When you’re trying to get more of the stuff you need, sometimes all you have to do is ask. But shy of affecting a Dickensian persona and approaching referral sources with your hat in hand, you may not know what sort of strategy you should employ to get more patients into your clinic. The fact is, word-of-mouth advertising has been proven to boost marketing effectiveness by up to 54%. The message is clear: word-of-mouth is must if you want to grow your client base without breaking the bank. But here’s the catch: word-of-mouth must be organic to be effective, and attempting to cultivate it—without pushing it—may feel like a paradoxical pursuit. But, if you (1) understand how patients use online reviews to find your practice, and (2) put in the effort to identify your biggest fans, you can make word-of-mouth spread like wildfire.

Have a marketing strategy.

Looking to attract new patients without dropping hundreds of dollars on ad campaigns? Then you’ve got to leverage the power of the Internet. But before you jump into the world of digital marketing, you’ve got to have a strategy. There’s more than one way to market your practice online, and there are benefits to each method. No matter how you choose to approach your marketing efforts, though, one thing always holds true: consistency is key. In other words, for any marketing strategy to be effective, you’ve got to stick to it.

Social Media

The best part of social media is that it’s free, effective, and relatively straight-forward. But, don’t fall victim to the illusion that “straight-forward” equals “effortless.” To have a truly successful social media program, you need to consistently work to cultivate your brand and engage your followers—and that takes time and commitment. To build your audience, consider running contests that require individuals to follow your social media page, or encouraging patients to leave feedback. Keep in mind that 81% of people say they’re influenced by what their friends share on social media, so be sure to post thoughtful, interesting content that your patients will want to share.

More activity means more people on social media are seeing your content, and that drives them to your page. This is especially true for Facebook. Back in the early days of this social media giant, the only posts that appeared in your timeline came from pages you “liked” or from Facebook friends. These days, the stuff that shows up on your timeline is a little less exclusive. But, contrary to popular belief, you don’t necessarily have to pay to increase your exposure. Facebook now includes suggested posts based on the things your Facebook friends like. That means when a friend “likes” or comments on a post, Facebook will make that post appear in your timeline, even if you don’t follow the page that posted the content originally. For businesses looking to grow their presence on social media, this feature is a game-changer. For each “like” you receive on Facebook, your brand is likely reaching a wide audience, which is why fostering patient participation on social media is so important.

Review Sites

While we’re talking digital marketing strategy, we’d be remiss not to mention review sites. As I mentioned in a previous post, “One of the most common searches for patients looking for PTs online is ‘top rated physical therapists near me.’ This means patients aren’t just looking for therapy providers in general—they’re looking for highly-rated therapy providers.” So, by polishing your online reputation through online reviews, you’re telling these potential patients to look no further than your practice for highly-rated professionals. If you’re in the early stages of building your online reputation—or you’re working to improve it—don’t hesitate to enlist the help of your existing patients. That said, if you ask patients for reviews, be sure you’re asking the right patients.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Clinics that take advantage of free online marketing opportunities like social media and review sites also stand to gain a lot from an SEO standpoint. The more active you are on social media and the more reviews you have on review sites, the higher your business will rank on search engines. And that’s good news for practices that are looking to take advantage of direct access. When potential patients run a search for rehab therapists in their area, they’re not likely to go past the first page. In fact, according to data from Chitika, websites that appear on the first page of a search engine results page receive 95% of web traffic, leaving everyone else to duke it out for the remaining 5%. Additionally, according to an Advanced Web Rankings study, the top five results receive 67% of all clicks on result pages. So the higher your page ranks, the bigger advantage you’ll have over your competition.

Create brand evangelists.

At WebPT, one of our core values as a company is to “create raving fans”—that is, to provide an experience so spectacular that customers can’t help but rave about it. We learned early on that doing so isn’t just good for our customers—it’s good for us, too. As a healthcare provider, your mission should be centered on improving your patients’ quality of life. As a business owner, that mission should carry over into creating loyal patients who are happy to tell everyone they know about you and your practice. (Hint: These are the patients you should be asking to review your practice online.) After all, a study conducted by Ogilvy, Google, and TNS found that 74% of consumers identify word-of-mouth as a key influencer in their purchasing decisions.

Volunteer and advocate locally.

When it comes to increasing your revenue, philanthropy and activism might not be the first things that come to mind. However, when you commit time to advocating and volunteering, you’re making a name for yourself as more than a healthcare provider. You become an ambassador for your clinic’s brand as well as the overall rehab therapy industry brand, all while getting your name out to future patients—many of whom may never have otherwise considered seeking out rehab therapy. Volunteer and advocacy efforts also present an opportunity to network with other healthcare professionals and referral sources. And when it comes to giving back, the only thing you have to spend is your time.

Word-of-mouth marketing is all about sincerity. When you emphasize the importance of your patients’ health and make an effort to deliver the best experience—and outcomes—possible, your patients become your biggest promoters. And you can’t put a price on that kind of marketing.