. In our next post we will take a similar look at how these professionals are learning to use social networking tools for more than staying connected with friends and family.  Until then, hope to see you out there on the web.

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