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How I’m Crushing It

Chithra Durgam, DDS, Aesthetic Dental

IG: drdurgam

Dr. Chithra Durgam has accomplished the near impossible—she’s made it fun to go to the dentist. How else can you explain the fact that many of her first-time clients call her at the request of their children? Let me explain.

When Chithra started her private practice in 2004, she did what most medical practitioners do to get referrals: she sent out direct-mail pieces to let her northern New Jersey neighbors know she was open for business. Social media, she thought, was for personal use. It wasn’t until she started following a social-media expert online, and then read his book Crush It!, that her thinking shifted and she understood how building a personal brand on social media could help grow a business. She was intrigued but hesitated to start. Doctors and dentists are constrained by a lot of HIPAA rules, and “we tend to be overly concerned about what each other thinks about the marketing we’re doing.” But she gave it a lot of thought and decided that “instead of using my free time to go golfing, if I’m using that time to interact with my patients, and educate people in a fun way about dentistry, there can’t be anything wrong with that. And so I kind of just took a leap of faith.” For years, she has spent four to five hours every day, her lunch hour and the time she has after her two boys go to bed, on social media, engaging, reacting, and educating. She has a presence on all the usual suspects—Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and she has written posts for Medium—but what sets Chithra apart from almost anyone over the age of twenty-five, and certainly from any medical practitioner, is that she’s on Musical.ly, too. And that’s why so many kids beg their parents to bring them to see her.

She creates lip-synced music videos about different procedures, like tooth whitening. She does PSA announcements about healthy eating, mouthing the words of a spoof version of Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You.” Sometimes she posts an educational clip, like the one pointing out the difference between a porcelain crown and a veneer. She dances. She does comedy, often in a white jacket, sometimes wielding a toothbrush. She’s goofy and awkward, and while that might be all she was, were she just another muser, the fact that she’s a forty-four-year-old dentist makes the whole deal pretty hilarious. The comments and responses she gets from the young users there are overwhelmingly positive, and two of her clips were featured by the platform. Her young patients, the ones in the Musical.ly age bracket, follow her. They bring their phones to school and show their friends. And their friends say, “Mom, look at this video. I want to go to this dentist.” Chithra gets a similar response from Snapchat, where she creates content tailored for a slightly older crowd. There she has a weekly series called The Office, modeled after the hit television show of the same name. She and members of her staff have also staged scenes from Charlie’s Angels and created snaps and stories using Bitmojis, music, and props. She used to try to document, but her audience responded so positively to her creative work that now she focuses on that instead.

Many of the people who find her on Musical.ly and Snapchat can’t come to her office because they live too far away, but on Instagram, where she can target more locally, she has a higher conversion rate; people DM her for appointments all the time. In the year since she got serious about pumping out consistent, quality content to these three platforms in addition to all the others, not just every so often, she has seen a 30 percent increase in new patients, with three to four inquiries about braces and whitening procedures per day coming in via DM.

Not only that, Lew Leone, vice president and general manager of WNYW-FOX 5, saw her on Snapchat and invited her to come to Good Day New York to talk about flossing after an Associated Press report published that it may be unnecessary. For the record, Dr. Durgam is pro-flossing.

Since then she’s been invited to speak about personal branding at meetings and on podcasts. She is currently working with different brands to help them develop ideas to promote their products through social media, and she has received inquiries from other dentists and doctors asking her for social-media consults, too. “I have taken time to learn all aspects of developing a brand before pursuing this work. I understand that I do have something valuable to offer.” Most of her professional colleagues still don’t get it.

I’ve actually gotten a lot of pushback from people and other businesses. They want a return on their efforts right away; they don’t understand why I’m investing time. They don’t understand that social media is a long game and that it’s about developing a brand as much as it is about selling a product. And if nothing else, at least you develop rapport with people who come to your business. But they don’t really see that. So it’s been a little lonely because I’m doing work that I believe in even though those people around me may not agree with my methods.

Even some of her clients wonder how she has time to put out so many videos. “And then I’ll have to say, my staff and I are very serious about our work, but when we’re not working, we would rather spend our free time interacting with patients and educating them, as opposed to doing something that’s only in our self-interest. Once I’ve explained our intention, it’s been fine. I’m kind of going against everybody else right now, but I think over time people will understand social media is very important to business.” One of the reasons I’m so excited about this book is because when I wrote Crush It!, I didn’t have access to a lot of examples of other people using the platforms the way I was. I was just too early. But now, armed with stories like Chithra’s, I can suffocate all of your excuses. Until ten minutes ago, you might not have even heard of Musical.ly; now you know that a dentist is out there using it and other platforms to build her business. That’s awesome! Education and execution are the keys to this new world.

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