Connection through social isolation

Practices share how they use social media to engage with their communities and patients through the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown

social media graphic
Pixabay/kreatikar
Social media usage has risen during the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown as the public connect with each other online.

In order to maintain communication with patients, optical practices have been utilising social platforms to share updates and to reassure the public that their optometrists are there to help.

According to data from the insights and consulting firm, Kantar, social media engagement during the pandemic has increased by 61% over normal usage rates, with overall Facebook usage increasing 37%.

Royston


Bayfields Opticians has been keeping in touch with clients through a mixture of email communications with clinical updates and information, and social media posts that feature more of a personal touch.

“We are a family business,” explained founder and managing director, Royston Bayfield, adding: “It is important that comes across in all communications internally and externally.”

Bayfields Opticians has a network of 19 practices nationally. Describing the impact of COVID-19 on business as “huge”, Mr Bayfield confirmed that services were being offered remotely and that practices are still open for essential and emergency eye care and hearing care, though a number of employees have been furloughed.

Despite the change in approach to delivering eye care, Mr Bayfield said the group has still been busy, explaining: “Across the group in one week we’ve taken 400 telephone calls from people wanting care.”

“There is clearly a need for us as a profession to be there for clients at this time and we’re trying to do our bit,” he added.

Commenting on the approach the group has taken to social media, Mr Bayfield said: “The social channels are about reaffirming that we are here for clients. We are a family business and we want to make sure they know that, during this time, it is real people that are here for them.”

Social media posts from Bayfields Opticians range from information and resources, such as a checklist for contact lens wearers to answer key questions during the outbreak, to videos and pictures of how the teams are spending their spare time during the lockdown.

As the network spans the country, Mr Bayfield highlighted the importance of engaging with the communities in which Bayfields Opticians practices are based, through social media.

Mr Bayfield also emphasised the importance of communication inside the business, highlighting that he has been providing updates for staff throughout the outbreak, as well as providing training resources.

Allegro delivery
Managing director and dispensing optician at Allegro Optical, Sheryl Doe, delivering emergency repairs in Holmfirth and Saddleworth


Based in the north west of England, Allegro Optical has also been uploading pictures and videos of the practice teams and their lives in lockdown.

The opticians has closed its doors during the outbreak with managing director and dispensing optician at Allegro Optical, Sheryl Doe, adding that the practice has generated no income since the day it closed.

The practice has been offering repairs free of charge during the period, with Ms Doe adding: “All the optometrists are furloughed so it is just me doing the triaging and all repairs.”

On closing the practice, the team called all its elderly clients to explain the situation and offer support. They then also shared the message across social media.

With the practice doors closed, it is essential to maintain our relationship with our clients and let them know that we are still here if they need us and that we are all in this together

 


“We have worked with the new volunteer networks, many of which didn’t exist before COVID-19,” Ms Doe added, explaining that these groups help to deliver the practice’s message around the village.

The practice has also been supporting the network, Ms Doe explained: “If someone from the group is picking up a prescription and we’re repairing glasses for the same person or a neighbour, we will pick up that prescription and save them the job – freeing the volunteer up for another errand.”

“This has worked well and even generated new clients for us, who have asked to be added to our database and require tests once restrictions are lifted,” Ms Doe added.

Commenting on the importance of using social media to keep in touch with patients during this period, Ms Doe said: “I think the old adage: ‘Out of sight, out of mind,’ is very relevant at this time. With the practice doors closed, it is essential to maintain our relationship with our clients and let them know that we are still here if they need us and that we are all in this together.”

The practice has been sharing updates of how the team has been spending the time during the outbreak, from screenshots of virtual socials, to pictures of Ms Doe delivering emergency repairs to patients.

“We have always been quite personal in our approach to social media,” Ms Doe said, adding: “We feel that if people get to know, like and trust us, we will have a customer for life.”

Posts featuring a team member also appear to receive more engagement, she added: “We have found that a post showing a staff member cutting a birthday cake, playing an instrument, gaining a qualification, graduating and so on receives huge engagement. Even greater if it features their pet.”

The practice specialises in musician’s eye care, and so whilst in lockdown the team members have also been creating musical pieces to entertain patients.

James Brook, clinical support technician at Allegro Opticians, played a rendition of ‘Amazing Grace’ on the euphonium, arranged by managing director Stephen Tighe, and dedicated to keyworkers.

“We try to keep our social media about us and show that we are real people,” Ms Doe said. “All our staff are local, and by featuring them we can also reach a wider audience as their friends like, comment or share.”



Also aiming to keep people connected and maintain engagement with its clients, Leightons Opticians and Hearing Care has launched ‘Leightons Social’ to bring virtual activities to its communities whilst in lockdown.

“Leightons Social is not just about social platforms. We’ve called it Leightons Social as a social club created for our patients and for us to be able to continue to engage with them,” Sue Dover, director of marketing for Leightons, told OT.

Leightons branches are currently offering remote care, including remote consultations, repairs, replacements and contact lens ordering.

“For us, Leightons Social is about making sure we continue to support our community during what is such a difficult time,” Ms Dover added.

Leightons Social provides a variety of interactive activities, groups and content to help keep people busy during the lockdown, but also to help customers to keep connected with their optometrists and branch managers.

Though designed with its customers in mind, the platform is available to anyone and features weekly brain teasers and quizzes, a book club, an educational section and puzzle packs for children.

Members of the Leighton team will be involved in delivering the content, with area managers hosting quizzes in what Ms Dover called “a great opportunity for them to engage whilst the branches are closed.”

“We created Leightons Social from a position of considering what the right thing to do would be. As a family-owned business we are fiercely proud of that, with those family values resonating throughout the business. This was just an extension of that,” Ms Dover said.

Describing the response as “amazing”, Ms Dover commented: “We were really astounded at the number of people wanting to sign up and the level of engagement with the activities.”

“It’s lovely to know it is something that was wanted, we are responding to a need,” she added.

As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic transforms the way optometrists practise, OT is sharing the experiences of optometrists across the UK. If you, or a colleague, is interested in sharing your story, please get in touch by email.

OT endeavours to keep the most up-to-date news on our website and this information was correct when published. However, the situation regarding coronavirus (COVID-19) is rapidly evolving. Please check OT’s rolling optics-specific coverage for the latest news and guidance on COVID-19.