2017 brought the worlds of social media and marketing some great new tools and toys. To name a few, I saw veterinary professionals have success utilizing new strategies like Facebook live, side-by-side video capability, customized Facebook and Snapchat filters, and automatic “bot” marketing tools to connect with clients via Facebook messenger. The standard methods of sharing photos, videos and blogs continue to be effective as well.
I’m excited and hopeful for what 2018 will bring us in our ever-changing digital space. No one can argue that social media is without its challenges, pitfalls and headaches, but it continues to offer us opportunities to connect with our clients and improve pet health. Here are my predictions for what veterinary social media will see in 2018:
1. Video Becomes Essential
We’ve already seen an organic reach drop over the past few years, and it’s widely known that content without attention-grabbing imagery (still photo, animation or video) has a slim chance of winning the battle in the newsfeed. That said, I think that the Facebook algorithms are skewing even more, and will continue to do so, in favor of video.
Facebook has launched Facebook Watch (a TV-like option) for big brands and pages, and I suspect that it will eventually be available to all pages. They’ve also spent a major effort on the development and recent launch of Facebook for Creators, a new website and app with more video-specific resources and tools for those who want to use video.
2. Increased Use of Facebook Messenger
Messenger use blew up in 2017—in general, Facebook has reported a 67% increase in use of the Facebook Messenger app over the last two years. More importantly, in just 2017 alone, 330 million people connected with a small business on Messenger for the first time. I suspect this will continue to be the case, especially because Facebook has now launched an option to embed the Facebook messenger on your website. Your clients will now have the ability to contact you through Facebook, even if they don’t find your Facebook page! This is great news, IF and only IF, you’ve set up your Facebook Messenger settings well, and you’re actually checking and responding to your Facebook messages. Give your Messenger settings, away messages and instant replies a second look, and while you’re at it, take a look at the messages you’ve received over the past year. If any of them brought you business or bonded you to an existing client, it’s a platform worth using. For those of you who haven’t utilized Messenger in the past, time to give it a shot. My prediction is that you’ll see clients turn to this increasingly over emails and phone calls in the coming year.
3. Wider Use of Chatbots
I’ve previously written about chatbots, which are basically computer programs that simulate a conversation. Often, they're designed to do their job so well, they imitate how a human would behave in having a conversation via text, or for the purposes of this article, Facebook Messenger. These automatic tools that allow us to communicate with clients who opt-in via Facebook Messenger. I believe we’ll continue to see growth in the functionality and how frequently all brands, veterinary or not, use these tools. From heartworm reminders to clinic announcements, these tools give us a more immediate access to our clients where they’re already spending time – Facebook. Early studies show that these communications have a higher open rate than emails, and may even trump text messages for notifications! I’ll be interested to see if veterinarians – and other businesses too—start using them as a scheduling and/or reminder tool.
4. Instagram Hashtags Become Your Friend
In addition to being able to find content that used a specific hashtag by searching for it in the “Explore” section of Instagram, or finding it by by clicking the hashtag in a post that used it, Instagram recently launched a new feature that allows you to actually follow a specific hashtag, much as you would follow a specific individual. This content will now appear in your Instagram feed, eliminating your manual efforts! For instance, I’m always interested in content that uses the #veterinary hashtag, so I would randomly remember once or twice a week to search “veterinary” in the Explore section. Now, after “following” the #veterinary hashtag, this content appears in my feed, and has introduced me to several new cool veterinary-related accounts that I wouldn't have found otherwise.
Second bonus: you can see what hashtags an individual user is following.
Why is this important for clinics? Having a clinic-specific hashtag will mean even more than before, as will using any popular community hashtags. You may attract new followers this way, in addition to ensuring your content is seen by the people who want to see it! Their friends and followers can take note of their follow your hashtag as well, so consider that like another public endorsement!
5. Growth from "Stories"
Especially for those practices/professionals using Instagram, utilizing the “story” feature will give business followers more behind-the-scenes access, something our veterinary clients often love! This kind of transparency can improve our trust level, and remove some of the stigma and stress associated with veterinary visits (e.g. seeing “the back,” the kennel area, etc). Adding quick photos and/or video to your “story” on Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat are some of the highest reward:lowest time/creation investment content, especially as these platforms give more screentime and perks to story content. For instance, you can add URL links that will appear as a “See More” button on the bottom of any Instagram story, so this could be a great way to drive content to your website or other site that you don’t have within regular posts.
6. It's Pay to Play
This isn’t anything necessarily new to 2018, as it’s been increasingly true over the last few years. I’ll keep this last one short and sweet. If you haven’t been paying for Facebook ads, boosted posts, or other social media advertising, you’re missing out. If you’ve noticed a major drop in your reach or effectiveness, there’s a reason. Gone are the days of truly “free” marketing on social media, and businesses are going to have to fork out the dough if they want to succeed. However, at no point in the history of marketing did you have such an amazing opportunity to connect, in a razor-sharp targeted manner, to your ideal clientele. Don’t miss out.
That's my list, so it will be fun to revisit this in January 2019 and see how it shook out. I'm using all of these opportunities this year, with real focus on more video content for both my practice and my consulting. What are your social media goals and plans for the year? --Dr. DeWilde