Yesterday, I spoke with a group of veterinary technician students about the risks and rewards of using social media, both professionally and personally. While I obviously believe that the pros outweigh the cons, it's important for everyone on your team to understand what those negatives might be. That said, I wanted to share my top ten tips for the veterinary team member posting on the practice Facebook page. Here's our countdown, Dave Letterman style:
10. Familiarize yourself with your clinic’s social media policy
This should be a part of every clinic's employee handbook. If your clinic doesn't have one, get one. A policy ensures everyone is on the same page in terms of what's appropriate to post, when they can post it, who/how/when staff will handle client posts, etc. This is particularly important if there are multiple team members who have access to the practice page.
9. Use spell check and proper grammar
This is a no-brainer in terms of developing and maintaining your professional image. While spell check is included on Facebook, you're on your own in the grammar department.
8. Share only reputable content
Anything you share is essentially an endorsement. If you share a cute dog picture from a controversial celebrity or company, you're essentially sending the message that you're on board with whatever they're about.
It's also important for you to READ EVERYTHING YOU SHARE FIRST! I often use the example of the "Texts From My Dog" article that floated around social media a few months ago. Hilarious, for sure, but the last few "texts" included some rather profane language--and therefore was not something I wanted my clinic to promote. Another example is a popular story from a national news organization. Again, the headline, photos and bulk of the content involved an entertaining, heartwarming pet story, just the type that clients love to read. However, about 75% through, a non-vet "expert" started recommending a holistic organic raw meat diet. Again, not something I want to endorse for my patients. There are many respected organizations out there creating and providing great content that's easy to share. Check out AVMA, Companion Animal Parasite Council, the American Heartworm Society and CATalyst Council to start.
7. Avoid controversial topics and graphic images
Religion, politics and in some communities, baseball teams can be very polarizing topics. You don't want to alienate an existing or potential client because their views on non-pet related topics are different. Stick with what you know and what you're likely to have in common with your followers-- PETS!
The same can be said for "graphic" images. I don't mean rated R material here - I mean the stuff we think is cool- foreign bodies, anything involving blood or worms, crazy before and after skin conditions, etc. People like fun, cute and interesting images in their News Feed. Not blood and guts. Since our industry desensitizes us, if you have a photo you'd like to share and you're not sure-- ask your non-veterinary friends. If they think it's gross, don't post it.
6. Be polite, respectful and positive ALWAYS
No matter what kind of crazy person posts on your wall, it is your job to respond politely, diplomatically and positively. Your 500 other followers may not know that that horrible review came from a client who never pays her bill or who treated your staff poorly; those followers will watch how you respond. A simple "We're sorry that you felt that way, and want to make sure your concerns are addressed. Please call our office manager at 555-5555" is a simple solution to 1) acknowledge concern (which is what most angry people want anyway), 2) show your other followers that you're responsive and calm and 3) divert further discussion away from an online platform.
5. Wait for the outcome: Better to share “happy endings" stories than of cases still in progress
The perfect example of this is surgical foreign bodies-- while it's great to show the digital radiograph of the rubber ducky followed by a post-op pup, you should never post these stories until you're confident there was a positive outcome. It's bad for business if the people following the story find out there was a second surgery needed or the pet didn't make it, etc. Those pictures and stories are still powerful, and I would argue even more so, when you can add a third picture to that post- of the pup fully returned to normal, happy and healthy at home.
4. Avoid client names, limit to pet’s "first name" only
There are numerous reasons to avoid naming clients from legal and ethical concerns alone. More importantly, your followers don't care what your client's name is anyway- they want to see the pet's name! I personally avoid photographing owners at all and would rather involve them in the process of helping Fluffy sit still for a few minutes for a great picture. Your clients are following you to see adorable pet pictures, not people.
3. NEVER post photos/info without permission
Again, legal and ethical concerns abound here, but if you've asked permission, you'll be fine. Check with your clinic's social media policy to find whether your practice requires written or verbal permission, and stick to it. There are tons of individual written release templates you can find online, or some clinics incorporate it into their patient registration forms. If you're going with verbal approval, ideally ask it in front of another staff member to act as a witness, and record it with a time/date stamp in your medical records.
2. Do not answer specific medical questions/give medical advice online
This should be obvious, and is often tempting when owners need a simple answer or have a late night concern, but your practice should have a blanket "We do not give medical advice online" policy. There is no way for any staff member to get the "full picture" of a pet's health condition from a Facebook post compared to an actual physical exam. Since most clinic Facebook pages are monitored by non-veterinarian staff members, this is a further concern of medical liability. And lastly, if you do it for one, you'll open the floodgates to constant questions for free advice. It's a bad business and bad medical move all around -- just avoid it.
1. Remember that anything you post is public and permanent!
Even with the "Delete Post" feature, your post has the potential to be seen, shared and captured with an ever permanent screenshot from the second you post it. Think before you post!