How to be a veterinary social media superstar
Where does your veterinary practice need to be online? How much work will this take? Is it worth it? We asked practice owners, social media and marketing team members and other experts for the answers.
There's no denying that social media is an invaluable marketing tool for veterinary practices. In fact, most would argue that it's vital for success today. But anyone with a Facebook page or a Twitter account knows that reaching peak popularity is not as simple as sharing a photo or adding a hashtag. So how can you run a successful practice while managing winning social media pages?
We talked to six veterinary social media mavens who've proven they have the know-how to navigate the intricacies of social media and create content that sparks engagement. Here's what they had to say.
Laurie Hess, DVM, DABVP (avian practice)
Dr. Hess owns Veterinary Center for Birds and Exotics in Bedford Hills, New York, and is the author of Unlikely Companions: The Adventures of an Exotic Animal Doctor. She frequently appears as a lecturer, author and exotic pet expert in the media.
Kandur is a marketing manager for Compassion-First Pet Hospitals and manages the social media accounts for multiple New Jersey veterinary hospitals, including Red Bank Veterinary Hospitals in Hillsborough, Mount Laurel and Tinton Falls.
Lawrence is marketing coordinator for Gulf Coast Veterinary Specialists in Houston, Texas.
Schroeder is vice president of InTouch Practice Communications, a full-service marketing agency dedicated to veterinarians.
Serraino is a marketing manager for Compassion-First Pet Hospitals and manages the social media accounts for multiple veterinary hospitals, including the two CARE Center locations in Cincinnati and Dayton in Ohio.
Ernie Ward, DVM
Dr. Ward is a well-known veterinarian, speaker, author and founder of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. He also hosts the Veterinary Viewfinder podcast.
Which social media platform should veterinary practices be using?
Ernie Ward, DVM: The four main social media platforms today are Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter-almost in that order as far as reaching pet owners at large. That's pretty much where you want to be.
Bill Schroeder: The most important platform is still Facebook because of the channel's reach and a veterinary practice's ability to target their audience. Close behind are Instagram and YouTube. (Editor's note: Bill shared with us big algorithm changes back in May. Learn about them at dvm360.com/FBchanges.)
Think you can't do video?
It doesn't have to be big-budget filmmaking to make it on YouTube, people. Try the tips at dvm360.com/filmvideo.
How has social media had a positive impact on the veterinary hospitals you work for?
Karin Kandur: Social media lets us showcase the care we provide at Red Bank, highlight some of the patients who've benefited from our medicine, show behind-the-scenes aspects of our work, and educate pet owners so they can take better care of their pets. It also allows us to highlight the team and let others get to know them as both veterinary professionals and members of the community.
Kate Lawrence: Social media is one of the most important ways we communicate today. Businesses that ignore or underuse social media do a disservice to their hospitals and clients. Social media allows us to keep clients informed about our hospital, such as providing our new location when we were flooded during Hurricane Harvey last year. It also lets us engage with clients through stories of actual patients, grow clients' knowledge by sharing important health information and fun facts about pets and our hospital staff, and illustrate our state-of-the-art technology.
But what do I write?
Need help coming up with veterinary-client-facing copy for your social media channel. Start brainstorming at dvm360.com/socialmediatoolkit.
Stephanie Serraino: Social media allows us to connect with our community by sharing stories of pet loss, love, survival and advanced veterinary care. We also get to share safety tips, patient updates, staff events and achievements as well as how we give back to our community. In turn, our community gets to share with us how these animals make their lives better.
What type of content drives the most social engagement?
Schroeder: Authentic content that demonstrates the practice's brand. Tell the stories of your clients and let pet owners feel the social climate of the practice. Use pictures, ask questions and respond quickly with well-thought-out responses.
Kandur: Several types of content yield positive feedback for us: practice and community service news (such as blood drives and in-house fundraisers for causes such as breast cancer awareness), meet-the-technician features, patient profiles showcasing success stories and interesting cases, personal stories from staff members, and staff photos that show our dedication to caring for pets, such as when they came in during a blizzard.
Laurie Hess, DVM: Definitely pictures-we take a lot of pictures. We have a photo release form that we ask clients to sign when they come in, and most people are pretty receptive to doing that. We then keep a library of our interesting photos so we can use them as needed. (Editor's note: Check out her team members' Instagram shares here.)
Serraino: We find that success stories about critically ill patients do the best. A few years ago, CARE Center posted a story about a dog named Carmen that suffered severe smoke inhalation during a house fire. Her story, images and updates were shared globally and throughout the news media, including on CNN.
Are blogs a necessary part of social media marketing?
Dr. Ward: You need to own your content, and there's no better content to own than blog posts. [From them,] you can link to Facebook memes, Instagram photos and YouTube videos.
Schroeder: Absolutely. Not only are blogs a great way to share information, but they have tremendous search engine optimization value, because the keywords and phrases used demonstrate a practice's offerings and make the content very attractive to Google and other search engines.
Do you schedule content in advance?
Dr. Ward: The first thing to do is look out a month ahead to see whether there is a day or a celebration, such as National Veterinary Technician Week. Then decide what content, if any, you want to build around that event, whether it's a video or a blog or just a couple of memes. If we can plan in advance, we'll use Hootsuite, TweetDeck or another social media scheduler. I think every veterinary clinic should take advantage of that.
Dr. Hess: Seasons and holidays drive a lot of what we post. Around holidays and school vacations, for example, there's an increase in boarding, so we schedule posts about boarding during those times. Also, certain holidays drive particular kinds of posts. For example, people buy rabbits around Easter, so we have posts leading up to Easter about how you really need to think twice about before buying a rabbit.
How do you react to negative feedback online?
Dr. Ward: Being able to deal with negativity on social media is a must. The internet runs on hate, and you need to develop a mechanism to tune that out. If you're going to put yourself out there, be aware that you're going to encounter negativity-that I can guarantee. The best advice I can give somebody is that if you give in to the haters, they've won.
Kandur: I think the biggest downside to social media, including review sites such as Google and Yelp, is negative reviews. We probably make it more difficult for ourselves because we honor the confidentiality of the client-patient-veterinarian relationship and choose not to respond with case details for all to read. People don't understand the far-reaching effects of their words. Taking the professional road can be agonizing. It's frustrating to think how much our reputation can be affected when people hear only one side of the story.
Complaining … or bullying?
Sometimes internet reviews turn into campaigns of abuse by not just an upset client but all the client's family, friends and social media contacts. We went deep into this topic in a recent dvm360 Leadership Challenge at dvm360.com/cyberbully.
Dr. Hess: Striking out or being negative in your response never helps. I always try to contact people who have written a negative post offline to discuss their concern so we can try to come to a satisfying conclusion. If they're happy, I ask them to remove the negative post. But there have been times when I have failed at that, and sometimes there's nothing you can do. If I feel like I've responded correctly and politely, but the person persists in wanting to leave the post or won't respond to me at all, then I create a public reply so that other people understand I've made my best efforts to work things out.
What's your No. 1 piece of social media advice?
Dr. Hess: It's important that posts have some regularity. We've created themes for certain days of the week where people expect certain things-Monday is Mammal Monday and Tuesday is Tank Tuesday [highlighting pets that call aquariums and terrariums home]. Related to these themes, we might offer a discount or a special gift because someone brought their ferret in on a Friday because they saw a Ferret Friday post. Once every week or two, we also post a “Did you know?” video where we mention a cool fact related to an exotic animal. Team members take turns creating these posts so people begin to recognize our staff while learning something interesting.
Schroeder: Bottom line: Create good, honest content that helps your audience, and interact naturally.