So you're ready to make the plunge into social media! For some of you, the Facebook or Pinterest page may be your first. For others, your personal accounts are brimming with retweets and likes, but you haven't yet made your business "social." And for many, you started this endeavor once or twice before....and ran out of time.
It happens! As a practicing veterinarian, I understand. Our days are full of to-do lists, busy waiting rooms, clients to call and pets to care for. Posting a picture of that cool foreign body you took out yesterday or setting up that Pinterest board of helpful links seems trivial when you have calls to make, stacks of journals to read and files to write up.
With so many distractions and obligations, it's imperative that you prepare for your endeavor. You wouldn't walk into an abdominal exploratory without having done bloodwork and radiographs, or without your surgical pack and suture. Why jump into social media without diagnostics and digital tools of the trade? Glove up, friends, and let's talk about your practice's social media prep, procedure and success.
10. Have your logo handy. No--you can't use the 1 cm square you scanned off your business card. Ideally, you should have a high resolution digital image in color, in black and white, and one with a transparent background. If a graphics company created a logo for you initially, this should be no problem. If not, you may want to ask for their help, or spending some time on the logo in Photoshop or other editing software yourself. Nearly every social media platform will provide an opportunity to upload your logo as a part of your profile. You can also use your logo to "brand" the photos you share--increasing your exposure and giving them a polished look. Having a variety of options, including your icon (graphic picture alone), your icon and clinic name together, +/- your address or phone number, etc will all come in handy.
These photos are all actual posts that show different ways to use your logo for branding purposes:
9. Gather your data. When setting up social media and online review platforms such as Facebook, Pinterest and Yelp, you'll need all your pertinent data handy. You probably know the address, hours and website address like the back of your hand. But do you have a copy of your clinic's mission statement, the owner bio or the history of the business? In addition, you'll need both a brief (1-2 sentence) and detailed (1-2 paragraph) description of the clinic and the services it offers for many of these pages, particularly Facebook.
8. Delegate. This step is crucial. Social media, like many tasks in a veterinary hospital, cannot survive on the efforts of one person alone. Involve your team. Social media is fun, and many will want to participate. It is important, however, to restrict the actual act of posting to trusted employees. Every photo you post, every article you share and every statement you make on social media will represent your practice. Posts need to be medically appropriate, grammatically and factually correct, and if humor is involved- tasteful and free of any potentially sensitive topics. Make sure any administrators you delegate can be trusted to represent your practice in the same way you would. My personal Facebook-specific recommendation is that the practice owner retain sole "Admin" rights, and make all other employees "Editors." Taking this step leaves owners the ability to monitor and remove any employees from Facebook should their professional relationship end. For more information on Facebook roles, check out: https://www.facebook.com/help/323502271070625
7. Schedule time. It seems so easy to post a quick photo or retweet a quick article-- and sometimes it can take seconds. Sometimes it doesn't. As we all know, without setting time aside, the likelihood of a "quick, easy job" getting done in a veterinary clinic is slim to none. Blocking off 30 minutes one or two times a week can give you a great opportunity to post quality, engaging content, especially if you take advantage of social media scheduling tools. Furthermore, if you are delegating the posting to a technician or receptionist, this will limit the time they can spend on Facebook pretending to "work" on your page!
6. Check out your camera. Engaging content requires VISUAL appeal. That cute puppy you saw in your last appointment will get you a ton of likes, but not if you have pyrantel caked to your phone's camera lens. Yes, this actually happened to me. You don't need to have a digital SLR in the clinic, but consider at least a modest effort in taking quality pictures. The majority of the content I share on my page and the pages of the clinics I manage comes from smartphone cameras. I and many of my techs have Iphones, and another takes great photos with an HTC One. One of my client clinics has a hospital-owned point-and-shoot camera that floats around the office, available for all staff to use when at the first sign of photo-worthy activity. That camera holds a Wi-Fi enabled memory card, so photos are automatically uploaded to a computer, ready for editing and sharing. If you allow your staff members to take pictures with their phones, be ready to stress that while they're able to take pictures of pets, etc,. they must still adhere to your policies about phone use during the workday when they are not snapping cute puppy shots.
Another tip: Check out the "Pose a Pet" app, which will make squeaky toy and other noises to get pets to look at the camera!
5. Hold a staff meeting. Regardless of the level of involvement, the entire staff needs to be aware of the goals, usage and policies regarding your practice's social media presence. Make sure everyone is on the same page, and consider discussing the following issues:
4. Build your library of photos. There will be busy weeks filled with new pet exams, multiple new clients to welcome to the practice, an interesting GI foreign body workup /removal and a clinic event to promote. Then there will be weeks, usually in January, when your staff spends their time catching up on cleaning and paperwork. Having a library of material, including cool images- from staff-owned pets, funny articles, clinic pet photos, interesting cases and diagnostic tests, will allow you to maintain a consistent and interesting presence on your social media platforms. My veterinary friends know I'm still looking for that great microscope pic of Sarcoptes!
3. Plan ahead. I'm a procrastinator. While I work great under pressure and on a deadline, trying to get your dog to wear a sombrero the morning of Cinco de Mayo and pose for a photo before you rush off to work is not a great way to start your day. Trust me. If you want to share specific images or promote certain holidays and events, you have to plan ahead. Look ahead on the national and pet holiday calendars, and ask your staff and clients for photos in advance if need be. More often than not, they're eager to share and happy to help. I love the AVMA's Pet Health Awareness Events list, organized by month. Many of them have links to websites and shareable content, making it even easier to educate and promote pet health topics! Check it out at https://www.avma.org/events/pethealth/pages/default.aspx
2. Ask for help when you need it. If you're not seeing the engagement you want, you're running out of ideas on what to share, or you can't make the time to get the job done, ask for help. There are a ton of free resources and educational tools out there to help you learn what you need to do or get some inspiration. There are many professionals, myself included, who are passionate about this aspect of vet med and love to share ideas and info to anyone who will listen. If you need more tech know-how or content ideas, check out SNOUT School (www.snoutschool.com), owned and operated by a successful veterinary practice manager. SNOUT School is very active on social media, providing webinars and lots of great veterinary-specific information! Multiple initiatives by the AVMA and Partners for Healthy Pets can help provide shareable posts and tweets to help educate your clients and free up time for you to make more personalized posts. If time is the problem, there are companies like mine that offer in clinic training to maximize your efficiency and even daily management of your social media platforms.
1. Have fun. I've said this before and I'll say it again. Our job is cool! As veterinarians, we have a profession that makes children and grownups alike green with envy. People are fascinated by our every day, and let's face it-- some some days, we see some really cool stuff. You don't see thousands of people looking at funny fruit and vegetable photos or a video of roofing shingles going viral. We have that kind of "awww-inducing," heartwarming- story-making material right down the hall, almost every day. We have the opportunity to show off what we do, create bonds with our clients that go beyond the paperwork, and educate owners to ultimately help them take better care of their pets. The stories, photos and info you share might be seen by someone who didn't know about heartworm prevention, or who didn't know you were supposed to take your cat to the vet every year. While I'm not saying that posting, sharing and tweeting is going to save lives, I'm saying it has the potential to help people connect more deeply with their animals, and learn more about giving them the best possible health care. Isn't that why we got into this gig in the first place? Share what makes you smile, what you want pet owners to know, and what makes your practice great. Your clients, and their pets, will thank you.