As we all know, I love social media. And veterinary clinics. And finding ways veterinarians can connect with clients online as well as in the exam room. And pineapple ice cream. Ok, so that last one isn't as important here :-) I haven't spoken much about Instagram, although I do use it for business and personal use. You can follow me on Instagram @thesocialdvm. While I don't think it's necessary for every vet clinic, it can be a useful tool and niche community for some, particularly if you are seeing pets with their own Instagram accounts, or if your community has its own hashtag (for example, St. Louis-area photos are often tagged #STL). As always, even if you do not make Instagram a priority for your clinic, I think any social media platform is worth a try to see if it facilitates client connections. If it does, great! Roll with it; if not, you can move on to more rewarding avenues. Several of my followers are entertaining this exploration now and have requested more information, so I'm going to break down the how and why for you #rightnow!
Instagram is an online, mobile-based social networking service that focuses predominantly on photos and videos. Photos are square, and can be edited within the program by applying various filters to enhance the image. While you can share your Instagram photos to other sites, like Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, many individuals and business choose to use Instagram as a separate entity and post different content. You can currently only use Instagram on a mobile smartphone or tablet. According to the Pew Internet Research Center, 26% of online adults use the service, and the largest group of Instagram users fall in the 18-29 year old age group.
How It Can Work for Veterinarians
Photos are, and likely will always be, the key to connecting with veterinary clients. Photos showing off our patients and our everyday life are the stuff of social media gold, and clients love to see it. If you don't care to post lengthy descriptions, target your posts to certain clients, use your Facebook insights to access ideal posting times, and just want to share a picture of a cute pup, then Instagram is for you. Benefits over other social media channels include less pressure to post daily to maintain your following, the ability to tag other individuals (such as clients/pet owners if you know their instagram handle), and less competition for reach in the timeline. People interested in your account can quickly see all your photos in a few seconds, rather than navigating through loads of content on your Facebook page.
Personally, I prefer to edit my clinic's photos on a computer, with more advanced programs than Instagram. I try to add the pet's name and our clinic logo to everything before posting. But if you don't have time to do that, Instagram is a great way to quickly improve your picture, post it to Instagram (and you can automatically link it to post to other channels if you wish), and add it to your growing library of clinic photos, all within one program on your phone or tablet.
Another little known benefit for veterinarians is that a surprising number (sorry, I couldn't find an official number) of pets actually have their OWN INSTAGRAM ACCOUNTS. What?! I know. Hilarious. What better way to connect with the pet than to connect with their profile?
Setting It Up
As I mentioned earlier, you'll have to set up and use your new Instagram account on your phone or tablet. This is where it can be problematic for clinics, since not all clinics have their own dedicated clinic smartphone/tablet. If you have multiple staff members posting using their own mobile devices, they will have to be signed in to the clinic Instagram account, not their own personal account. There is no option for multiple "admins" like with Facebook. If you have a clinic device like a tablet or smart phone, this becomes much easier.
To set up your account, you will need:
1. Your clinic email address
2. A username: I recommend using your hospital name to make it easier for clients to find you
3. A password: a minimum of 6 characters
4. A profile picture: I recommend using your clinic logo. I emailed our clinic's logo to myself, then accessed it on my smartphone and saved it to my photos for easy access.
Once your account is set up, you'll be able to click the "Edit Your Profile" bar at the top of your profile page, and add your clinic website and bio (150 characters or less), plus verify your email and phone number.
You can also then link your Instagram account to a variety of other social media accounts if you wish. This is up to you, and may not best for your clinic. If you choose to do so, follow the steps here.
For you visual learners, here are the step-by-step screenshots of the setup process:
How to Post a Photo
To post, tap the camera button to access your phone or tablet's photo library. You'll be given an opportunity to scale and crop (all images will remain square), and then apply various filters to your liking. If you become a pro at this, there are other editing tools you can use too (like vignette, warmth, and focus) to really make your images shine.
What to Post
And now the fun part begins: POST THOSE PHOTOS! Photos of your patients (with owner permission, of course), behind the scenes photos of your clinic, your day to day duties, of veterinary equipment and weird things under the microscope. With other platforms, you may have to be more selective about what and when to post; less so with Instagram. If you post 5 photos one day and none for the next 4 days, it's no big deal. Here are a few examples, although the possibilities are endless.
Using hashtags and tagging friends
After you've edited your photo, add a quick caption and a few hashtags. Hashtags are ways to add a category to your photo, since many people search Instagram via hashtags. For instance, if I posted a photo of my clinic, and then added the hashtag #StLouis, my photo would show up to anyone who looked for #StLouis photos. Similarly, I could add the hashtags #Veterinary, #VeterinaryMedicine or #DogsOfInstagram and show up in the search results for those searches as well. Some people may also use hashtags as a way to add a fun comment without explaining in detail, such as with #Adorable, #LoveThisJob, #BestPuppyEver, etc.
If you know your client (or their pet) have their own Instagram account, you can also "tag" them in the photo, if you know their Instagram handle or name, depending on their profile and privacy settings. You can also tag locations if they have an Instagram profile.
So that's Instagram in a nutshell. Hope to see some of you of you there soon! If you're hooked, be sure to check back next week for my blog about using Instagram apps to enhance your photos and social media performance! If you start an Instagram page, be sure to follow me so I can follow you back! #cantwait!