Social media is an effective and easy way for veterinary practices to engage current and potential clients. It can enhance client loyalty and drive new business to your practice.
In fact, a recent survey confirmed a positive correlation between the level of Internet networking and overall success of a business. Facebook, in particular, has had meteoric success.
Currently it boasts approximately 140 million users in North America. Of those, 40 percent are over the age of 35 and approximately 56 percent are female. This suggests that a substantial number of horse owners and trainers are actively using Facebook. Facebook and other social media platforms are also poised to overtake Google as the most popular way to search online. This means that people may begin searching Facebook when looking for a veterinary clinic.
From these statistics, as well as anecdotal information, it is apparent that Facebook needs to be an essential part of a veterinary practice’s client communication strategy. Not only is it popular, it is an easy, effective and inexpensive medium. Some clinics are using it to educate owners about medical procedures or discuss interesting cases. Others use it to inform about special events or promotions and to organize contests. Whatever your intended use for Facebook, it is a good idea to develop a strategy to optimize your success. Just as you know the procedures, equipment and supplies needed to perform a successful surgery, you must have a plan in place for your clinic’s Facebook page.
Here are some questions to ask yourself as you prepare to jump into the Facebook waters.
What is the goal of your Facebook page?
Are you promoting a new service? Do you want to create client loyalty? Are you promoting the practice in general? Are you making the page a go-to resource for all things related to equine veterinary medicine? Are you trying to show a more human face to your practice? Do you want to educate your followers? Do you want followers to post comments, or do you want to limit the page to only in-clinic content? There is a difference between a Facebook page where anybody can post comments and a Facebook group where only the administrator can post updates. All of these are strategies that have been used successfully on various equine veterinary Facebook pages.
How are we going to keep it fresh?
To put it in equine veterinary terms, the key to a successful Facebook page is the same as the key to a good health program: regular and consistent feeding. So often I see a new page that has a flurry of activity for the first two weeks, but after that, the posts stop. In the case of social media, out of sight equals out of mind, and most users will stop visiting quickly after they find nothing new posted on your page. In our veterinary practice, we’ve found it helps to create a schedule for our postings or updates. For example, on Monday, we will post a news bulletin on something related to horse health. On Wednesday we will offer a case description with photos or video, and on Friday we’ll mention an event at the clinic. Sometimes the posts are strictly work-related; sometimes we have a little fun and discuss something special a vet or staff member is doing in his or her life. We recently posted info about an injured bird that one of our vets nursed back to health. It generated a surprising amount of positive feedback.
If you plan to have regular Facebook updates, identify a dedicated staff member to be the page’s administrator. It will be that individual’s job to maintain the schedule, gather information and track responses to various postings.
What are the signs of a successful campaign?
Now that you have a goal for your Facebook page, how do you know if it is working? The most obvious metric is the number of fans who join your page. Unfortunately, not all followers are the same. Some people will be family, some will be clients and others could be classified as potential clients if they live within your practice area. On a weekly basis, we review all new people who join or “like” our page. They are classified as a client, family/friend, real prospect or out-of-town prospect. Every quarter we review our real prospects and see if any became clients. Obviously a successful Facebook page will help convert prospects to clients.
There is a great analytic tool in Facebook called “insights.” This breaks down all of the visits to the site so you can measure how many comments or “likes” you received, how many new fans were added, how many fans are male versus female, and age and location breakdowns. These statistics can be very meaningful when they are tracked and compared with the information you are posting. If you are just starting out with Facebook, I recommend analyzing your new fans. Unless you’re like Starbucks, adding thousands of people a day, you can track new fans in a few minutes each week. Once you become adept, it becomes fun to see what posts caused the biggest jump in new fans. Then you can really fine-tune your updates to drive increases in new clients and prospects. A more detailed review of analytics will be discussed in a future column.
How do we attract new followers?
The first step in getting people to follow your page is to let them know it exists. When we first started our site, we announced the news in our clinic newsletter. Now we have a link on our web page and our Facebook address is on the signature line of all clinic emails. The most obvious way to increase the number of fans for your page is to deliver great content often. The more your current fans interact with updates, the more these updates link to their own pages (and social networks), thereby expanding your page’s exposure. If your fans have friends with horses, it is likely their friends will want to check out your page too. The power of referral by association is what makes social media such a phenomenal business tool.
Another great feature of Facebook are its “ads.” Facebook allows you to distribute advertisements for your clinic with a very specific focus. You can select your ad to show up on personal pages of a targeted demographic. For example, an ad for your clinic could show up on the personal pages of all people between the ages of 25-50 who list horses in their bio and who live in your practice area. This is a far more effective use of advertising money than buying ad space in a local farm magazine that is given away to everyone whether they have horses or not.
A fair warning: Facebook is a public entity; therefore, you must think about how blending the personal with business can have an impact on your business. You have to ask yourself as your page becomes more popular if you want to be “friends” with people that work for or with you. Once you are “friends,” there is no hiding from the stuff you post. Would you want a new receptionist to read about the great party you attended that all your college friends are “Facebooking” each other about? Conversely, do you want to know the private lives of your staff? This is a personal decision but one you should make before getting involved in Facebook.
Another element to consider is a social media policy at work. Staff, interns and externs should be reminded of the confidential nature of our profession. Posting photos or discussing treated horses of clients on either their private Facebook page or the clinic’s Facebook page is obviously a big no-no. We have prepared a manual that spells out our Internet policy for the workplace.
Facebook is growing by the month. It has potential to be the only source of advertising for your practice. Careful attention to how it works can reward you with huge returns in new and retained clients. Like it or not, it has become a major force in how we interact with each other. The main question you need to ask yourself is not whether you will be a part of Facebook, but when and how well you will use it.