What social media can do for you


A case study of how to promote your veterinary practice online by supporting a worthwhile cause.

By the close of 2010, social media budgets will increase from 5.6 percent to almost 10 percent of total marketing dollars spent, forecasts the American Marketing Association. By 2015, the expected expense doubles. Clearly, the use of social media for business marketing is growing. What is not clear for many businesses is how to use these new platforms effectively. In this article, I'll share a case study of how to promote your practice online by supporting a worthwhile cause.

Set goals and get started

Using social media isn't always as easy or obvious as it seems. Trust me, I just set up a blog and Twitter, Linked-in and Facebook accounts. I thought the hard part would be setting up these platforms. Now that I have them, I realize it is much harder to map out a solid game plan for using them. I've also learned that with social media, the best way to learn is to just jump in and do it.

Social media platforms are constantly changing, with almost daily updates to the available features, options and rules. That's no reason to delay getting started, though. No matter what changes in the social media space, we have control over one "sure thing" — our own goals.

Some social media goals you might consider include building awareness of your practice, building your hospital's reputation and increasing the number of pet owners who choose your practice. If you're using social media for marketing, then your goals also include helping people find your practice online. The most popular way people find businesses online is through search engines, such as Google and Yahoo.

Google is the most popular search engine in the world and the one that pet owners are most likely to use. Although Google closely guards its search formula to prevent fraudulent marketing practices, experience shows that mentions of your practice on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other legitimate social media sites can help push your website up higher on a search engine's results list. In other words, the buzz you create about your brand counts. So do the links you forge with other websites and social media sites.

This begs the question, "Who is talking about you on social media?" If the answer is "no one," then your challenge is to: 1) create information worth sharing; 2) create a "starter" list of loyal fans to share it with; and 3) promote it with e-mail, handouts and mentions (posts, tweets, blogs) on all of your social media sites.

Consider cause marketing

One way to create buzz for your own practice is through cause marketing. Raising awareness or funds for a good cause (other than your own profit) can help you build relationships with others interested in those causes. It gives you something to talk about on your social media platforms besides blatant promotion of your own services, which doesn't go over as well. Research shows that cause marketing puts your practice in a positive light, increases awareness of your hospital and also inspires good feelings from current and prospective clients. Best of all, you will be doing something to help your community that you and your hospital team can feel good about.

Once you've determined the cause you want to support, you can talk about it on several different social media platforms. For example, if you want to let people know that you are having a special benefit to help your local animal shelter, you could blog about it, tweet about it, mention it on your Facebook wall and send e-mails to all of your friends. You might even make a YouTube video, with the permission of the shelter, to display shelter pets for adoption and to talk about the benefit.

Be buzz-worthy

No matter how you choose to share the news, make sure your message sounds compelling enough to capture the attention and hearts of your audience. Your strategy should be to get your audience to act on your message and share it with others. Sharing it with others is called viral marketing, and it is how you spread the word beyond your direct contacts and fans.

You will have to adapt and tweak your announcement for each platform you use to promote your cause. Getting it right can be tricky. Take this poorly worded tweet, for example: "The Wet Noses Animal Clinic is having a benefit. Come into the practice to help shelter pets. Give $3 & more and get a gift for your pet."

Sure, this tweet fits the Twitter requirement of 140 characters or fewer, but would it compel any one to act? More importantly, what information might be missing? It doesn't tell you the location of Wet Noses Animal Clinic! Even if they were so inclined, people couldn't find the clinic to make a donation.

Let's take a look at a better version of the same information: "Wet Noses Animal Clinic, Dayton, OH, invites you to buy a pet bandanna or toy for $3 to help shelter pets. Visit wetnosesoh.com for info." There are only 135 characters and spaces in this second tweet, but it says more than the first example. It lets people know that this is a Dayton, Ohio event and that they get a specific toy or bandanna in exchange for a donation. It also sends people to the Wet Noses Animal Clinic's website for more information. When tweeting or posting on any social media site, tie your messages back to your website. Just be sure if you tell people to go to your website for more information, the information they seek is there and easy to find.

Use key words

For an even better response, tweak your tweets to include key words and calls to action. Here's an example: "Help shelter pets in Dayton, OH! Buy a dog bandanna/cat toy, $3 at Wet Noses Animal Clinic. Tell friends! More Info at: wetnosesoh.com." This is the best of the three announcements because it not only sends people to the clinic's website and makes the suggestion to tell friends about the benefit, it also includes key words like "dog," "cat," "pets," "Dayton, OH" and the clinic's name, "Wet Noses Animal Clinic." The right key words increase the chances that search engines will pick up your tweet.

In addition to using key words in the announcement itself, you can usually find a separate space on the social media website to list corresponding key words. Make sure that you consistently use your key words in every tweet and post. This will help you to gain exposure for your message.

Expand your reach

After you feel confident using one social medium, expand your reach through other platforms. Using the benefit example above, you could expand your reach from Twitter by adding posts to Facebook and your blog to tell more of the story and engage your audience. Here are some posting ideas for the benefit example:

  • Tell the story of a particular pet that inspired your benefit, and how the benefit could help him.

  • Talk about your benefit goal — do you want to raise $500? $1,000? How will the shelter use their donations to help pets? How many bandannas and toys will it take for you to achieve your goal?

  • Run a photo contest of pets wearing your bandannas or playing with your cat toys to promote even more interest in your cause.

  • Post a picture of shelter pets for adoption to tie in with your benefit. The pictures could be of a shelter dog wearing one of your bandannas, or a cat with one of your toys, perhaps given free to new pet owners who adopt pets from the shelter that week. Pictures and videos help attract attention and they are easy to upload on most social media sites.

  • Always show your practice's website so that people can find more information to learn about your practice. In this case, because you are benefiting the local shelter, consider imbedding a link to the shelter's website, too, especially if they also link back to yours.

Keep the momentum

After setting your goals, determining your cause and getting familiar with various social media, a little bit of planning can help keep your marketing on track. Make a list of four to 12 topics to post about throughout the year on your social media sites. The topics should be interesting and useful to pet owners and support your marketing goals. Whenever you can, tie each topic into a bigger event, such as diabetes awareness in November. Then you can ride the PR wave that larger groups have already created to make it work for pets and your practice.

Add your social media links to your website and practice handouts, so that all of your marketing pieces reinforce each other. Try to maintain a consistent look across all platforms and print materials to build your brand. Make sure to read the rules and guidelines on each site to ensure that your links are in compliance.

Finally, make sure your staff knows what's going on. Send them to your website and to the social media sites you use so they can become familiar with them. Ask them for topic ideas and make sure that your hospital team members know when and what about you are blogging, tweeting and posting. That way, employees will feel "in the know" and unsurprised by client questions about recent announcements and posts.

Are you are still on the fence about using social media for your practice? If so, consider this: In May 2010, 75 percent of active internet U.S. household visited social networking sites, according to the Nielson Company's "Internet & Social Media Consumer Insights" report. Users averaged more than six hours online, double the amount of time they did a year ago, and spent 22 percent of that time on social media sites.

Now is the perfect time for you to jump into the social media pool. Your clients are already there and you need to be there, too. I hope the example in this article has given you ideas about how to use social media to help build your practice.

Karyn Gavzer, MBA, CVPM, is a veterinary business consultant and nationally known writer and speaker. She is an adjunct instructor for AAHA, and a founding member of VetPartners.

For a complete list of articles by Dr. Gavzer, visit dvm360.com/gavzer.

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