Veterinary marketing has come a long way, putting pressure on clinics to handle everything, hire a partner, or cut back.
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I have focused on veterinary marketing (mainly social media) for over a decade. I’ve marketed the practices I worked at, worked one-on-one with dozens of clinics nationwide, and delivered hundreds of lectures. In the volatile world of social media, where features and algorithms change constantly and new platforms pop up — I’m still bummed about Vine’s demise — I’ve always held fast to one thing: Successful clinics need someone in the clinic to handle the social media and participate in marketing. That someone should take and publish photos and videos, respond to reviews, and help write blog and email content.
Deep down, I still believe it. But the realistic, practicing veterinarian side of me admits that a dedicated social media person might no longer be possible at many clinics.
A Bigger Load
When I got into marketing and took over my clinic’s public relations in 2013, all we had to worry about was a stagnant website, postcard reminders, and a fledgling Facebook page. Over the years, most clinics manage, at a minimum:
Many clinics, mine included, expanded on that list. Here’s a rundown of the marketing and PR underway at many practices:
Print and digital marketing for three local events each year
No wonder practices find marketing challenging to stay on top of. Many clinics I’ve worked with aren’t focused on attracting new business. They just want to enhance and strengthen the client bond, keep the office staffed, and disseminate valuable pet health information.
Getting everything done (and done well) has become next to impossible. Even for team members who love managing social media, getting the content is a far cry from getting it published or using it in an extensive campaign.
So, the question is:
Now What? For veterinary practices not happy with how their marketing performs, the options are:
Invest in an in-house employee, both in allotted time and training.
Pay a professional.
Eliminate or limit the chosen channels.
STAY INSIDE Option 1 is seemingly the best approach but can be difficult at short-staffed practices. Clinics that embrace the whole gamut of public relations need a marketing-focused employee working at least 20 hours a week. Creating and posting content, managing reminders, responding to reviews, and connecting with clients takes time, especially if a practice has a cohesive strategy or wants to outpace its competitors. Larger hospitals often can (and do) employ a full-time employee to handle all marketing and client communications.
Option 2 (outsourcing the work) can be a good option for practices with a temporary need or unable to find a capable employee. Working with a professional might tell you which marketing is best done in-house (photos and videos) and provide your practice with a more strategic focus and the benefit of an objective expert.
Remember, however, that you cannot outsource everything. Only your team knows your clients personally and what they want to see and learn. And, of course, only someone at your practice can gather the photos and videos of your patients, team members, and behind-the-scenes work. Even if you employ a full-service social media company, you need someone on the team to capture images, send content information, and be a point person on messaging and strategy.
DEBRIDE AND FRESHEN
This is Option 3. Does your practice need to post on TikTok? Did the Yelp ad generate new appointments? Did last year’s sponsorship and booth at the canine carnival net you any new clients? If not, redirect your efforts to your more impactful channels.
I’m a big believer in claiming ownership of platforms that you might use someday. You can direct visitors to your frequently updated channels with a pinned post or video. Try something like, “We’d love to connect but are busy taking care of awesome pets and people in our clinic. For the latest, visit our website at ___ or follow us on Instagram at ___!”
When I look at marketing objectively and from the perspective of a practice owner wanting educated, loyal clients, a fully staffed hospital, and healthy revenue, a mix of all three solutions is best. Most practices can’t sacrifice patient-care time by asking a skilled veterinary technician or doctor to regularly and frequently create new photos and videos. And it’s unrealistic to think that practice managers who trained and studied to earn their CVPM should know the intricacies of managing a Google Analytics and Google Ad dashboard.
And even when a veterinary practice has a marketing-minded team that loves to participate, there will be days or weeks when the work can’t get done. Few, if any, veterinary schedules have an hour of extra time built into them for catchup. You must treat marketing and client communication as a real job. Ignoring the responsibilities or not balancing the investment in time and skills will backfire.
If you’re unsure whether your practice’s marketing is effective, take four key actions.
1. Determine your marketing “why?” What are you trying to accomplish primarily? Some possibilities include:
Booking more appointments.
Generating more demand for particular services.
Influencing client behavior, such as booking an appointment or requesting a prescription refill online.
Educating clients about specific pet health topics.
Growing client loyalty and online reviews and ratings.
Standing out from the competition.
Hiring more team members.
2. Look at your team. Who wants to help with marketing, and who has the skills? If you don’t have any candidates, the easy answer is to outsource the work. If you have a team member or two in mind, determine how many hours a week they can devote to the tasks.
3. Get organized. List your marketing channels and which ones achieve your “why?” Cut the channels that don’t fit the mold, and make sure to track the return on investment of those you decide to keep. If you haven’t surveyed your clients about the channels they use and want to see your practice on, now is the time.
4. Discuss with team members what they can do from a skills and time perspective. For instance, I love taking videos but loathe editing them. It would never get done if I didn’t outsource the second step.
Here are other examples:
A practice owner colleague of mine wants her clinic to have a five-star Google rating and many client reviews. However, she can’t respond to all the reviews when she and her team must focus on onboarding a new doctor and filling the veterinarian’s schedule. She decided to outsource the response work.
Another clinic has no problem taking patient photos but can’t keep up with posting them. A simple change in workflow and a new online tool helped overcome the barrier by using a few clicks instead of a cumbersome editing process.
Once you identify your team’s capabilities, focus on the problem areas and whether the solution is outsourcing, more training, or new software.
Navigating social media platforms and techniques can be challenging for even the most seasoned professionals. As our industry evolves, so too must our strategies. It’s no longer sufficient to simply have an online presence; it requires intention and understanding of our clientele’s desires and behaviors.
Marketing and client communication are undeniable parts of the veterinary-client relationship. Therefore, we should treat them as such. We must strike a balance between leveraging the skills of our in-house teams and seeking outside expertise and technologies so that our veterinary practices can continue to thrive.
Veterinary practices can outsource some marketing efforts partially. For example:
Editing the video footage you shot for your website.
Creating custom graphics for your social media platforms.
Writing a ghost blog for your website or email newsletters.
Helping with social media, advertisements, and email campaigns.
Complete outsourcing might involve:
Website design and hosting.
Regularly updated ghostwritten blogs.
Branded social media graphics, posting, and analysis.
A veterinary practice pressed for time and resources might consider no longer posting on:
YouTube: Valuable only if you have a collection of videos taken at your clinic. Google-owned YouTube can be a great way to organize and store videos while improving your search engine optimization (SEO).
Reddit: A collection of topic-themed forums where users can upvote or downvote the content, over time building “karma.” Content is visible to a global audience, primarily anonymous users, so building a local community or reputation can be difficult for your practice.
WhatsApp: Users text, chat, send messages, and share videos. Facebook-owned WhatsApp is widely used for international contacts because users can avoid more expensive text or calling fees. Still, it’s not widely used in the United States or by businesses.
Tumblr: The social network also has a blogging platform. Hosting blog content on your website is better so you don’t drive viewers away from your brand and offerings.
Twitch: The video-streaming service is primarily live and used almost exclusively by video game streamers. It has little to no value for veterinary practices.