Just shy of one year ago, I decided to focus on teaching other veterinarians about social media. In a hyper-connected world, I saw that clients were turning more often to "Dr. Google" instead of to their veterinarians. I saw a once-powerful relationship between a veterinarian and their clients diminishing, growing business difficulties among my profession, and most importantly, an abundance of pet health information presented online -- and not by veterinarians. To me, taking charge and making a serious effort to connect with our clients in the new ways that they preferred to communicate seemed the most plausible solution. And thus, The Social DVM was born. I soon realized there were other veterinarians who felt the same way -- who had taken that same step, forged ahead, learned the lingo, and succeeded in connecting with their clients. As many of you know, I love nothing more than to talk about veterinary medicine and social media. But there are more stories to tell. More experiences to draw upon, more successes to admire, and more sources of inspiration to help your clinic. I invited some of these talented veterinary professionals to share their story, and will be featuring each of them over the coming weeks. Each presents a unique practice, a unique approach, and a unique personality. I hope you can learn as much as I have from their stories.
--Caitlin DeWilde, DVM
I've featured our first guest in many of my speaking presentations, and their use of social media as a "virtual waiting room" almost always get the most surprised reactions from the audience. Meet Cheree Miller, the practice manager and social media "voice" of Azzore Veterinary Specialists. Azzore is a specialty practice in Russelville, AR area, with satellites in Memphis, TN and Springdale, AR. Their mission is to educate, care and communicate, and Cheree will tell you just how they do that! Her story and advice begin:
Do You Really Need Social Media?
Practice Manager and Social Media "Voice" of Azzore Veterinary Specialists
“Not having a presence on social media is like not having a sign and just taping a business card on the side of your building.” ~ Dr. Terry Dew, Azzore Veterinary Specialists
Did You Know…
· Facebook boasts over 500 million active users
· Twitter boasts over 232 million active users
· Instagram boasts over 150 million active users
· Pinterest boasts over 70 million active users
Your best marketing dollars are wasted if your advertising isn’t being seen by potential customers. Social media accounts are free, and I guarantee you that a large portion of your customers are there.
The question isn’t should you be on social media, but rather, what are you waiting for?
First, let’s debunk some myths about social media.
Return on Investment (ROI)
One of the most common objections I hear on whether or not to participate in social media is that there is either no return on investment, or that it’s too difficult to calculate, or that it is too small to justify the time/money involved.
One of the best rebuttals I’ve heard on this is from Danielle Lambert, founder of SnoutSchool.com. She asks what the ROI is for being nice to your clients, offering them a bottle of water, providing them with educational materials, etc. How do you measure that?
Customer service has become more than simply meeting your customer’s needs. If you aren’t exceeding them, you will lose business to the practice down the street.
I Don’t Have Time
The last thing you want to do is compare yourself to a Facebook account that has a million followers and posts every hour of the day. The most important rule of social media is to start slowly and build up gradually. Take your time so that you can see what works for you (and your clients) and what doesn’t. If you jump in with both feet and start posting away, you may end up doing more harm than good. Each practice is going to develop its own unique personality.
Social media is not a solo activity. You will want to create a social media team. If you try to do it all by yourself on top of your already hectic schedule and responsibilities, you are going to crash and burn – no doubt about it. But, if you divide social media tasks up among different members of your staff, it doesn’t need to be overwhelming for anyone.
There Are Too Many Platforms – We Can’t Possibly Be On All Of Them!
You’re right! And you probably don’t want to be. Now, it doesn’t hurt to go get a piece of real estate with your name on it so that someone else doesn’t grab it up before you do, but it isn’t necessary to be active on every platform. I recommend you start with your website, a Facebook Fan Page, and a Twitter account. You can branch out from there later when and if you decide it would be beneficial.
Why do I recommend Facebook AND Twitter? Facebook is by far the largest social media platform. In my opinion, it’s a slam dunk that you need to have a presence there. The vast majority of your clients are probably spending hours on Facebook every day. You will, occasionally, find a client who does not have a Facebook account. That’s why I recommend being on Twitter as well. Your client doesn’t need to have a Twitter account to view your Twitter page. All they need is an internet connection. So, for our less tech savvy clients, we give them the website address for our Twitter page and let them know they can follow us there.
The best part is you don’t have to take the time to post separately on each account. I use a program called HootSuite that allows me to create a post one time and then post it to several different social media accounts. There are pros and cons to using this method. But, it works for us. The exception to the rule is when we post photos. If you post to multiple accounts using an app like HootSuite, they will appear on your Facebook account in a single photo album for the app rather than in your timeline. But, if you’re posting a simple status update or a link to an article on your website, HootSuite works great and saves you a lot of time.
How To Find Your Voice
You need to decide what your goal is and who your target audience is. For Azzore, that was easy. Because we are a referral practice, our goal was never advertising. Our goal has always been to simply build community and strengthen our client communications.
When a referred client receives their confirmation letter from us via email, they are invited to “like” our Facebook Page. Our Facebook and Twitter accounts are used as virtual waiting rooms. We post pictures of patients admitted for surgeries and procedures, and status updates throughout the day so anxious pet owners can follow their pet’s progress without feeling like they are “bothering” our staff with phone calls and questions. They can see when their pet is being prepped, when it has gone into surgery, when it is in radiology, and when it is in recovery. Before we log off of social media at the end of the day, we post our “parting shots” of each patient in recovery so that anxious family members can see that their dog or cat, although still pretty groggy from anesthesia, is resting comfortably. (Each client is asked to sign a release card giving us permission to post photos of their pet.)
But Aren’t There Dangers with Social Media?
You bet! In case you didn’t know, there are haters in the world, and many of them have social media accounts. You will have people who have never set foot inside your door leave a negative review on your page. You may experience disgruntled clients who want to pick a bone with you publicly on Facebook. Just respond nicely, and suggest they call you so that you can resolve their concerns. Often you’ll find your satisfied clients jumping to your defense, which increases your exposure and serves as great free advertising.
What we never allow is client bashing. If someone attacks a client, or criticizes their decision or level of care, we will delete their response letting them know why. We don’t hesitate for a moment. If there are a number of people who feel the need to express their opinion at the expense of a client, not only do we delete the comments, but we post a status update reminding people that unkind comments will be deleted, and gently remind them not to jump to conclusions without knowing all of the facts.
What Do You Do When a Patient Dies?
Honestly, when we had a patient die during surgery after we started our “virtual waiting room”, I wasn’t sure what to do. I waited until the family had been notified, and realized that people who had been following along would wonder what had happened. So, I posted a memorial of the pet. What happened next was amazing. The photo was liked by hundreds, many of whom posted a comment of sympathy to the family on their loss. Stories were shared; tears were spilled; our community stood in a virtual group hug with the family who mourned the loss of a loved one.
Now, each patient who crosses the Rainbow Bridge has a post in our Memorial Album on Facebook. The vast majority of them haven’t died while in our hospital or under our care, but pet owners will contact us if a former patient has died, and each one is acknowledged.
How Do You Measure Success?
For us, it’s simple. Our clients tell us they like what we’re doing. 99% of our clients when picking up their pet the day after surgery, tell us how much they liked being able to follow their pet’s progress on line. Even though the “parting shots” (recovery photos) are sometimes a little “rough”, they tell us that it was comforting to see a picture of their pet awake before they went to bed. Often they will ask about another patient who had surgery as well, letting us know that they were following their status updates too.
Many of our clients continue to be active on our Facebook page long after their pet’s surgery. They comment on photos of other patients, provide words of encouragement to nervous family members and offer words of solace when an outcome isn’t what we all hope for.
New clients frequently tell us that their friend, neighbor or family member brought their pet to us, and they thought that if their pet ever needed surgery, this is where they wanted to come.
Social media is a journey that can be a little scary, is riddled by the unknown, and occasionally you may experience a fender bender that needs to be repaired. But, overall, it’s a very worthwhile journey.
Want to follow Azzore to learn more? Check out their website at www.azzore.com or follow them on your favorite social media channel!