Demystifying social media: 4 keys to building a community online
Discover critical insights that every veterinary professional should know to engage with social media.
“What’s the ultimate endgame of veterinary social media? We want those followers who we convert into prospective clients from a practice perspective,” said Adam Christman, DVM, MBA, during his talk at the Fetch dvm360® Conference in San Diego.
Social media can be a loaded topic, Christman explained. Some veterinary professionals feel it gives them an edge in positioning their practice within their community. Others consider it a waste of time and valuable resources. Many still have no idea where to begin. Christman espoused that social media is not going away anytime soon, so veterinary professionals would be wise to embrace this tool and use it to their advantage.
However, there’s more to social media success than simply posting fun, educational content said Christman. There are various platforms to contend with, each with their own considerations, as well as scheduling and pacing questions. Finally, how do veterinary professionals capitalize on social media success and turn it into new clients and happier patients?
With more than 630,000 followers on TikTok and 52,500 followers on Instagram, Christman loves to engage with fellow pet parents and veterinary professionals across all social media platforms. During his talk, he shared these key points as follows:
1. It all starts with the website
“Your nucleus is your website,” said Christman. “That’s your core. Make sure it’s strong.”
Christman said a practice’s website should be the primary target of social media and calls to action. The goal of social media is to drive potential clients back to the site so they can turn into new or repeat clients. He pointed out that the website should be mobile-friendly, as many people are browsing with their phones. He also emphasized the importance of the “about us” and “our services” sections on a practice’s webpage for clients. He said to ensure the “about us” page tells a relevant and compelling story of the practice, and that the services offered are current.
Additionally, Christman warned conference goers to pay attention to staff bios and photos, as nothing will turn a client off faster than asking about pets from the website, only to discover they are deceased. He shared a short anecdote: “At my hospital, we had a client that came because 1 of our technicians had a Great Dane. The Great Dane passed away 2 years ago, and we never updated the website. She was livid.”
Christman said pet owners pay particular attention to these areas and often make their hospital choice based on the doctor’s pets. Because of this, it’s critical that all these sections are well-done and up to date.
Finally, the website should act as a gateway to the practice’s social media channels to promote a virtuous cycle of social engagement and website visits. Include links to any social media profiles the practice is active on.
2. Facebook and how to find a community
With a well-designed, up-to-date website, it’s time to engage with social.
“You have to find content that resonates on Facebook,” said Christman. “Every day we always do something great: celebrating a win, a new employee, a birthday, or a patient that’s surviving chemo and doing great.”
Christman explained that the end goal of engagement is to generate clicks back to the website. Content that is “shared” drives the most website traffic, followed by comments and likes, respectively. With that in mind, it will tend to be more valuable to a practice to post interesting content and information that links back to their site, as opposed to commenting and answering questions all day. Discussion is valuable, too, but weigh the time investment accordingly.
He also recommended joining Facebook groups relevant to the practice, such as veterinary job boards, interesting veterinary cases, veterinary technician groups, and more. These groups are a great way to connect with the community and serve as a source of ideas for the practice’s own content. He shared a story about the community coming together to find a home for a dog by sharing a post more than 600 times in 2 hours.
“That’s the beauty of social media,” said Christman. “These are feel-good stories.”
People want to share feel-good stories, and that drives engagement, he said.
3. Hashtags (#), tagging (@), and the almighty algorithm on Instagram
“Do not go by the likes, the comments, the followers…Stay true to who you are,” advised Christman.
He explained the importance of staying true to the brand because so much of social media is dominated by an algorithm that decides who sees what. Making off-topic posts or going outside of the practice’s wheelhouse in pursuit of likes will only throw off the algorithm. Posts that are relevant to the practice helps put them in front of the people who really want to see them and who will be the biggest supporters of that content. He also recommended asking for pet social media info on new client intake forms as well as having a social media spot in the clinic. He said these 2 strategies will wow patients and help draw out “your biggest cheerleaders” who can amplify your message online.
Animals are some of the stars of Instagram, so it is no surprise that many pet owners are active on this platform. Although it is a social sharing platform like Facebook, Instagram has its own quirks and nuances that require attention. Christman shared the value of using the @ symbol, which is used to “tag” a company, person, or organization on a post. This means they will receive a notification about the practice’s post.
He illustrated the value of tagging others with an example: “If you’re posting a cute new puppy photo, you better make sure you ask the owner their Instagram username and mention them. The pet owner will be ecstatic to post and share that photo and ultimately turn into 1 of your biggest cheerleaders for the practice.”
“If you’re not using #vetstagram, you should be,” said Christman.
Another important Instagram symbol is the hashtag, represented by “#.” He said that hashtags are an important way to expand the practice’s Instagram audience to reach more people. Using a hashtag on a post causes it to appear for everyone who follows that topic. This makes the post visible to more people, and moreover, the kind of person who is interested in that topic because they intentionally follow it.
Christman recommends avoiding using hashtags with millions of followers, such as #dog or #cat. Because these topics are so broad, “as soon as you post something, it’s gone,” Christman said. He said that finding relevant hashtags with hundreds or thousands of followers instead will drive better engagement, although it may take time to identify those.
4. TikTok: the new king of the hill
“I think TikTok is the strongest social media platform that ever existed on the planet,” said Christman.
He said the key to success on TikTok is to remember to keep it succinct. It is a video platform that allows practices to share their educational content in quick, under-60-second chunks. He shared an anecdote about how a single video went viral and was earning him more than 1000 followers every 3 minutes. TikTok’s algorithm can reach users who are very interested in veterinary content, and because users are highly engaged, the right post has the potential to explode in popularity, he said.
For making a well-received TikTok video, Christman gave this tip: “You have 3 seconds to nail it,” said Christman. “In those first 3 seconds, you have to put the word ‘you’ in it. Why is that so important? Because when I say ‘you,’ all of a sudden, you’re like, ‘He’s talking to me through the camera lens!’”
Wrapping up his talk, Christman urged the audience to not be afraid to dip their toes into social media and harness the power of the engagement it can provide. These tips and tricks serve as a starting point that any veterinary professional can use to begin their foray into social media.