Craft your image
If you don't build and maintain your online presence, others may do it for you - and present an unflattering portrait
You've spent your career building a stellar reputation for exceptional service and patient care. The last thing you need is one disgruntled client waging a smear campaign online—a campaign that drives your muddied name to the top of the search engine results.
Are you just sitting by and letting the naysayers control your online image, or are you prepared to take matters into your own hands? As potential clients hit the Internet for doctor reviews and practice profiles, it's becoming more important than ever to invest in a strong online presence. Here's how to get started.
TRACK YOUR REPUTATION
Before creating an online strategy, it's a good idea to see what's already being said about you on the Web. And there are a lot of free resources that can help you track your name or practice name on search engines and websites. Three common tools include Google Alerts, Yahoo Alerts, and Twitter Search. Once you set up the search criteria, many of these services will e-mail results directly to you.
If the search results that appear under your name or your practice name have nothing to do with you, it's even more urgent that you begin building your online profile.
SHARE THE GOOD NEWS
When we see negative Internet reviews, we address them head-on. (See my article "Extinguish Negative Reviews" in the June issue). But more than simply responding to unhappy clients, my practice team proactively crafts our online image.
The best way to combat negative content is to post positive content. Unfortunately our happy clients aren't typically forthcoming with their positive feedback. Oh sure, they'll tell their three friends, but not until the subject of pets or vets comes up in a conversation. Well, we can take those positive reviews meant for the few and multiply them for the thousands. All you need to do is ask.
We developed a campaign where we ask our happy clients to submit reviews on our behalf. To make it easier, we created a review form asking for specific honest comments and an overall review based on a 1-to-5 scale.
It's important for the reviews to be detailed, where the client cites a specific event or aspect of the practice or doctors that they really like, as these seem to be more believable and are more likely to be printed. Then, you need to ask them to submit the feedback to whatever review site seems appropriate (Google, Yelp, Yahoo, CitySearch, and so on). Sure, these reviews are solicited, but they are also authentic and true.
You know those wonderful thank-you notes that we've all received from appreciative clients? Well, these can make great reviews too—so don't be afraid to ask those clients for permission to post their comments on review sites, your website, and your Facebook page.
Our practice took this strategy one step further and enlisted the help of a company that submits the reviews to various sites. Because it can be difficult to have your negative reviews removed, it's important to encourage positive reviews that will, in essence, push negative comments deeper and deeper so they won't be displayed as prominently. Sites use several factors to determine where to place reviews, but chronology seems to be the most relevant criteria. So it's important to concentrate your efforts on sites with the most recent negative reviews.
BOOST YOUR PROFILE
Other strategies to enhance your Internet image involve website development and maintenance and capitalizing on social networking and advertising opportunities. Developing a Facebook page, for example, gives prospective clients another convenient opportunity to find you. Do you have a creative staff member who might be willing to write a blog or press releases promoting hospital initiatives or pet health trends? Educational and fun YouTube videos are another great way to gain exposure.
If you have a phenomenal website, try to improve your search engine positioning. Many websites offer tips for structuring your site to optimize traffic. You could also boost your profile by creating a personal website. You can visit mine at drjeff.com for ideas.
Presenting yourself as a pet health expert will also help you gain exposure. Present at industry events, contribute to popular Q&A sites like Yahoo Answers, and submit pet health press releases to local, regional, and national media. (Some veterinarians and team members also blog for their colleagues at dvm360.com.)
MAKE THE LEAP TO ELECTRONIC COMMUNICATION
Personalized pet health websites, or pet portals, are a great tool to help enhance your image because they keep you in closer touch with your current client base. You can send appointment reminders, messages, and hospital or pet health news. Many allow clients to make appointments online, review their pets' laboratory work, and communicate with others via your hospital's "community." Some popular sites include Vet Street, Vet Gate, or ePetHealth.
INVEST IN SUPPORT
Many aspects of Internet marketing and image enhancement can be extremely complicated. There is so much to stay on top of—reviews, social media, your website, search engine optimization, hospital placement on review sites—that doing it all on your own may not be your most effective approach. Many large hospitals employ a staff member simply for this purpose, as it has almost become a full-time job to manage all of this communication. Even if you don't hire someone to manage this exclusively, consider how much time a current team member will need to attend to these tasks.
An alternative solution would be to hire a firm that will handle all of this for you. There are a few companies that work with the veterinary industry and are familiar with the intricacies of practice. Companies such as Scorpion and Indigo Pets do a great job creating and managing websites and social media sites, work with the key review sites to enhance your presence and image, and assist you or your staff members to stay in front of your clients via blogging, online newsletters, and web alerts. Fees are typically based on the number of services these companies provide and are fairly reasonable when you consider what you're paying for Yellow Pages and other advertising or marketing.
I hope these suggestions will inspire you to start taking control of your own Web image, rather than letting others control what information is shared about you.
Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member Dr. Jeff Werber owns Century Veterinary Group in Los Angeles. Please send your questions or comments to email@example.com.