Social media: 'You can't avoid it'

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

TROY, Mich. - While most HME providers have barely dipped their toes into Twitter and other social media (most can't find the time or money, said one industry watcher), Americare Medical has gone whole hog.

In June, the $10 million company hired Cristina Shallal to head it up its Internet sales and social network development full time. Americare's goal: Grow sales by increasing the company's visibility online with potential customers.

"There's almost no one you can't reach by using online resources," said Shallal, who earned a masters degree in public relations from Wayne State University in 2009. "The only person I know who does not use the Internet is my 94-year-old grandmother."

In her new position, Shallal has so far started two Twitter pages. One includes news and information for Michigan's senior and disabled communities. Recent tweets cover Medicare reimbursement, the Special Olympics and an off-road adventure for seniors. A second Twitter page provides similar information for people with spinal chord injuries and diseases.

Americare also has two Facebook pages and uses an Internet service to distribute press releases. The company will continue to develop its online presence, Shallal said.

Christina Throndson, The VGM Group's search engine and social networking specialist said that when it comes to integrating social networking into their sales and marketing efforts, time and money pose the biggest challenges for most HME providers.

Fortunately, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and other social media are generally free, and providers don't have to hire a full-time person to use them. It's fine to ramp up slowly, say by Tweeting a few times each month. But you've got to start, she said.

"We tell people to reduce their Yellow Pages listing," she said. "Start delegating some of that money to social media. Search-engine marketing is huge."

Internet consultant Lisa Wells could not agree more. Hundreds of millions of people surf the web for information everyday.

"You can't avoid it," she said. "It would be like before the Internet if you just ignored advertising all together. How would anyone know who you were?"