Blog: Derail the social media misinformation train


Are your veterinary clients on the fast track to bad and misleading pet care information? Its time to cancel their one-way ticket to confusion and potentially harmful home remedies and create a main line to the facts.

Getty ImagesIf social media makes you feel antisocial, you're not alone. Lately I've been finding myself longing for the "good old days." After 24 years in this field, that phrase can mean many things. But in this case, I define the good old days as the ones when clients would cite whatever they learned on the Internet as proof of what was wrong with their pet.

Now don't get me wrong. Finding time during an office visit to dispel the many Internet myths was never much fun. The Internet was-and still is-full of information that may be slanted toward one product or the other or, in some cases, just wrong. But often that information started with some organization and expense on someone's part. Today, the marriage of the Internet with public misconception and misunderstanding has resulted in an even more frustrating offspring: social media.

In our town, which is fairly small (just under 10,000), there are dozens of sites on Facebook alone where residents ask questions, post opinions and on an increasingly common basis, help answer questions about everything under the sun. Periodically, that includes veterinary medicine. Today, the only requirement to spread misinformation is an Internet-ready device (who doesn't have one these days?) and time on your hands.

The only thing worse than being on Facebook is not being on Facebook. Whatever you think about it-and I know as many who love it and many who hate it-it's a business tool (or threat) you simply can't overlook. Ignore it at your peril.

As our practice manager, as well as an elected City Councilor in our town, I have slowly developed a recipe for success in dealing with this monster. For every one thread that in some ways involves veterinary medicine, there are five that have to do with city issues. My responses to both are very similar. Tell the truth. Tell it quickly. Avoid self-promotion. The last one is hard but critical.

Managing your reputation

My least favorite social media post? "Just moved to town. ISO (in search of) the best vet to take your pets to." My initial response to this was to simply sit back and watch, letting our clients speak for themselves. Unfortunately, what starts as someone asking for a positive endorsement usually evolves into people relaying negative comments. It hurts me deeply to read a criticism of our practice, though my brain knows that we can't please every client. It's frustrating to read in black-and-white that someone I consider a friend takes their pet to our competitor, even though I know there could be many reasons for their choice that have nothing to do with us.

Fortunately, our network of supporters includes a lot of people who quickly and passionately endorse our services. I simply add to the thread with an occasional "thank you" to those who are happy with our practice and ALWAYS add that our community is fortunate to have two veterinary practices full of team members who are very compassionate and who will take great care of their pets. While we'd love to meet Fluffy, they can't go wrong with either of us.

For some, the shock that someone with a stake in the answer would vocally support a competitor is enough to put an end to negative comments. For others, my doing so has been the single thing that pushes them toward us with their decision. Either way, it's the truth, it avoids self-promotion and I get to retain my integrity, which is important to me.

On one occasion, and with our practice owner's blessing, I did reach out and contact the author of a negative comment that was issued on two different threads. She posted a warning not to go to our practice-that we don't care about animals and that we were incompetent. Naturally, I took a look at her account only to find that she hadn't set foot in our building since 2007, she only saw one veterinarian over her entire time with us and had an elderly cocker spaniel with every medical issue that one could possibly have. There was nothing to suggest she'd ever been unhappy.

I sent her a letter with the simple suggestion that she focus on positive comments about her current veterinarian rather than negative ones about her prior one, and pointed out that her doctor had left our practice two months after her last visit and no associates currently working for us were even on staff in 2007. I assured her that whatever her concerns were-and they were never voiced when she left-I took exception to the suggestion that we had no compassion. I never heard from her, and she's never posted on Facebook since.

Managing misconceptions

Probably the most common open question asked on social media relates to fleas and how to control them. It's utterly shocking to see how many people swear by an at-home remedy. And what's more, while each of them endorse their own idea, they reject out of hand the suggestions of others. I always provide statistics about fleas, the life cycle and their veterinary product options. I also add that while we carry them, you can purchase these at any veterinary practice. I post visuals such as the flea population pyramid and focus on education, education, education. But in the end, it's still remarkable how little people want to learn. That said, it's still the right thing to do, and it adds value to our practice as a provider of education.

Managing your marketing

For all its downsides, social media can present some terrific opportunities if you understand what readers are really interested in. Generic public service announcements such as statements about pets left in cars during hot days, reminders that firework season is here and how medications can help make pets more comfortable and information about local outbreaks are very well-received. Notices about sales or statements obviously focused on driving your own revenue are often ignored.

The goal of any Facebook post is to have it "liked," or even better, "shared" by others. It's a step toward going viral and allows your information to be spread far beyond those who currently follow your page. A sure bet is posting notices about found or lost pets. Those posts get seen by thousands. Thousands. Where else can you get that kind of reach?

Our second most popular posts are those that make fun of ourselves. We have a policy that anyone who fails to transfer a caution statement regarding a patient onto current documents has to bake cookies for the staff or buy them all a blizzard from Dairy Queen. While I still dispute that I was guilty of this offense, I was a good sport and headed to Dairy Queen one day last summer. On the way back, I took a picture of the treats and posted them on our page, along with an explanation. The post went crazy and to this day ranks among our most popular post.

On the surface, social media for your practice can be as simple as simply providing contact information and helping them find you physically. But with some planning and understanding, it can be an amazing marketing tool.

Kyle Palmer, CVT, is a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and a practice manager at Silver Creek Animal Clinic in Silverton, Oregon.

Related Videos
adam christman peter weinstein carecredit
© 2024 MJH Life Sciences

All rights reserved.