Bad Buzz

When online gossip goes negative, how do you respond?
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In recent articles we have discussed the value of social media for veterinary practices and the medium’s common platforms. A common thread throughout is the transparency that is inherent with social media. All of us are living under closer scrutiny then we were even five years ago. To a certain degree we can filter what we want to present to the world but we can’t control what others say or show about us. The new saying, “What happens in Vegas stays on Facebook” are words to live by. How do we know what people are saying about us through the clutter of social media? If we find negative comments about our businesses or ourselves, how do we respond?

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Beyond the Search Engine

Google is not just a search engine. It has many free online tools available including the very useful Google Alerts. This is a web search tool that notifies a user when certain key words or phrases have been used. For McKee-Pownall Veterinary Services, I have set up Google Alerts for the clinic name and for all of our veterinarians. Whenever there’s a mention I get an email with a link to the web location. I have been surprised at the number of breeds and disciplines that have their own discussion forums. I would never be able to monitor all of them without Google Alerts.

Online review sites are not just for hotels, books and vacations anymore. The website www.yelp.com is an online review network where users can rate pretty much any business in a specific locale. From restaurants to hairdressers to veterinarians, everything can be assessed by anyone. Typically, it is the companion animal vet clinics that are reviewed, but it is only a matter of time before equine vets get their own section. It is a good habit to check this site on a weekly basis to see if your practice has been mentioned. Another site that allows people to discuss their vets is www.vetratingz.com.

Responding to the Buzz

What do you do if you find a negative comment or rating on Google Alert, Yelp or on your Facebook wall? The good news is that generally most online reviews are positive unless a company or person has done something truly offensive. Most book reviews on Amazon are four stars. Assume that the majority of your client interactions have a positive outcome and that will be reflected online. If all you get is nasty reviews from many people, then it might be time for an honest assessment of your practice.

Let’s assume you are a typical vet practice that is loved by your clients, but you get a nasty comment on a discussion forum. Should you respond? And if so, how? The general rule is to first determine whether the complaint is legitimate. If there is a valid reason that the client is dissatisfied, then the best policy is to thank that person for the comment and explain how you are dealing with the issue. An honest response and an effort to improve after a mistake is made go a long way. Look at this situation as an opportunity to improve your standing in the eyes of the online community.

In some cases, though, you may be the victim of a vicious rant or purposeful misinformation from someone with a grudge. These are delicate situations. If it is just one person spewing venom, it is helpful to bite your tongue and let the rant die off by itself. Responding often ignites even more reaction and escalates the grudge. If nobody is returning comments in support of the thread then it usually dies out quickly. We had a situation like this recently where two individuals were criticizing a client education seminar we had given. Their complaint was that it was too basic—they were upset they had to drive so far to “learn nothing.” We responded by thanking them for their interest in client education efforts, and saying we were sorry that they didn’t enjoy the seminar. We then invited them to our annual client CE day where some topics would be discussed in more depth. The response? The two commentators didn’t post another word and the floodgates were opened to positive comments from other attendees. We realized that this was a bullying situation. Once the bullies were confronted, they backed off.

Negative comments are a fact of life with social media, even if you don’t use Facebook or Twitter. Assume someone somewhere is talking about your practice. Generally, this talk will be positive and will help grow your practice (see “Can You Hear Me Now?”), and negative comments can be identified using simple and free web tools. Some threads are worth a response and others are best ignored. Occasionally, negative ratings might be valid so look at them as an opportunity to improve your practice. Assume that most people want the best for your practice and are commenting to inform you where you have let them down.