Developing and implementing a successful social media strategy for your practice can be overwhelming. It takes a fair amount of research, planning, and creativity to make it work. A social media calendar can help you organize your content, marketing goals, and overall strategy in one place, as well as making maximum use of your scheduling time.
For my clinics, I create a social media calendar a month at a time, and have the bulk of my content scheduled before the month even begins. This frees me up for other tasks throughout the month, while still leaving space for photos and shareables as they happen. Before the month even begins, however, I know that I've met my goals of promoting my practice, educating my clients, and having a consistent appearance on social media. When the inevitable emergency comes in during my "social media time" at the clinic or I unexpectedly get sick (seriously, winter, when WILL you end?!?), I know my page is covered.
Here are my seven steps to create your social media calendar:
1. Start with an online template or print out a blank calendar page:
When I first started, I just printed out a blank month from Microsoft Word or a general Google search, and filled it all in by hand. I got a little wiser and created an online spreadsheet I save in my Google drive so I can come back to it easily, anytime, from any device. Having it online has even helped me plan a bit more ahead. For instance, if we decide in February that we're going to have a clinic event in April, I can go ahead and put that on my calendar now. Added bonus? You may even be able to pull ideas next year!
If you'd like to try my template, access it here:
2. Mark off any traditional holidays, clinic events, closings, etc.
March 2017 isn't too exciting, at least in my part of the country. We've got Daylight Savings Time and St. Patrick's Day, but no other major events. I added these two holidays and color coded them.
I generally do a quick google search for "March 2017 holidays" to make sure I also don't miss any other important "unusual" holidays, and found I would have forgotten about Dr. Seuss Day. When the opportunity arises to post a picture of a cat in a hat, you take it. There are, of course, lots of the other weird holidays, like National Potato Chip Day, Submarine Day and Corn Dog Day...I just can't make those relatable to veterinary clients, and we have plenty of other stuff to share, anyway!
For each of the events, plan a photo, article or graphic to represent that day. I have a great Daylight Savings Time reminder graphic we made a year or so ago of our clinic cat lounging on a clock. A quick search of one of my most trusted resources, PetHealthNetwork.com, rewards me with a timely article called "How Does Daylight Savings Time Affect Your Dog?" (http://pethealthnetwork.com/dog-health/dog-behavior/how-does-daylight-savings-time-affect-your-dog). Boom! Now I've got two pieces of content already planned for that day. Repeat as needed for the other holidays.
3. Hit up my favorite resource for true animal related events, the AVMA's Pet Health Awareness Events Page:
I love this resource. Not only does it remind me of all the animal-friendly holidays, it also often has resources linked to them that are great for sharing.
Plug these events into your calendar and now we've got several other ideas for content on days like National Puppy Day and Poison Prevention Week. I may not end up using them all (it's pretty hard to come up with something for your clinic National Manatee Day when you live in St. Louis), but I like to make sure I'm aware of them and use them as a springboard for content.
Again, I'll look into my photo library to see if I have anything pertinent. I know I'll want to share several articles about Pet Poison Prevention week, and I'm going to make a new infographic to share from my clinic. I hit up ASPCA Poison Control (http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control) for a mix of articles and resources (Top household toxins, poisonous plant database, sharing info about the app, etc) and plan one a day. Moving on to National Puppy Day, I know we'll want to share a photo of a doctor at the practice with a puppy, so I make a note in the clinic schedule to take a photo with the doctor of any new puppies in the few days before, and also plan to create a graphic asking our clients to share pictures of their dogs as puppies!
4. Holidays are covered...now what?
Now that we've gotten a good start on our calendar and covered any major "events," it's time to plan for the rest of the month. I like to next stick in one "reminder" post each week: one heartworm reminder, one website reminder, one Google reminder, and one referral program reminder. I vary these on the day and the time of day. For example, I always put our heartworm/flea prevention reminder on the first of every month, which in March falls on a Wednesday. I usually schedule this at night when I know people are more likely to be home and able to give their pets their heartworm prevention. For the second week, I'll plug in our website reminder onto a Tuesday morning. The third week, our Google page reminder goes onto a Thursday evening. And finally, our client referral program reminder lands on a Friday morning. There's no real rhyme or reason, other than to try to catch different segments of your viewers without seeming desperate for feedback or too "salesy."
Why do I post these reminders? Let's break each one down:
-Heartworm reminders: We speak to every client, every day about heartworm prevention and other parasite protection. Why limit that conversation to one day a year during annual exams? Not only is it good medicine, it's a great and free service you can offer your clients (and patients) to help remind them! My clinic's clients now know to look for it, and almost every month, we get a comment thanking us for the reminder on our Facebook page. I generally try to create a fun and seasonally-appropriate cute picture to go along with it.
-Website reminders: How often do existing clients visit your website? Not nearly as often as you'd like, I'm afraid. Your practice undoubtedly spent a lot of money and time developing a great website that has a ton of information about your practice, your services, and often, client resources like pet portals, education articles, online prescription sales, scheduling options, etc. Make sure your clients know about these resources, and build their loyalty to your practice. Try to remind them of some of the interesting things you have on your site with a graphic or descriptive post listing the items of interest in bullet points.
-Google reminders: Let's face it. We could all use feedback, and we all love those 5 star reviews. Make it easier for your clients to give you a great review by casually posting your Google + page, which should have photos, clinic info, and oh, by the way, the place they leave reviews. I am purposefully vague in these posts and don't specifically ask for reviews. I generally post a screenshot of the page, or create a graphic of the Google page in a cool laptop image (placeit.net is great for these!), and say "Have you visited our Google page? We'd love your feedback!" and leave it at that. Not always, but often we'll land a new review. That's worth a post to me!
-Word of Mouth/Referral program reminder: Most clinics have some sort of referral program, and often times have special cards made up. Why not remind your clients to help spread the word? I find that many clients aren't even aware that the practice offers them a discount. Sharing a simple photo of your referral card is an easy post you can recycle each month. Again, not a surefire way to get new clients, but I frequently see clients tag their friends in the post.
5. Promoting Practice Products & Services
Now that our reminders and events are plugged in, I focus on educating our clients on ONE product and ONE service each month. Again, I don't want to come off as too "salesy," or too promotional. However, I'm a big believer that 1/3 of the content you publish on social media should be content that PROMOTES your practice.
So, I'll choose one product- with spring around the corner think your favorite flea preventative or shampoo. Often, these products have their own social media channels or websites- I'll hit those up to see if there is anything valuable to share like an instructional video or a special offer/rebate.
Moving on to the service, your website is a great resource here. Simply sharing the link from your practice's website about a particular service is a quick and easy post that can give your clients a bit more info into some of your lesser known offerings (think laser therapy, acupuncture, digital radiography, ultrasound, etc). Make sure the link populates with a picture, and simply use the text "Did you know that we offer ____? Check out our website for more info, or call us today at 555-5555."
6. Time for some original graphics
We HAVE to differentiate ourselves online and publish content that is unique to our individual clinics. Luckily it's getting easier and easier to do so. I'm a big fan of creating even simple quotes, and better yet, infographics or educational "snippets" in graphic form. Try hitting up Canva.com, Picmonkey.com or the WordSwag app to overlay a simple animal-related quote over a cute image. For more advanced designers, infographics are huge and often become big "shareables," therefore getting out the client education AND your brand all over social media. I have a bank of these I've created and will rotate one or two in each month.
7. Educational articles
We all know these are not going to be the bread and butter of making you a social media rockstar. Too often, articles are overlooked and often underliked. However, I'm still committed to sharing trustworthy, valuable information with my clients. I really feel that as a veterinarian, I have the obligation to be THE resource of pet health info. If a client is interested in gaining more knowledge on a particular topic, I want them to have a good place to turn. If I consistently publish material, or share from reputable sources, they'll start to have some competition from all the more sensational, non-veterinary pet info sources out there.
So, each month I think about what timely topics might be pertinent.
In an ideal world, I'd have a blog or two written, and hopefully I'll have time to do so. But just in case, I want to find some trustworthy articles.
Vetstreet.com and PetHealthNetwork.com are often my go-tos here. Simply typing in the word "Spring" lands me the following articles:
-Spring Exercise and Safety (http://pethealthnetwork.com/dog-health/dog-checkups-preventive-care/spring-exercise-and-safety)
-Nine Spring Time Pet Hazards (http://pethealthnetwork.com/dog-health/dog-toxins-poisons/9-spring-time-pet-hazards)
-Can Dogs Have Spring Allergies? (http://www.vetstreet.com/our-pet-experts/can-dogs-have-spring-allergies)
-Eight Spring Cleaning Tips for Pet Owners (http://www.vetstreet.com/our-pet-experts/8-spring-cleaning-tips-for-pet-owners).
Bonus: They also had plenty of funny ones like these:
-Celebrate Spring with Adorable Videos of Puppies Enjoying the Great Outdoors (http://www.vetstreet.com/our-pet-experts/celebrate-spring-with-adorable-videos-of-puppies-enjoying-the-great-outdoors)
-Five Adorable Dog Videos to Make You Ache for Spring: (http://pethealthnetwork.com/news-blogs/a-pets-life/five-adorable-dog-videos-make-you-ache-spring)
I pick a few of these and scatter throughout the month on days I don't have other content planned.
And now you're done! Your calendar should be satisfyingly full of content and ready to schedule! You'll notice there isn't something EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Why? Because you need to leave room for patient and clinic photos, which should be a regular part of your social strategy as well. And you know there will be a hilarious meme or video you'll want to share when you see it, and you should (like this one http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/19/golden-retriever-dog-fails-obedience-test-video_n_6186890.html). Clients love that, and love seeing that you love it too, and often end up sharing it from your page. Triple win.
Finish up your productiveness by getting this scheduled on your Facebook (and/or Twitter, other social outlets). It's far more effective to sit down and schedule 20 posts at once than doing one or two every few days. Now you have more time for coming up with other creative marketing ideas like new videos, graphics or promotions....or one of the other 13,798 things that seem to always need getting done in a vet clinic. Happy scheduling!
Remember, you can get my blank calendar template and the completed March template at this link: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/132bI5-bXXMJtOD_zO_eKJJKQJNyeYVjqz-U538wd1kw/edit?usp=sharing
To use, simply click File > Make a Copy and edit away to fit your clinic's schedule and goals!
-C. DeWilde, DVM
I had no intention of writing a blog this morning. I woke up early, and sat down to check my email and peruse Facebook with my morning coffee. And there it was in my inbox...AGAIN. Another pet food recall. Another brand that I've actually heard of, one that clients tell me they feed their pets. To be honest, I'm a little disappointed, a little worried, and a lot mad.
I'm a *relatively* young veterinarian. I've been practicing for eight years, but have worked in the industry for more than half of my life. In those past eight years however, I have completely lost the ability to keep track of all of the pet food brands. When I first graduated, I could name just about every pet food brand in the store. It helped that my first job was a hospital inside a major pet food chain, but hey. Every year, the number of brands and formulas increases exponentially. Every day, I have clients tell me they're feeding their pet a food that I've never heard of. In a busy practice, it's hard to stay on top of all of the brands, the science behind their formulas, and whatever latest gluten/grain/protein source fad has been determined "the latest" by the pet food company's marketing department.
It's frustrating, and as a veterinarian, I want to be able to give my clients the best possible information and the best possible nutrition recommendation for their pet. Daily, I recommend 4-5 trusted brands based on my patient's needs. Brands I know are for sure AAFCO-certified, have a veterinary nutritionist on staff whom I can consult with on medical cases, and whose reputation for health and safety has not only been established by years in the industry but by published and tested science. Those are the companies that I buy my pet's food from, and those are the companies I recommend.
Conversely, it's possible that some of these newer brands may also offer the same quality and nutrition. But it's just not possible for every veterinarian to know every brand or formula out there on the shelves. We can't know it all, and that makes many of us worried for what our clients are putting into their pets. Frequent recalls, like the FOUR I've seen in the last two weeks, give us even more cause for alarm.
So, what can we do?
Of course, I'm usually writing about veterinary use of social media: how to best represent your practice online, how to use the latest app or take the best photos and videos in the clinic. Luckily, I can still tie this issue in. There is something we as veterinarians can do to help keep our patients safe and fed well, even on Facebook: educating them on pet food nutrition, and keeping them informed of pet food recalls.
By sharing the latest information on recalls, we can establish ourselves as a reputable source of IMPORTANT pet information. In addition, we have an obligation to do a better job of sharing with our clients WHY we recommend certain brands and formulas. Here are a few tips to incorporate this into your practice:
#1: Sign Up for Pet Food Recall Alerts
I don't expect you to troll the interwebs every morning for the latest pet food recall news. Instead, sign up for pet food recall alerts and follow.
The FDA maintains a list of current pet food recalls,
available online: http://www.fda.gov/animalveterinary/safetyhealth/recallswithdrawals/.
You can also sign up for these recalls via email by entering your email and hitting "Subscribe" at the bottom. You have options for immediate, daily or weekly notifications, but I chose immediate. It may also be a good idea to subscribe your front desk/reception's email address, so they will have a heads up should there be any clients who call with questions.
You can also check out the AVMA's Pet Food Recall page: https://www.avma.org/news/issues/recalls-alerts/pages/pet-food-safety-recalls-alerts.aspx
This site is also helpful because you can search all alerts from the past 365 days. If you're not sure about a particular food when a client asks about it, I'd run a quick search on the name to see if they've had any recalls in the last year.
#2: Follow @AVMARecallWatch on Twitter.
If you're a Twitter user, follow this channel and enable mobile notifications so you always are up to date on the latest recalls. Added benefit: they're sharing the press release from reputable sources, not just the notification from "CatsPurrever" or other random social media account.
#3: Share Pet Food Recall Info, ASAP.
If you're like me, your personal social media accounts are filled with news from your friends, often also veterinary colleagues. Several of my friends and/or their clinic pages I follow had shared information about the latest recall this morning. In addition, I had an email waiting from the above sources, so I was able to quickly share something on my clinic pages. Obviously, the sooner we can get this info out to our patients the better. However, if we're the last to jump on the bandwagon, your clients may have already turned to another source. BE THE SOURCE!
#4: Turn this news into a blog:
Since today's recall marked the fourth in just two weeks (Wellness, Evanger's, Grreat Choice and 9Lives), I combined all of this information into a blog post for my clinic. Incorporate the official recall links from FDA, and if available, the manufacturer's website and info, so owners know what serial/product numbers to look for and who to contact for refunds or returns.
This way, I don't even have to share someone else's post or do any work vetting the source (see reference to the "CatsPurrever"). I know it's accurate, pertinent and helpful. It's established our practice as the source, and this is of great benefit to our clients.
#5: Embed the AVMA's Pet Food Recall Widgets into your website:
AVMA has multiple widgets that you can embed into your website so your clients can easily access the most up-to-date info, without you having to do a thing! They even have feline-only practice options and several designs/sizes to choose from. Send this link over to your web designer for incorporation into your website's "resources" or "helpful links" pages, or even into the page footer itself.
Learn more here: https://www.avma.org/PracticeManagement/Administration/Pages/Pet-Food-Recall-Widgets.aspx.
#6: Make a commitment to start educating your clients about nutrition online:
If we've learned nothing from the past year, it's that fear and sensational news can muddy the waters of information. While I'm obviously passionate about getting the recall info out to owners ASAP, it does nothing for my patients or my practice if I'm not also balancing this "scandalous" news with solid, trusted, science-based recommendations. I think that will have to be a blog for another day, but I'm now more committed than ever to sharing GOOD pet food info too, so stay tuned for some tips on that end. For now, start by researching your trusted brands for client-friendly shareable information, and consider blogs or videos on topics like AAFCO Certification, calorie counts, your personal recommendations and dispelling some of the common pet food myths out there. Compile a list of resources to share on your social media accounts. In many cases, clients don't know where to turn to get trusted information about their pet's food or other products. You know that all of the food and treat companies are out there sharing it online and in the pet stores, and it's time we step from the exam room and provide a trusted, educated alternative.
--Caitlin DeWilde, DVM
I had the pleasure of meeting Samantha Palmer at the recent AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference (VLC). If her impressive Instagram account (nearly 5,000 followers) wasn't enough, it was inspiring to meet a young veterinary professional so enthusiastic, innovative and creative! Samantha and I had the opportunity to speak again as she was wrapping up her externship with AVMA Headquarters (Membership Division), and it's even more clear that this girl has some serious skill that will benefit her career journey as well as our profession. Be sure to follow her Instagram page at https://www.instagram.com/i.am.a.vet.student/.
--Caitlin DeWilde, DVM
“Sam, why won’t you get an Instagram, everyone has one” my friends asked me throughout my senior year of undergrad. My response was always the same, “I have a Facebook, why do I need an Instagram.”
I simply didn’t see the point of Instagram when I could just as easily post photos on my Facebook account. That was, until April of my senior year when I finally caved and started my own personal account. After following my friends, I began exploring all the other thousands maybe millions of accounts out there. I quickly realized that although there was a plethora of animal accounts, these days everyone’s family dog and cat has their own Instagram, and a few accounts specific to veterinary medicine like @vetgirlontherun and @vetsnobiety, there were not really any dedicated to veterinary school. This new found void gave me the idea to start another Instagram account that would be open to the public called @i.am.a.vet.student.
I chose the name out of simplicity-there would be no mistaking the purpose of this account by using this handle. I began my account five days before I started veterinary school at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in August of 2015, and I have posted one photo a day of my journey since then. I haven’t missed a day yet!
At the time that I started the account, I believed that I would use this platform to increase public awareness of the vigorous and academically challenging process of becoming a veterinarian. While that mission has been a huge part of the account’s success, it was not until I got my first direct message (private correspondence) a month after starting my account from a prospective veterinary student that I realized my account could also be a resource.
Prospective pre-vet students began to ask questions about the process of applying to veterinary school, high school students interested in veterinary medicine inquired about what they could be doing now to explore this field, and current veterinary students wanted to exchange study tips especially those entering their first year. As I have watched my account grow from my first followers, my siblings, to almost 5000 followers, I am elated by comments about how my account is inspiring the next generation of veterinarians and that makes this project one of the most rewarding tasks that I have undertaken.
I have learned many lessons in communication through this project. Taking photos of animals, research or client owned, was the first obstacle, although I had anticipated this one. I spoke to my veterinary school within the first week of starting classes about their social media policy to ensure that I was not breaking any rules in the student handbook with my account. I have had to tread lightly through this process.
Although students were initially given permission to take photos with the teaching animals including dogs, cows, and horses, this rule seemed to change depending on the class. It was clear that photos from wildlife labs or anatomy dissection were not permitted and that pictures of client-owned animals could not be posted unless we asked for permission.
While some social media rules make common sense, others appear arbitrary. This inconsistency is not uncommon in veterinary schools across the country as many schools have yet to write down a clear social media policy for their students or worse, in my opinion, have decided that no photos of any animals in the veterinary school can be posted online.
To complicate veterinary school social media policies further, the veterinary teaching hospital at a veterinary school can have its own social media policy, but that policy might not extend to classes or labs. In which case, permission is often left to the discretion of the professors- who may or may not address this at all. Issues like these are part of the reason that I have begun to urge my school to clarify this policy because I am a huge advocate for social media and its benefits. I worry that veterinary schools might begin to implement a “no photos on social media policy” rather than one that clearly states what content is or is not allowed. I strongly believe that the public should be able to share in the experience that is veterinary school.
An unforeseen obstacle from this social media experience was a need to learn about all the photo apps available. In fact, there are so many editing apps to download that it was overwhelming at first. I currently have six apps that I use on a regular basis and developers are always coming out with more.
Usually I need to edit a photo to keep the whole image in the frame without it getting cropped when I upload it to Instagram, and unlike the celebrities who have every photo edited to the extreme, I mostly add a filter or change the brightness to make the image stand out. In contrast to many Instagram accounts that are about the glamorous life of the blogger, veterinary school is anything but glamorous, as you all know, and I am dedicated to posting photos that represent the truth- the good, the tiring, and the dirty!
Sometimes I find myself with a great photo opportunity and no one to act as the photographer and then I must come up with a creative solution to capture the moment. In dire situations like these, I’ve learned to rely on the good, ol’ fashioned timer setting or the modern “selfie” timer. Fortunately, I often have a friend around to take my photo. I’m well known as “InstagramSam” around the vet school.
Ultimately, this Instagram account is a lesson in the importance of marketing yourself. With photos that can be misconstrued or taken out of context, I give each a post the appropriate forethought before posting. Although this task can be tiresome, I believe that my account will make me standout. When I graduate from Cornell in 2019, I want my future employer to pick up my job application and notice me. I hope that my social media skills will provide me with a unique niche to fill as the benefits of a social media presence become more well-known over the next few years. I look forward to seeing how my account and interactions with my peers, mentors, and the public continue to evolve.
Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine
DVM Candidate, Class of 2019
Contact Information: firstname.lastname@example.org