Two years ago, on a whim/as an experiment, I started a private Facebook group for my staff members. I was looking for a way to communicate with my team, and was exploring options. I had tried Slack, Facebook for the Workplace, and the traditional methods (aka a printed sign in the breakroom), and I was still looking for something more. Here’s the how and why our Facebook Group has worked.
Starting a private Facebook group for your veterinary team members is relatively easy. Of my team of 22, all but one were already present on Facebook, so I knew I’d have a fairly reasonable success rate of being able to “reach” them. I signed into Facebook, and navigated to the “groups” page.
To start a new group, you’re given three options:
2) closed or
I elected the “secret” option and named our group. Secret groups are open to anyone, but members have to be invited or added by an existing member. No one but the members of the group can see the group, its members, or its activity, so this is what I would recommend for practice teams. You can check out more of the closed vs secret group criteria here. As an extra precaution, I named our group the “Rockstars of BAH,” removing our actual practice name from the equation.
Next, I needed to add our members. You will need one of two things to do this:
This access depends on each clinic’s dynamic. I’ve been in practices where everyone was personal friends with each other on Facebook and those in which no members were, and everything in between. There is an individual-specific and practice-specific dynamic here that could be a whole ‘nother blog, and maybe it will be someday. Bottom line: either you need to be personal friends with them on Facebook or you need the email address that they use to log into Facebook. Either one works the same way to add them to the group. Adding team members to the group does NOT give them access to your personal profile (unless your personal profile privacy settings are zilch).
And now, THE WHY:
Fast forward to when my team of 22 is all conveniently grouped into our own online microcosm. What’s the benefit? What’s the value-added proposition here? Why does this work? Here’s my shortlist :
1. Improved communication:
Let’s face it. My team is all already using Facebook, they like to be on Facebook, and frankly, we allow them to use their phones on breaks, lunch, etc. The reality is that it’s accessible on and off the clock.
My team will tell you that I LOVE to create Facebook events for our staff team. This includes any specific trainings, clinic events, and more importantly, staff meetings. Why? Because:
So hi, I’m Caitlin, and I’m a veterinary nerd. Obviously spending a fair amount of my time in the online/digital veterinary space, I come across a fair number of articles, product developments, pharmaceutical company initiatives and continuing education opportunities. Whether from company pages or other online groups, I’m able to share information and opportunities with my team. We frequently share webinars, drug recall info, marketing opportunities and overall practice tips from a variety of sources in our online group.
Helpfully, we can store files and documents, and share them, via our Facebook group. I’ve found this to be especially helpful as I often work from home. I will upload documents, staff meeting notes, flyers for the exam room, etc. to this, and that way it’s easily accessible to my team. I can also tag specific team members so they know where to refer back to and/or to print said documents.
5. Ability to "see: "
The beauty of the Facebook group is many…but it is helpful to know who my message has reached. If I post an announcement: for instance, on the latest meeting, or change in vaccine protocol, or deadline for insurance open enrollment: by clicking on the “seen by….” At the bottom, I can visually appreciate who effectively “should know” this info by a certain standpoint. If there have been team members who haven’t appeared in this list, I know I need to personally reach out via message, call, or in person, to make sure they’re aware of the latest developments.
Note: the caveat here is that I’m assuming they’re truly absorbing the info, when in fact they may be casually glancing through their Facebook feed in their off-hours. In fairness, I don’t expect them to be fully responsible just because they’ve “seen” it. I respect everyone’s free time, and their freedom to choose if and when to interact with our clinic team’s page. If the issue at hand is of major importance, I’ll ask them in the post to physically interact: either comment and/or like to show that they’ve seen/absorbed/understood and truthfully, and still respect their personal choice whether or not to respond to interact with this on their own time. If they don’t want to, they don’t have to. But it helps our management team know who we still need to reach in person, if any, on the latest issue.
Another awesome Facebook group feature is the ability to poll your team. My team knows that I frequently come up with hare-brained ideas that sometimes work and sometimes don’t. In fairness, I’m often relying on the work and effort of my technicians and receptionists to see these initiatives out, and I can’t always speak to them in person to assess their perspective. I respect their opinion in many cases, and I know that without team buy-in, a lot of ideas are going to fall flat. Using the polling feature lets me know if my team is on board, and if an idea or project is worth pursuing. Obviously, it’s not the be-all, end-all, but it helps me know where to focus our efforts. In addition, also used it to help narrow down dates for staff events, etc.
7. Appropriate Outlet:
We all know that there are times, when as a team, we need to “break it down.” We need to discuss the crazy case, the unbelievable day, the frustrations and joys of everything that comes with being a part of a veterinary team. For many people, in this day and age, the natural outlet is social media. We know that doctors, technicians and practice managers need to express themselves and have a venue for “the vent.” Creating a safe place for that in our private Facebook group gives our team that option, and that “safe place” to do that, in a way that doesn’t jeopardize their personal, or the practice’s, reputation online.
8. Fun staff/team bonding:
In general, I think as our team has grown in both number and in professional development, having the group has allowed us to be more connected. This has been especially true for me as I have stepped back from physical time within the four walls of the clinic, and as we’ve brought new team members in to an established “family” for our practice of more than 50 years. We have team members who have been a part of our practice for more than 20 years, and team members who have been added within the last six months. We have some staff who work every day, some who work one day a week (sorry guys), some who work days, some who work only nights. The bigger and more expansive our team and our practice has grown, the harder it is to bring everyone together in one spot. Our Facebook group has allowed our team to learn and grow as a whole. And let’s face it, we all need to share that hilarious veterinary meme somewhere, with our “tribe,” right?
To wrap it up, I think there are many practices that could benefit from having a secret staff Facebook group. It provides another avenue to communicate with your team and improves team interaction. There will be some practices out there that this will not work for, and others that need more advanced options for file sharing and the like. However, for my team, this free option has been of value to myself and many of my team mates, by improving efficiency, communication, event and policy compliance, and given us a few more smiles along the way.
For more information or Facebook group help, you can shoot me an email or check out Facebook's help page for groups here.
--Caitlin DeWilde, DVM
I'd like to just start out this article with the blanket statement that if you had told me a decade ago, sitting in the back row of my vet school lecture hall, that I would someday write an article about robot's role in veterinary marketing, I would have laughed you out of the room. I probably would have made fun of you with a "beep boop boop" sound and/or calculator watch impression.
But here I am, ready to tell you that robots, or more specifically something called a chatbot, are going to be your new best friend. Maybe not today, maybe not next month, but soon.
What's a chatbot? A chatbot is a computer program that simulates 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.
Chatbots are relatively new to the marketing and customer service scene...but are rapidly gaining traction, especially as their technology and ability to "machine learn" improves. If you're feeling nerdy and interested, some articles I found helpful early on. are here and here.
We'll skip their background, how they work, and why they're a thing. Here's basically what you need to know: we can now use them to communicate directly with clients via Facebook Messenger.
Why is that important? Oh, I don't know....maybe because 80% of adults use messaging (text or via apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, etc) every day. The amount of messaging has increased worldwide nearly 70% in the last 2 years. And for those specifically using Facebook Messenger (that's 1.2 billion people, if you're counting), 58% of them use that every day.
So when we compare that to our "old school" methods of sending a postcard reminder........ or even email marketing, which has an average open rate of just 32%......using a messaging app and delivering that personalized message, straight to their phone and to the app they're probably already using, and making it beep with a new message.....is amazing.
So that's "messaging" as a whole. Now let's get back to chatbots. How can we use them in veterinary medicine?
Using a chatbot builder like ManyChat, you can create fully automated Facebook messages to connect with your client. Better yet, you can add your subscribers to various classification "sequences" to deliver even more customized content. And the best yet? Most of this is FREE, if not extremely affordable (<$10-20/month), depending on how much/detailed you want to get. As Brandon Brashears stated on his podcast about chatbots in veterinary marketing, most "subscribers" are going to cost you less than 20 cents!
Here's an example that I have implemented in a few practices:
On the first of every month, I always post a reminder on our Facebook page for my clients to give their pet's heartworm and flea/tick preventatives.
Using a chatbot I created with ManyChat, I took our last few month's posts to a new level. On that post, I asked my followers to comment in the post if they would like to receive a Facebook message reminder (as opposed to them taking the chance that they would see the post in their newsfeed).
Their comment on the post triggered my chatbot to automatically send them a Facebook message. They were given the option to "opt-in," meaning they had to take one more step to complete their subscription. Without it, nothing more would happen. If they took the "opt-in," which in my case was asking them to state the name of the heartworm product they were using, they would automatically receive a confirmation from my hospital stated that they were fully subscribed and would start receiving heartworm reminders each month. I was also able to attach links to directly call for a refill or to our website to make an appointment, if needed.
So this is the first part of this awesomeness. I now have a small, but engaged and committed, list of clients that have
1) told me they want me to contact them about a pet health topic,
2) told me where they want me to contact them (Facebook Messenger) and
3) also told me which heartworm product they use, so if I wanted, I could classify them by product type (e.g. Heartgard users compared to Interceptor Plus users, for instance).
The fun doesn't end here, folks. Let's talk about the next month's reminder message, which I can schedule in advance, to remind them to give their pet's heartworm preventative. Again using ManyChat, I schedule a fun reminder to be delivered. But instead of just the boring reminder, I attach two options. "All done!" with a link, or "Uh-oh, We're Out!" with a link.
The users that click "All Done!" automatically get a virtual high five in the form of a dancing dog GIF that I've embedded in the link. The users that click "Uh-oh, we're out!" get a different response. Depending on the clinic, I have used this to
1) link directly to a "request a refill" contact form on their website,
2) call the clinic, or
3) automatically respond with a message stating that we're available to help (with links to call for a refill or make an appointment), or a more personalized message that we'll review their patient's chart and contact them.
That entire sequence was pre-programmed, by me, a vet, with no coding/nerdy robot education.
One last thing.....remember how I asked them what product that they're using? Using their responses, I was able to sort them into individual product lists, and send them a helpful rebate link, for their specific preventative product only, mid-month.
So there you have it. That's an example of how I have used, and see chatbots being used in the future. Is it for every clinic? Nope. Is there a bit of a learning curve? You bet. Maybe some day it will replace vaccine reminders, or appointment requests/reminders, or other fun stuff. Who knows where technology will continue to take our profession, the way we communicate with owners, and how we treat animals. But if it means improved communication with clients, that means better-educated pet owners, and that means healthier pets.
So I'm all in. Are you?