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Social media for today's equine practitioner
Statistics show that at least 61 percent of your clients are using social networks. Are you? Find out how Facebook and Twitter can help your practice's profits soar.
I had one of those wow moments at the 2010 American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) annual meeting. Dr. Mike Pownall of Mckee-Pownall Equine Services presented a business management session that really caught my attention: It was about social media and its impact on the equine practitioner. Social media is not just for client education purposes anymore—Facebook and Twitter can and will improve your profitability—but only if used correctly.
DO YOUR RESEARCH
Social media, whether in the form of Facebook, Twitter, or myriad other online networks, is basically a way to interact with a large group of people via the Internet. A Pew research study has found that 86 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds and 61 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds use social media.
Specifically, Facebook is the nation's number one Internet site with 25 percent of all Web page views in the United States. The average member has 170 friends, so it's a safe bet that if your clients "like" your equine practice via your professional Facebook page, many of their friends will click on your page as well. Social media is reaching more and more of your clients every day, and if your practice doesn't keep up, your clients will move on and find one that will.
Social media allows you stay connected with your existing clients as well as expand your pool of potential clients. As Dr. Pownall said during his AAEP presentation, "People do business with people they like." Social media allows you to get acquainted with potential clients fast—the faster they know you, the faster they'll like you and trust you.
For updates to your Facebook page, you can post links to information that would be interesting to your clients, let them know what's new at your practice, explain about a condition that may be showing up in horses in the area, or merely give a quick report on a great CE program you're attending. You decide what to post because it's your page.
Facebook is a great way not only to tell clients about your practice but to show them as well. Create educational videos with your smart phone or digital camera. Take your clients on a tour of the practice and demonstrate some of your new technology. Be creative with your videos and post them on YouTube—a site that receives 2 billion views a day. Keep in mind that's nearly double the prime-time audience of all three major television networks combined, according to viralblog.com.
Twitter is another fast-paced social network that has been exploding in popularity. It's a form of microblogging—your posts must be 140 characters or less—so it's important to choose your words wisely. Dr. Pownall's practice is using Twitter actively to communicate with clients and other followers about his practice. Twitter is more popular in larger cities, but you can never have too much free publicity.
LOG ON TODAY
Few equine practices are taking advantage of social media to increase revenue and brand awareness. If you're ready to take the plunge, be aware: as with all marketing strategies, you need to create a plan with concrete goals. This will take some strategic planning among you and your staff. Here are some questions to think about before you get started:
> What content will you have?
> Who will manage your involvement on the sites?
> How will you measure your success with social media? (Here's a tip: Check out Google Analytics, which helps you measure your website's traffic—visits, posts, and page views. It will help you determine what your clients like and what they don't like.)
Once you've thought through these issues, Dr. Pownall suggests the following game plan:
> Start with Facebook or Twitter as your main social media site.
> Set up your accounts using email addresses with your clinic name as the domain name. (This will drive clients to your website.)
> Identify another person besides yourself to oversee the daily scheduling of content to post.
> Remember to monitor, measure, and adjust your use of social media on a regular basis. This will keep your clients from getting bored.
The future of equine practice is closely tied to practitioners' willingness to connect to present and future clients via social media. The process may seem intimidating at first—especially if you're an older male who prefers to talk on the phone—but you can always delegate the social media mission to the younger doctors or staff members at your practice.
Social media is a free way connect with your clients—this is one powerful tool to add to your toolbox.
Find your favorite floater
Q: Who should float my clients' horses' teeth?
That's certainly a hot-button issue these days. Some in the equine veterinary profession are starting to reject the tradition of nonveterinary equine dentists (NVEDs) floating horses' teeth. Equine practitioners are pushing for more sedation during this procedure, arguing that certain areas of the mouth can't be reached, assessed, or treated without it.
Because the American Association of Equine Practitioners recommends that only licensed veterinarians administer sedatives or analgesics for the procedure, as well as diagnose dental problems, those veterinarians ask clients to refer floating cases directly to them. However, most horse owners and many equine practitioners still work hand in hand with NVEDs to provide floating services to clients.
Dr. Geoff Tucker is an equine veterinarian who focuses on dentistry and floats the teeth of more than 3,500 horses in and around Palm Beach, Fla., each year. For veterinarians too busy for floating, he recommends they develop a close relationship with an NVED.
"There are way too many horses out there for veterinarians to do all the work," Dr. Tucker says. "If it takes 20 to 30 minutes to float one horse's teeth, and you've got a barn full of 10 horses, that's a lot of time for a busy veterinarian to spend." Dr. Tucker also worries that many clients will forego teeth floating when the cost of a veterinarian's time is so much higher than an experienced nonveterinarian's.
"Embrace those nonveterinarians," Dr. Tucker says. Equine practitioners should find someone they can trust who's experienced in floating and collaborate with him or her. You could even hire this person. Take your floater around with you on calls and make introductions with your clients. "The floater will get a percentage of the income from floating procedures, and the clients will get the peace of mind that if there's any mistreatment of the horse or problems, the veterinarian is there to cover it," Dr. Tucker says.
Dr. Tucker has expanded his business by hiring on an assistant who rides with him on visits and shares the labor of filing teeth. "She can handle the meanest horses because she's learned the techniques that work," he says.
Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member Dr. James Guenther, MBA, CVPM, is owner and president of Strategic Veterinary Consulting in Asheville, N.C. Please send your questions and your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.