It may be possible to live a social media existence buoyed by a cry of "Don't read the comments!" But this approach runs into trouble when user comments are about you and your veterinary clinic. Cyberbullying and online attacks prompted by real or perceived actions in a practice are the stuff of internet agitators' dreams: The combination of high emotions associated with pets and supposed injustices by "the man" is fodder for a fireball of virtual (and real-life) grief.
But there are ways (besides a profanity-laden flame war) to deal with and prepare for a scenario with the potential to damage your clinic's reputation. Here, several veterinary professionals share tales of online onslaughts, how they reacted and how they prepared for the future.
Internal communication comes first
As owner of the social media consulting company The Social DVM, Fetch dvm360 conference speaker Caitlin DeWilde, DVM, has a handle on dealing with all things online. She says that in the event of cyberbullying, it's crucial for your staff to be organized and present a unified front before anyone reacts.
"The first thing to do is to make sure that everyone on your team is aware of the situation and that you have all the information and all the facts before make a response," she says.
She urges you to exercise compassion and kindness in your reaction—elements often missing in potentially volatile social media interactions. These demonstrate goodwill and allow you to move on to protecting your clinic, she says. This may include reporting and/or blocking parties who are creating trouble.
In this video, she shares the story of a clinic undeservedly harassed about declawing and how they were able to rebound by getting on the same page about the scenario and by keeping tight control of their social platforms.
Miscommunication turned into a mine field
Not all internet harassment is borne out of a desire to anonymously unleash scorn. Sometimes it's driven by the raw emotions of frustration, anger and sadness. Such was the case with Fetch dvm360 conference speaker Bonnie Lefbom, DVM, DACVIM, whose clinic faced what she called "an internet storm" following the unfortunate death of a recent patient due to "a terrible miscommunication on the importance of the medications."
The dog's owner, understandably upset, proceeded to attack the clinic at large—and Dr. Lefbom specifically—across every available social media channel (not to mention obtaining the practice CEO's personal phone number for purposes of real-world hassle). Naturally, this all happened on a Friday setting up for a long weekend of bad vibes.
But they were as prepared as they could be.
"We are fortunate to have an admin team that is very aware and on top of the social media platforms that we use," she says. "They ended up having to take everything down while we got this under control."
In addition to a crack staff, the hospital had something equally as important: evidence in the form of captured phone calls and detailed notes. This meant they were able to control the online conversation.
"[W]e had the facts, not only in the medical record, but also in the recorded phone conversations," Dr. Lefbom says, so her clinic was able to confidently respond to this potential public relations disaster.
Watch the video for even more on this story.
Ask and ye shall receive ... offline
Echoing Dr. Lefbom, Fetch dvm360 conference speaker Danielle Russ, BS, BA, AS, LVT, says social media flare-ups often originate through misunderstanding. That's why she takes a direct, proactive approach to ensuring that clients are satisfied.
"We survey every client after they leave our hospital at least once every six months, so we can hopefully get that feedback before it ends up out online," she says.
Russ also underscores the fact that patients can suffer as a result of strained relationships playing out in public channels. She notes that her clinic's team is trained to look for client dissatisfaction, "so we can intervene to not allow a gap in patient care."
Check the video for more.
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