Just shy of one year ago, I decided to focus on teaching other veterinarians about social media. In a hyper-connected world, I saw that clients were turning more often to "Dr. Google" instead of to their veterinarians. I saw a once-powerful relationship between a veterinarian and their clients diminishing, growing business difficulties among my profession, and most importantly, an abundance of pet health information presented online -- and not by veterinarians. To me, taking charge and making a serious effort to connect with our clients in the new ways that they preferred to communicate seemed the most plausible solution. And thus, The Social DVM was born. I soon realized there were other veterinarians who felt the same way -- who had taken that same step, forged ahead, learned the lingo, and succeeded in connecting with their clients. As many of you know, I love nothing more than to talk about veterinary medicine and social media. But there are more stories to tell. More experiences to draw upon, more successes to admire, and more sources of inspiration to help your clinic. I invited some of these talented veterinary professionals to share their story, and will be featuring each of them over the coming weeks. Each presents a unique practice, a unique approach, and a unique personality. I hope you can learn as much as I have from their stories.
--Caitlin DeWilde, DVM
Meet Dr. Ryan Llera
Our second guest blogger is a small animal veterinarian currently living and practicing in Kingston, Ontario. His wife Jennifer is also a small animal veterinarian. He graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2006 and moved to Canada in 2009. I started following Ryan on social media after realizing (1) he was a U of I grad so obviously had to be awesome and (2) seeing how he was connecting with pet owners, not just specific veterinary clients, on social media by telling powerful stories. His website, articles and social media content conveys solid pet advice and information via a personal and empathetic story, sometimes about his own animals. This kind of human-animal bond storytelling is what pet owners love to read! His story begins:
Social Media....Not Contagious But It Should Be
-By Ryan Llera, DVM
Who are you? Are you new here? Did you just graduate? My dog is just getting old doc, I don't want to put him through anything. Is it true that tea tree oil can help with fleas? How do you handle euthanasia? I was looking around on the internet....
These are many of the questions or comments I get in the exam room. Yes, I'm sure you've been asked them as well. But what are you doing about it? Some of them are easy to answer in the exam room, others not so much. For a moment though, let’s stop and think about how much more we as vets could accomplish by making our presence known out in the world.
You know you hate those appointments where the client has waited several days to bring in their sick pet and they only did so after trying some things they found “on the internet.” Yes, good old Dr. Google who does not have a DVM or VMD. So why give them a chance to find the webpage of one person's experience that will make your job harder? Remember the raging firestorm this past summer with the post about ice cubes causing bloat that went viral? These are precisely the types of things we should be trying to pre-emptively avoid rather than arguing against the court of public opinion later. For some people, they might see us as just the “greedy veterinarian” trying to drum up business by saying the stuff on the internet is wrong.
I started blogging and using social media (mainly Facebook & Twitter) just at the beginning of this year. My purpose was 3 fold:
1) I wasn't happy with the lack of use or limited use by the clinic I work at.
2) I wanted to build my brand for the future.
3) The perception of veterinarians in the public and the periodic monotony of daytime practice were getting to me.
If we aren't harnessing the attention of clients locally, they will either go to another clinic, or even worse they may ignore getting pet care altogether. People will try home remedies they find randomly on the internet and delay treatment thereby making our job harder. For something like Facebook, you need a good mixture of fun and information. Cute memes will only get you so far but realize that people LOVE personal stories about real patients. They like to see the cute ones and wish other ones good luck after surgery or to see what other interesting things you might be up to.
I don't know what the future holds. Whether I get to buy in to the clinic I'm at, start a new one, or buy a different one in town, I don't want to not be known. Look, people have called me Doogie Howser and think I'm a new grad. I'm short and I age very well. My blog and use of social media are getting me out there. When the time comes, I will have a portfolio essentially that says, “I'm a professional. I know what I'm doing and I want to help you.” The possibilities of what I can do with a brand are endless.
It's been at least 10 years since veterinarians were perceived as these wonderful, loving, caring people as a whole. Yes, your “A” clients will think of you that way but in the age of the internet, rising costs, and poor economy, we are often seen now as “just in it for the money.” Heck, even my grandmother thought I made $180k a year (oh I wish...it would be easier to travel, support the horse habit, and do more goodwill). Part of this is what drove me to my first blog posts. My dog Charlie, who has an absolutely fascinating story that I've considered a book someday, had a bleeding splenic mass. I used this experience to show that I have a heart and am a pet owner too; I wanted to humanize myself. It also served as a creative outlet. Varying blog topics between medical topics as well as stories or topics that you can bring an opinion to are the types of things I strive for.
One of the exciting things I've had happen due to social media is joining up with internet celebrity on the rise Miss Edie the Pug. Edie & her human have over 5000 Twitter followers, 1500 Facebook fans, and a frequently updated blog. After connecting on Twitter and her reading my blog, I was asked to write a guest blog post every 3-4 weeks on something veterinary related. I've just started this but a few of the topic requests are submitted by her readers. The important thing to note about this is that I've been able to expand my reach and influence while making a new friend & ally in pet care.
Admittedly, starting on social media and then keeping up with it are scary things and can be difficult to stick with. It can also be time consuming...trust me on that one. I'd love to be as wildly popular as some of the other vets out there (Marty Becker, Andy Roark) who jumped on this train a while ago but I'm focused on building locally first. The important thing is to know that if you help just one pet or family, it's a positive difference in their life. Now is the time to focus on further building our professional relationships with our clients and potential clients.
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.
National Pet ID Week is April 20-26, 2014, and offers a great opportunity to educate clients about the importance of pet identification. In addition, your clinic can benefit by encouraging identification to decrease lost pets, promoting microchip services and connecting with your clients who are already doing a great job of keeping their pet safe. This blog will share some ideas, tips and graphics you can use to launch your message on social media. You can save the images directly from here, or check them out on my Pinterest page for direct download and sharing as well. Happy educating!
--Caitlin DeWilde, DVM
The Social DVM
10. Post pictures of pets with great identification
This can be a quick and easy pic to post on your Facebook page, or even incorporate images into your Facebook cover photo for National Pet ID Week!
ID Tags: An easy task you can accomplish right now with your smartphone is to take a picture of the clinic cat or your own pooch wearing their ID tag. Showing your clients that the pets you personally care for are properly identified can go a long way toward demonstrating how important pet IDs are.
ID Collars/Harnesses: For pets who are already microchipped and/or owners who hate jangling tags, remind them that a visual form of identification is still recommended! Show off a pet wearing an embroidered harness, collar or leash! We asked a client to share a picture of their pet's collar, which has the pet name and owner phone number embroidered.
Share Where to Find: If possible, highlight a local business or pet store in town that offers this service. Not only will you be sharing information with clients on how to get these products, but you'll demonstrate your involvement in the community and build on a relationship with a business likely to refer clients your way.
9. Demonstrate scanning a microchip
This is an easy one! Use your clinic pet or a staff member's pooch. If you're tech-friendly, a quick 10-second or less video shared on your social media pages can demonstrate how quickly and easily a pet can be identified. A photo collage showing off the procedure, scan result and pet's tag is also a great way to visually share this information.
8. Post a picture of a microchip on X-ray
We've all heard clients quickly jump to the glowing white alien-bot I mean microchip on radiographs while we're just trying to show them heart size or evidence of foreign body. Seeing the microchip on radiographs is an interesting/cool factoid, plus educates clients on placement.
Post the picture on your Facebook page with the microchip circled, and ask clients to identify it. Offer a prize (I usually go with a free nail trim) or a virtual high five for the first person to correctly identify. Schedule a post for later that day with the same picture labeled to identify the microchip. Getting your clients to post and interact with your page will boost your visibility and increase your overall engagement! Feel free to use this radiograph if you'd like!
7. Share a resource
While sharing an information piece can be a link to a microchip article, success story, or manufacturer website, we like to share the AAHA Universal Pet Microchip Lookup Tool at www.petmicrochiplookup.org.
This site should be of value to your clients whether or not they received their pet's microchip at your office. While adopted and rehomed pets may come to their current owners already microchipped, they may have forgotten to pack their paperwork. Owner not sure what brand of microchip their pet has? No problem. Type in the code and the website will identify the manufacturer and provide their contact information/next steps. It's also a nice tool for veterinarians and shelters!
6. Offer a microchip or ID tag promotion
Run a promotion on microchipping services (e.g. $10 off, free registration, etc.) This is a win-win for everyone! Depending on your microchip manufacturer, they might be willing to partner for a "Chip Clinic" event to quickly and easily microchip a large number of pets. If you partner with a company for ID tags or create them in house, consider offering a free tag to new pets during Pet ID week, or a similar discount.
5. Demonstrate the microchipping procedure
Use photos and/or video to illustrate the process. You may be concerned about making people squeamish, but you're more likely to educate about how simple the procedure is. Besides, a You Tube search of "microchip dog" turned up 15,200 videos. Make sure what your clients are viewing a reputable video (your own)! If you're not up for the videography challenge, check out these links for two popular microchip manufacturer demonstrations.
4. Reward Properly Identified Pets
A perfect example of positive reinforcement. Offer a free nail trim or ear cleaning to appointments during the week that come in wearing a name tag with the proper info! Bonus points if they also have a microchip. Then, share their picture, their story and what you did on your social media. Example: post a picture like the one to the left. You could say "Maple came in today for her yearly exam and showed off her cool ID tag! Since this pooch is wearing her tag AND let us scan her microchip, we gave her a free nail trim and some extra treats in honor of National Pet ID Week!"
This is a nice gesture to your existing clients, plus compliments them on a job well done. Furthermore, it spreads your message on social media and is yet another excuse to post cute dog and cat photos. Win-Win-Win.
3. Share a Success Story
Sharing a success story belonging to one of your clients or staff members- or finding one online to share is a heartwarming way to educate with a personal touch.
If your clinic doesn't have any personal reunion stories as a result of a microchip or other identification, ask your clients in person or on your social media -- they love to tell stories about their pets, especially to their veterinarian! If that doesn't work, visit the website of your favorite microchip manufacturer. A recent search of the top microchip providers revealed plenty of great reunion stories.
Check out the examples below. On the left is a Facebook post detailing the reunion of an escaped cat- found six months later and six miles away! On the right, a local lost dog whose info had previously been shared on the clinic Facebook page was found. He was identified by an embroidered collar and promptly returned to a grateful family. The clinic posted news of their reunion and a photo of the pooch with his owner in the clinic after his exam deemed him healthy. That post alone earned more than 3,200 views! For a clinic in a town of 10,000, that's great exposure!
2. Remind clients to verify contact info.
We're all guilty of neglecting this. A move down the road or across the country can be a nightmare in terms of paperwork. Changing addresses and phone numbers is easy to remember when it means you might not have electricity, but there's no prompt to remind owners to update their microchip registration info.
Sharing this graphic or other visual reminders may trigger that to-do list item for a client who has recently moved. Remind your front desk staff to ask anyone who changes their address with the clinic to remind them, or better yet, help them update it with the microchip company too. Depending on the company and associated plans, a small charge may be involved, but the process can often be done online. Having your staff familiar with your microchip partner and their process can save time and provide a valuable service to your clients.
1. Educate owners about the benefits!
Microchipping is a no-brainer, and a great service to promote because everyone-- pet, owner, and veterinarian-- benefits. The costs and risks are low, while benefits are permanent and have the potential to save lives. Educating clients about lost pet statistics and microchip successes can help increase awareness and keep pets safe.
Some tips for educating in your clinic:
Tips for educating on your social media:
10: It's FREE (mostly). Vets are a frugal bunch, and we've got better things to spend our money on, right? Other than the time it takes to post your content, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, and the rest of the social media gang are free. No cover charge. Just BYOP (Bring your own posts!)
9. It's targeted. No more blanket ads to the world of yellow pages and bus benches in the hopes that someone will *happen* to see it. People are only going to follow you if they are looking for a veterinarian (you), they're interested in what you have to say, or they already patronize your clinic. Now meet them half way and give them what they want! And by "what they want," I mean adorable puppy photos.
8. Keep an eye on your competition. Let's face it- you want to know what services your competitors are offering, if they're expanding, or if they got the newest flea and tick product. They're on social media, and if you're not, you may miss out on knowing what's going on down the street, and why your clients are going there instead.
7. If you don't claim it, it will claim you. Your information, your reviews, your practice- it's all already on the internet whether you like it or not, and whether you have taken ownership of that info or not. Don't you want to make sure that what's out there is a) correct, b) positive, and c) creates the illusion that you're not stuck in the 18th century?
An example: once upon a time, when working for a technophobe boss, I decided to surprise him by creating a clinic website, business Google+, business Yelp and Pinterest pages (I know, I'm a nerd). Here's the thing: I was able to create ALL of those media forms...without him knowing. Now, granted, I was vested in promoting the practice and knew that being present online would only increase the clinic's profitability and character. But who's to say that I wasn't a disgruntled former client or employee doing the same thing but with sinister intentions? If you haven't taken ownership of your clinic's online presence, someone else can.
6. Ummm...have you guys ever seen a YouTube cat video? Look- dogs and cats are one of the most popular search topics on image and video searches BY FAR, unless the Olympics are on or Justin Bieber has done something ridiculous again. We don't even have to try to find this stuff- it's literally waiting in the exam room for you to bring to your adoring online fans. Probably while you're reading this. Go check out that ear infection and come back for the second half of the countdown.
5. You can stay up to date and relevant- in 30 seconds. I once attended a lecture on social media, and an internationally known veterinarian stood up and said "If you're not on social media, you're missing part of the conversation." I joined Twitter that day, after years of avoidance. And that veterinarian was right- just by following the AVMA alone- I was almost instantly more aware of what was happening in the veterinary community- simply because the tweets were basically "headlines" of what was happening in our world. No more digging through the journals to find the one article that actually interested me, and no more being blissfully unaware of what's affecting our profession. By following a few other veterinarians with similar interests (like social media in practice), I picked up quick tips and ideas that were pertinent to my workday. 30 seconds between exam rooms can go a long way to keep you in the know. It's better than TMZ, anyway.
4. It motivates and ingratiates your staff. One of the basic principles of management is to allow staff members to personalize- so allow their personalities be part of your practice's social image. Featuring a staff profile on your Facebook during National Vet Tech week, posting a comment on your pages for their birthday, or featuring their pets or staff "product picks" on your Pinterest page shows your staff that you value them, their skills and their knowledge. What's more- they'll likely pick up some likes and praise from your followers and clients. They'll likely then share all this on their own social media- further promoting your practice and your reputation as a caring employer.
3. Connect with your community as a whole- veterinary and otherwise. "Friending" other local businesses and organizations can be a great source of referrals, local information and events, and is a great way to foster a true sense of community, without having to hit those boring Chamber of Commerce meetings.
2. You'll create an undeniably personal connection- I don't know about you, but if I saw a picture of my accountant lovingly calculating out my depressing tax return, or my mechanic doing a great job of pouring in some oil into my lemon of a car, I wouldn't exactly feel warm and fuzzy inside. But seeing someone post a picture and showing off my old lady pooch or cuddly feline son on their page? LOVE IT! After all, my dog Maple is the cutest dog in the Western hemisphere. I'm a veterinarian and I'm writing this article- but I would still totally fall for this. I'm totally going to "like" that post, share it onto my wall, tweet it out, add it to my Google+ and Pinterest pages, tag my husband in it, and email it to my grandma. Before you know it 862 people have seen that post with your clinic's name on it. #TotesAdorbs
1. Our job is awesome! It's easy to forget that we have one of the best jobs in the entire world. Student loans, long hours, angry clients, the evil 20/20 segment, and getting peed on AGAIN can make us forget that we fought tooth and nail to get to this job- we attained the dream almost every kid has had at some point. Remember that we get to play with puppies and kittens. EVERY. DAY. People want to see what we do. They want to see the cute furry faces, the heartwarming stories, and the weird foreign objects. More importantly, they want to see that we love what we do. Let's show them.
Caitlin DeWilde, DVM