Increasingly, equine veterinary practices are using Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and YouTube videos. While the move to embrace social media is to be applauded, I am worried that many practice owners are handing the responsibility of managing their digital outreach to staff members, without really knowing whether they are doing a good job.
Usually, when I ask a practice owner how he or she knows whether the social media go-to person is effective, the response is, “Hey, she’s young and on Facebook all the time, so she must know what she is doing.” Using this argument, one could reason that when our clients decide to use lay dentists instead of veterinarians, they are making the correct choice; that since lay dentists do the job every day and have the right tools, they must be experts.
The truth is that social media success is a lot like dentistry in that the results are not obvious. Things might look great when we see the first couple of pre-molars, but more thorough investigation can reveal razor-sharp shark teeth further back.
Like the medical procedures we perform as veterinarians, our social media efforts must have a goal, use the proper instruments and enable us to assess whether the outcome of our efforts met expectations. Breaking down your business’s social media efforts with this framework in mind will help you understand whether the person doing this job is doing it well.
Social Media Goals
It is not enough to simply have a business Facebook page or Twitter account; there needs to be a reason for doing so. Without a plan, much of the effort you put into social media will be wasted. Having a set of goals allows you to know what tools you need and gives you a standard by which to measure your efforts.
If I am going to a castration, I had better bring emasculators, and if I leave one testicle remaining in the horse, I performed that job poorly. With that frame of reference, are your goals to introduce a new service, educate clients on the value of a proper deworming program or get the word out about the overall value of your practice? Each veterinary business has its own unique set of goals. Before starting your social media outreach, be sure everyone involved knows the targets you hope to meet.
Using the Right Tools
Many of the popular social media platforms can be used simultaneously or by themselves. Facebook is by far the most popular throughout North America. Regardless of where you practice, 50 to 60 percent of your clients are using Facebook, and if the majority of your clients are female, that goes up by an additional five to 10 percent. It used to be the norm to post three to five times per week, but with the recent introduction of a ranking algorithim, Facebook now prioritizes frequent posters, giving them a better chance of having their posts seen. Infrequent users tend to have their updates buried at the bottom of their followers’ personal pages. Those that use Facebook more often are rewarded; it’s as simple as that. Now we often have to post two or three times per day. The problem, of course, is finding interesting things to post about. This is why we recommend creating a monthly or quarterly schedule so you can prepare in advance.
We suggest using Twitter if your business is near an urban center, or if many of your clients are under 30 years of age. It is the fastest growing social media platform in the U.S. within this demographic. Doctors can post photos, links to web pages or even videos. Again, frequency and quality are important so that your content can be found in the growing online world. Fortunately, veterinarians work in a content-rich environment, giving us a constant stream of case studies or photo and video opportunities.
Anyone with an iPhone or an Android phone is able to take very good quality videos of wounds, foalings, dentistry, etc. As long as your clients sign a release waiver, there is a never-ending parade of interesting cases we see every day. What is humdrum to us can be fascinating to our clients. Videos made on a phone can be uploaded easily to Facebook, Twitter or your hospital’s YouTube channel.
Measuring Social Media
Facebook and Google supply a variety of free tools to analyze the online activity of your social media efforts. There is a way to know how many people come to your website from Facebook or view a Facebook post, or even which videos are watched in their entirety on YouTube.
Using Google Analytics for your website or Facebook Insights to monitor your Facebook page, you will be amazed at what followers find interesting. For example, we post a new blog on our website each week. We found that there were never any comments or questions related to the blogs, so we thought they were not popular. It turned out they were within the top 10 pages viewed on our website. This means if we are trying to promote dentistry or acupuncture through blogs, as we have been doing, people are reading our messages.
Last year we featured profiles on different staff members on Facebook, thinking our clients would like to know more about the voices they hear on the phone. This was as successful as beach volleyball in the Arctic. Nobody cared, according to our Facebook Insights. On the other hand, when we post cases or pictures of wounds, we get a lot of interaction on our Facebook page. The lesson here is simple: Do more of what people like and less of what they don’t.
On a broader level, you can also measure social media success by the popularity of a new service that you featured online or the number of new clients you gain over a given time period. Compare your new client growth in the first six months of social media use to the same time period the year before. Odds are that your increased new client growth is the result of using social media.
There are now more people engaging with businesses online than in person, because of social media. As a business owner you want to make sure that the right message is getting out about your veterinary services. It is not enough to hope the person handling the social media chores in your business is doing a good job. You need to know.
As scientists we are used to evaluating what works and what doesn’t, and adjusting what we do to get better results. The same applies with social media. By knowing our goals and measuring the results each month, over time we will have a very good handle on what success looks like with social media.