02 July, 2009

Why DMEs Should Embrace Social Media

In a recent HME News article, an unidentified DME dealer said he wasn't using social media because he didn’t think referral sources were looking on Facebook to select a DME company.

I agree. Referral sources aren't using social media to select a DME provider, but they are using social media to communicate with their friends.

Can you be a friend? Is there any good reason why a "referral source" can't become your friend? Don't you want friends?

Let's forget for a moment that the discharge planner who won't meet with you and won't take your calls is a discharge planner. Can you pretend she's just a human being with an identity and interests and a social circle that doesn't have anything to do with her job? And let's forget that there's some unwritten silly rule that says the only way you can connect with her is between the hours of 8 and 5, at the hospital where she works. If you weren't a DME sales rep and she were just a person you wanted to meet, could you figure out how to use your existing network of friends to get an introduction?

Of course you could.

Social media helps you do it faster and with a greater number of people.

Let's get something straight: social media is not marketing. I have well over 300 LinkedIn connections and I'm not likely to buy their financial services or their health supplements or their energy drinks or their legal services just because I'm connected to them on LinkedIn. I'm not likely to refer business to you just because you Tweet me 3 times a day telling me that you are the greatest marketing consultant in town. In fact, if you use social media to annoy me, I'm less likely to do business with you.

And social media won't improve your social skills. In fact, social media gives selfish, rude; inconsiderate jerks a chance to annoy a lot of people many times a day. If you are a social jerk who only contacts people when you want something from them and only communicates with "referral sources" to put the sales moves on them, social media will only enable you to wear out your welcome more quickly than you already do. If you are socially inept, if you don't have the networking gene, if you are a socially challenged misanthrope, social media will not make you a better networker or make you like people.

And social media is not marketing even though you're going to meet some really annoying people who think it is.

Social media is just another tool to help people "meet" new people, establish relationships, maintain relationships and deepen relationships. Some of your Twitter, LInkedIn and other social media contacts will become friends. Some of these friends will become customers or referral sources. Some of these friends will introduce you to people who will become friends and then customers or referral sources. If you already have good networking skills, social media extends the rate at which your network expands but, frankly, if you don't "get" networking, if you don't already know how pre-internet social networking worked, Twitter and LinkedIn won't suddenly splice the networking gene into your DNA.

DME people who don't already know how to make new friends and to network and to merge their social and professional networks and to tap the social networks of others won't suddenly do these things just because they open a LinkedIn account.

Social media is a force multiplier that helps people who already know how to network to do it faster and with more people.

Let me illustrate:

A DME sales rep would like to meet Donna the Discharge Planner but Donna won't make an appointment and won't return the sales rep's calls (and let's face it, why would she?). If the sales rep is a good networker, he'll stop thinking of Donna as just a referral source and start thinking of her, as a person and he'll stop limiting his attempted contacts to sales calls during business hours. He'll find a way to meet Donna through mutual interests and mutual friends. Here's how a good social networker might use social media to make that happen:

First, our savvy networker might look Donna up in Facebook and LinkedIn. If she has an account, he can see how's he's connected to her, who they know in common. Once he knows how they're connected, he can contact the common friend and ask them to introduce him to Donna.

If Donna doesn't have a LinkedIn account, perhaps our savvy networker performs a LinkedIn search on who he knows at Donna's hospital. Perhaps our Skilled DME sales rep is already LinkedIn to somebody in accounting or somebody in physical therapy. Our savvy sales rep arranges to meet his friend in the hospital cafeteria.

While in the cafeteria, our savvy sales rep's friend tweets "I'm in the cafeteria" and pretty soon, other hospital worker start coming to the cafeteria.

Because our DME sales rep is already a skilled networker, he hands out business cards to everybody he meets. Yes, even the people who can't refer business to him. On his business card is his Twitter and LinkedIn information. Our savvy sales rep asks his new acquaintances if they are on Twitter and LinkedIn. Some of them are. He asks if he can add them as a contact in LinkedIn and "follow" them on Twitter. That very day or perhaps the next day he discovers that one of Donna the Discharge Planner's co-worker, Debbie The Discharge Planner, is in his expanded network.

Good networkers already know where this is going. Debbie links him to Donna who links him to Bob in Respiratory Therapy who is married to Dr. Lung's daughter who's best friend works in the hospital administrator's office.

"Referral sources" can dodge your calls, ignore your emails, and, when you get lucky enough to pass them in the hallway, they can tell you they "have a list" and that they just work their way down the list".

Friends, look forward to your tweets, they read your blog, they forward your LinkedIn profile to their friends.

Don't you really want friends?

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