Have you ever heard the phrase “Steam Engines at Steam Engine Time”?
It’s a reference to a moment in time, when the momentum of cumulative knowledge makes for significant scientific and social change around the world, almost simultaneously — instead of emerging from a single, clearly identified origin. The steam engine was invented, almost simultaneously, in different designs, in places around the world at the same time, initiating – for good and ill – all of the changes of the industrial revolution, and spawning the swiftest technological wave forward up to that time.
The upheaval was tremendous, so were the advances. The beginning was not good in many ways, but once we adjusted to the new technology, some balance was restored at a higher level for everyone. We saw the end of child labor, the need for and establishment of labor laws, incredible advancements in medicine, public schools, and an over-all availability of resources to those who would never have had them in generations past.
We are at that point with the internet. Socially, educationally, professionally, economically and politically, it has become a complete game changer. The internet levels the playing field like nothing which has come before it.
If we take advantage of this opportunity of equalization in history, we can effect huge change in our lifetimes, for the benefit of ourselves and those we serve.
Having worked in media all my professional life, and having watched it evolve and change within my lifetime, I have seen the internet as a miraculous thing that is less obvious to those who don’t have the privilege of a media worker’s perspective.
We have changed, certainly. And a lot of people are spending a lot of time in front of the internet. But the facts of what is happening out there may very well surprise you.
The internet was originally created by the military and university scientists to facilitate the transfer of information. Once it became a publicly available tool, it began to morph into something completely unexpected. It was expanded and reinvented, over and over again by volunteer contributors.
As much as society was worried about a bunch of computer zombies spending all their time in front of little boxes of light playing games, buying things they didn’t need, or looking at images instead of building relationships, this was never the intention of the people who contributed hundreds of thousands of volunteer hours to enabling the internet to do what it does today.
Think of it more like the biggest library project in the history of humanity. Most of the contributing people, scientists, technicians, programmers, worked together in relatively unprecedented consensus, to make the internet as user friendly as possible, mostly motivated by the desire to make free information more easily available to the most people possible, around the world.
And it worked.
You might be surprised to know that today:
- Over 273 million people in the United States use the internet, more than 78% of Americans.
- That the internet has replaced magazines, and other forms of media, not only by a factor of hours, but in the tonnage of paper which was once used to distribute information.
- In one day, enough information is consumed on the internet to fill 168 million DVDs.
- In one day, enough emails are sent that, were they letters, it would take 2 years to process them by hand.
- In one day, enough blog posts are written to fill Time Magazine for 770 years.
- In one day, so much music is being streamed by Pandora, just one internet music provider, that if that music were to begin playing in the year 1 AD, it would still be playing today.
- That most of the time spent online is for the purposes of self-education (approximately 80%), rather than entertainment and purchasing.
- That although the internet is used as a tool for social engagement, most often it is used to connect for actual physical gathering.
- That the internet allows more connection, friendship and intimacy between people of common values and goals around the world, at less cost, than any form of communication in history.
- That business advantage on the internet is dependent wholly and completely on the credibility of one’s product, because the consumer can bring down the giant with a single stone at any moment.
- That most consumers in the US will not use a service or purchase a produce without first vetting the provider on the internet.
What does this mean for you?
As a citizen, community member, and consumer, it means unprecedented access to information. As an ND, it means unprecedented access to educating and bringing in potential patients.
In an even broader sense, it means that the naturopathic profession is perfectly positioned to help redefine the healthcare conversation in the U.S.. But we have to speak up. And we have to speak up now.
In part, because this is new media, [it] has new rules. And traditional corporate media hasn’t quite caught on yet. If we take advantage of this opportunity of equalization in history, we can effect huge change in our lifetimes, for the benefit of ourselves and those we serve. Here is what’s required.
1. You can’t just advertise
Old methods and forms of advertising alone just don’t work anymore. We’ve become so accustomed to them that it’s just so much white noise in the background of our day. Today, advertisers will calculate the worth of a client over the cost of a lifetime, and spend about 20% of what that client will bring in to secure him or her, through direct, informative, educational and personal communication. In other words: the internet. But that new advertising money is not being spent on direct advertising. It is being spent on bringing the client, or in this case, the patient, to your website via reviews, articles, blogs, and other published materials which are of interest to the patient, which lead the patient directly to you as the next step in the solution to their problem.
2. You must be up-to-date
The professional presentation and language of your site is part of what establishes immediate credibility in the eyes of the potential patient. If your website, your programming, your design, or functions are out of date, the client is going to assume the same thing about your professional knowledge.
3. You must be authentic
One of the best, happiest accidents of the internet is that it’s pretty much impossible to pull off a falsehood. There are too many checks and balances for people to get away with those kinds of business practices any more. The other happy accident is that, the more authentically, and transparently you present yourself online, the more likely you are to attract patients who are looking for a doctor just like you! Savvy internet businesses have learned that showing more of their personality, not less, is what will attract people to them. So don’t worry about looking like everyone else. Be yourself, with a just enough professional polish, and you’ll do fine.
4. You must be credible
Obviously, you know your stuff. But in the internet era, this is no time to be quiet or modest about it. You needn’t brag, but do write to your potential patient base about your area of expertise. Write in your own blog; publish a newsletter; write guest posts for other blogs; trade guest blogs with other doctors; submit your articles to health magazines; get yourself out there as a voice of reason in the field.
At whatever level you do this, any is far better than none. And once you start creating written material, it is easy to find places to republish it. Also, of course, provide your credentials on your website.
Hard Credentials and Soft Credentials are Equally Important
Not merely your “hard” credentials, such as schooling, but also your “soft” credentials, such as community service, volunteer work, pro-bono, clinic, sliding scale, special interest – anything which shows your credible care of and participation in the community at large. The former gives your professional credibility, the later gives you the golden ring of “street cred”, that you put your time and energy where your convictions are.
5. You have to show up in person
Even though we are in an electronic age, it is now more important than ever to show up in person, through community teaching events, health fairs, school education opportunities, speaking engagements, where ever people can meet you and shake your hand, see your face, and hear your voice outside your office. If these events are free to the public, and well enough publicized, the return on the dollar value for your face time is higher than any other single expenditure, provided you then have the internet infrastructure to capture their business when they then check you for credibility.
Combatting Computer Overwhelm
If this sounds like a lot, remember that personal effort has replaced traditional advertising dollars in many respects. There are professionals who can assist you in planning and executing your own credibility campaign, one which fits your budget and your schedule. However, no matter what you do in this arena, it will not be effective without your participation.
If you can’t stand any more time in front of the computer each day, then get a little help. Because, at this moment of unprecedented access, you don’t want anything to stop you from being heard.
The good news is that Naturopathic Medicine is based on caring about and teaching patients. The whole process is of giving away a taste of what you have to offer, enough so that a potential patient can understand your value, is that it will bring patients in to your practice.
It will also educate and facilitate patients in taking care of their well-being for the rest of their lives. They may not be ready for a naturopath when they first encounter your work, your advice, your voice in the world. But they won’t forget you. And when they do need someone, they will turn to you first. If they can’t find you, they’ll look for the next nearest naturopath – because you’ve empowered them and now they know what is possible for their health care. They won’t accept less. That will create demand in the marketplace. It’s a worthy trade off.
In addition, this kind of effort can be designed to fit the scale of your needs and abilities and grow with you over time. Doing a little is better than nothing, and will increase your business so that you can do more, which will, in turn, increase your business.
In the meantime, not a moment of your valuable time is wasted. While investing in developing a relationship with future clients, you are also investing in educating the public at large in how to better care for their health and well-being. It really is a no-lose proposition.
My question is to you, when do you get started?
Because you have the greatest opportunity to impact the public health-care conversation that you will have in this, and perhaps several lifetimes.
So speak up!
All of us are in this profession for a reason. Remember that initial inspiration, and remember that we are actually in a moment of history where a great deal of unexpected, unpredictable things are possible.
What would you like to leave behind you, as a legacy, 10, 20, 25 years from now?
And what are you willing to do about that, today?