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Give Patients a 'Virtual Tour' - And Add In a Scavenger Hunt for Fun!

By Nathan Bonilla-Warford, OD, FAAO

Google Helps Businesses Create
Virtual Visual Tours

Google Maps, made possible by photography and video that enables users to explore natural wonders like the Grand Canyon or romanticize about evening walks in Paris, is actually part of a wide range of services from the Internet search resource. Google Maps' Street View brings the world to viewers, wherever they are.

But Street View can also be used by businesses with the same dynamics, but with a twist.

In fact, with the same Street View technology used in streets around the world, Google makes its capabilities available to business owners via specialized video tools which enable them to create a high-quality, interactive, 360-degree experience of their business for current–and future–customers. "These visual video tours' interactive features allow customers who find you online to walk-through, explore, and take a closer look at your business," Google's site points out.

With examples as varied as professional practices like Washington Square Park Dental, specialty retailers like Toy Joy and upscale restaurants like NYC's Spice Market, Google shares the perspective of many business owner "success stories" within its business resource pages.

Business owners can get Google Business Photos from Google Trusted Photographers and Trusted Agencies (who have been certified by Google), who work with you to schedule and shoot your business. Photo shoots are quick, non-disruptive, and personalized, the site says.

FAQs on the site help explain the way the photography agreements work, how the photos can be imbedded into websites and how payments are handled for the service.

TAMPA, Fla.—What would 'online magic' for an eyecare professional look like? The ideal online presence for an ECP practice would be so effective that it would not only display factual information about the practice, but also make potential patients comfortable before they set foot in the door. If online content can spark positive emotions in patients, they are more likely to schedule appointments and more likely to make purchases. Social media and website content allows ECPs to develop this emotional connection in many ways: we can establish authority with knowledgeable blog posts, respond to their frustrated tweets, make people smile with funny Facebook updates, and reassure them with glowing reviews from their peers.

Now there is a new tool we can use to put patients at ease: Google Business Photos. This allows current and prospective patients to take a "Virtual Tour" of the office. They can see how comfortable the waiting area is, how stunning the optical is, how exam rooms are set up, and other special areas that you have in the office—all from the comfort of their desktop computer, iPad, or smartphone. But not only do you get to show off your office, you can leverage this interactive content in many other ways.

Let's break it down as a two step process:

Step 1: Obtain Google Business Photos
Showcasing your office with a virtual tour is easier than you think. Go to the Google Business Photos page and find a few Google-certified photographers in your area. Contact them to get an idea of their style and fee quotes. We selected a local photographer for about $500 that included photos of the staff. Set a date for them to come and shoot.

Of course, clean up the practice beforehand. Have the staff do a thorough walk-through a few days before to give you time to fix anything and decide which rooms you want to showcase.

It will take a few days for the photographer to process the images and upload them to your practice Google+ page. There it will be hosted for free as part of Google Maps.

Step 2: Leverage it!
The internet is a busy place. Even if you build it, they will not come—unless you make it fun or useful and get it front of people. While the virtual tour is wonderfully visual, it has two problems. It is hidden and it takes some effort to "walk around" inside it. This can be countered by a well-thought out campaign that not only makes use of all the tools in your tool box, but also remains consistent with your brand.

To make sure your virtual tour is seen, you can embed it anywhere. Using the iFrame code provided by Google you can (and should) place it anywhere that people might see it and play with it. We immediately placed it on our webpage, Facebook page, and blog. We have planned an email, a series on Twitter and Facebook, and real-life sign promoting the virtual tour.

To make the virtual tour come to life, we turned it into a "Virtual Scavenger Hunt." In exchange for searching for items through the practice (from their couch, car, or cafe) they can win free sunglasses. Gamification and free stuff is highly motivating for patients online. Within an hour of announcing the scavenger hunt, we got our first entry.

While you have their attention with the scavenger hunt, make use of it. Share info about other campaigns or events you may have. Give patients a handy link to leave a review at your most important review site.

Unless new patients have received a direct referral from a professional, friend, or family member, they usually do their research and choose between two to three ECPs. An engaging social presence will help tip their decision in your favor. Campaigns such as the virtual scavenger hunt are effective in reaching new patients and for stay staying top-of-mind with established patients. And it is fun!


Nathan Bonilla-Warford, OD, FAAO, Bright Eyes Family Vision Care, Tampa, Fla., is an optometrist specializing in the vision of infants and children. A social media evangelist, he is a contributor to Review of Optometric Business and Vision Monday, was named a VM/ROB Optometric Business Innovator in 2011, Illinois College of Optometry Young Alumnus of the Year in 2012 and consults with several companies on the topic. Dr. Nate has been a speaker at the two CLICK Conferences. He is chair of the Florida Optometric Association's Children's Vision Committee.

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