It wasn’t that long ago that differentiation for a veterinary practice meant how your Yellow Pages ad looked compared to those of the other veterinary hospitals in town. Or maybe that you did an annual Open House to promote interest in the local community. Today, our society has become so connected through sites like Angie’s List, Facebook, Yelp! and Pinterest that traditional means of promoting your practice, like print advertising, aren’t as effective as they once were.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say that having anything more than a 1-2 line ad in your local yellow pages is a waste of money. “Creative destruction” has largely relegated these bulky tomes to the ashbin of history, right next to buggy whips and Walkmans. Instead, your money would be far better spent on a social media campaign, as detailed below.
Digital strategist Chris Horton claims there are four broad reasons why social media-as-promotion is effective for businesses:
- Amplified Messaging- Reach out to a massive audience to tell your story; educate consumers about your product on your terms; go viral with promotions; increase demand for your product or service.
- Deeper Engagement- Connect to prospects and form deeper relationships with customers; personalize your brand; show your company’s human side.
- Efficient Brand Management- Nimbly manage your online reputation- address customer concerns and respond to user feedback; promote new marketing campaigns; define and redefine your messaging based on user feedback.
- Real-Time Analytics- Track user responses to your promotional efforts; aggregate data to figure out what’s working and what isn’t; analyze successes and failures.
If you’re not sure whether your practice should have a Facebook page or not, I can clear up the confusion right now: you should. It's easy to use and is by far the most commonly used social media channel among pet owners.
We have a Facebook page. Now what?
The simplest and fastest thing you can do is to ask the following questions of the next 10 clients you see: “Are you on Facebook? What would you like to see from our hospital on Facebook? Is there something about us that you would like to know more about?” Then let them talk and see where the conversation goes.
The first bit of specific advice I would give you with respect to social media is that it should be used to inform, not sell. Don’t post things discounts, specials or price promotions on your Facebook page. Instead, describe how one of your technicians just came back from a great CE seminar on pain control. In the summer, it could be that you’ve seen a few patients with heat stroke recently and remind pet owners of how to prevent this potentially devastating disease.
Second, pick one social media channel and NAIL it before you move on. Don't dabble in Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest...pick one that makes sense for your practice and devote all your resources to that. When it comes to social media for small and medium size businesses, remember the old adage: The man who chases two rabbits loses them both.
For those practitioners who want to take it to the next level, there are a few consultants (Kelly Baltzell at www.beyondindigopets.com and Danielle Lambert at www.snoutschool.com are rockstars!) who work specifically with veterinarians on developing social media programs, and it is worth paying for their expertise and advice. In my opinion, just finding someone who has worked with other medical people, like physicians or dentists, isn’t good enough. Pet owners are just plain different than consumers of human medicine or dentistry. Their needs and spending habits are different, and they use the Internet in subtly different ways, so “one size does NOT fit all”. Check out www.VetPartners.org for even more options, or you can email me for further recommendations. Good luck!