Give veterinary clients a chance on your Facebook page to share pet picsand a chance to vote for the best one.

Want something fun to talk about at your next team meeting? We got revved up by a contest with cute cats. I mean, what's more fun than that?

At a meeting of our hospital's Kitty Committee last year (get your own!), one smart team member came up with an idea for a photo contest celebrating that “something special” between cats and their people. At the next staff meeting, we dreamed up a timeline, a format (Facebook “Likes” to vote on cat owner pics) and title (Cute Kitties Photo Contest).

As the contest gained momentum and voting wars ensued, it was fun to watch staff members checking in on the progress of the entrants, especially the top two contenders who kept trading the lead. Another contributor to the fun factor was selecting the prize. A gift basket that included a cozy bed, toys, a food puzzle, a grooming mitt and a gift card was the grand prize.

The original plan was to offer a single prize only, but the voting was so close and the runner-up photo so dear that we awarded them a gift card as well.

THE WINNING PHOTO: Girl smiles! Cat love! Christmas! How could it NOT win? (Photo courtesy Michelle Lawson, DVM)How we ran our photo contest

We're not trying to be species-ist. You can open up a contest to all pets or focus on pets of any stripe, scale or feather. But here's how we did it:

1. Choose your prize. Shopping for our cat-owner-friendly basket was not only a great way to assemble a tempting prize, but also highlighted some of the basic environmental needs of cats: a safe place, positive cat-human interaction and play.

2. Know your audience. You want your participants to be valuable to your business, not just looking for a prize. Reach for mostly current clients, but remember that goodwill travels far and your contest will surely reach many other non-clients too (yay!).

3. Find a Facebook photo contest app. There are many options out there. Google “Facebook photo contest.” Just test it out to make sure the app is mobile-friendly and easy to use. It makes it so much easier to have all of the photos in one place with one URL to promote. It's worth a minimal cost to make it easy on everyone.

4. Promote your contest. We promoted our contest on Facebook and physically in our hospital. That worked well for us!

5. Choose your winner. Our winner had the most Facebook “Likes” on the picture, which was fine. The downside is, that skews the results toward the photo entrant with the most friends or strongest campaign. Look at the options your app provides to find the best way to choose your winner.

6. Feature your winner. Someone won? Talk them up! We asked the winner come in to talk with us and take pictures, and then we featured her on Facebook. Take photos or videos and post them on your Facebook page to let people know there was an actual winner.

7. Follow Facebook's rules. There aren't many rules to follow. You can't require participants share or tag for entries. You can't ask people to promote your veterinary practice on personal pages. You can encourage people to share their participation with their friends, but you can't require it as a means of entry. Facebook's exact wording is this:

“You can run a promotion (ex: sweepstakes, contest) directly on your Page or through an app on Facebook. … To collect entries, you can ask people to: Like or comment on a post on your Page, Publish to your Page, and Send your Page a message. Personal profiles can't be used to collect entries. For example, asking people to share a post on their profiles to enter your promotion isn't permitted (ex: 'Share on your profile to enter' or 'Share on your friend's profile to get more entries')."

We can wrap up with a look at our marketing piece to promote the contest online and in the clinic. Have one to share yourself? Email is at firstline@advanstar.com.

(Image courtesy Cara Ernest)

Michelle Lawson, DVM, was an associate at VCA Valley Oak Veterinary Center in Chico, California, and now works at the San Francisco SPCA. Cara Ernest is marketing manager at VCA Valley Oak Veterinary Center.

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