Who's On The Web?

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Q Are horse owners really utilizing these social networks, and can we effectively reach them through these?—Dr. Mark Meddleton, Meddleton Equine, Algodones,
New Mexico

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A The days of thinking that only teenagers are using Facebook and Twitter have passed. More and more, it is adults who are using social media platforms. Currently, 50 percent of Internet users in North America are on Facebook, and of these, 55 percent are over the age of 26, according to Facbook’s own numbers.

Horse owners are very Internet-savvy, according to the Brakke Consulting, Inc. “Equine Megastudy 2” released in 2009. It found that the average horse owner in the study spent between six and 10 hours per week on the Internet researching or buying equine products or services, and 43 percent are on Facebook. The question is, now that we know horse owners are using social media, how can we effectively reach them?

Over the past several issues of EquiManagement, we have reviewed in detail how to use Facebook, YouTube and Twitter in an equine practice to both reinforce relationships with existing clients and to attract new clients to a practice. There are two things a veterinary practice has to offer that are unique: our knowledge and our relationships with our clients and their horses. Social media is ideal for both, since it allows us to reach many people at once. Most importantly, though, an equine practice or veterinarian can engage in a two-way conversation with its clients; we aren’t just speaking to them as we would in a Yellow Pages or newspaper advertisement. We can ask them questions or read their thoughts as they engage with us on our clinic’s Facebook page or Twitter feed. How exciting to know what our customers want and not have to assume we know what they need from us as veterinarians.

Good, Better, Best

Of course, this is where many people become afraid of social media. They worry that people can say anything about a veterinary practice, good or bad. How can a practice protect itself from slanderous comments? The good news is that there are online tools that allow you to be notified when someone is talking about you or your practice, such as www.yelp.com or www.google.com/alerts. The better news is that if your practice is doing a great job treating clients and horses, there is a very low risk that someone will be tarnishing your great reputation online. The best news is that if someone is talking behind your back, you can find out what they are saying and engage them in a conversation to explain your side of the story. There is one universal truth about social media, and that is that transparency and honesty go a long way towards diffusing any troubles.

If we take the plunge and commit to a practice Facebook page, how do we do a good job? There are a few basic rules of posting to any social media platform.

First, you need to be genuine while educating and engaging your followers. What makes a practice successful depends in large part on the personalities of the vets in it. Try to show off these unique personalities online. If all you do is list horse facts, or talk about services or products that your practice sells, do you think that will be engaging over time? Instead, allow the quirky sense of humor of a vet to shine through, or show funny pictures of vets or techs with patients. You can also show your compassion by highlighting a story of a client who fosters horses. If you are posting a link to an article on the spike of West Nile Virus cases in your area, make a comment on your practice’s vaccine regimen.

Second, a successful social media site is consistent. Too often I see vet practices filled with gusto as they start a Facebook site. They post every day for the first two weeks; then every second day; then once a week; then not at all. Consistent updates with diverse content will help you increase followers and engage your clients.

This brings us to the third and final element of a successful social media presence, and that is how you will find the time to keep it updated. This is the number-one question I get when I speak to veterinarians about social media. The answer is straightforward. The person organizing your social media efforts is as important to your practice as the person who is answering the phones. Facebook or Twitter might be the first contact a prospective client has with your practice. The worst thing you can do is delegate these responsibilities to the youngest member of your staff. They might know how to navigate Facebook or Twitter, but they don’t have the maturity or background to create professional content. What has worked in our practice is to identify a couple of people who are used to dealing with customers. These could be vets, techs or receptionists. It doesn’t have to be one person. Together they create a schedule of the types of postings they want for each month. It is easier to create content when you know what you need. It should take no longer than two hours per week to schedule, research and prepare two to three posts, which is a good number to begin with.

Social media can give your veterinary practice great value in strengthening and fostering relationships with current and prospective clients. It is now considered part of mainstream communication and those businesses without it quickly become ignored. Be prepared to treat social media as an essential component of communicating with clients and not a fad to be tossed away when one does not see instant results. Just like building your practice happened over time, social media will show rewards over the years.

Dr. Mike Pownall’s username on Twitter is McKeePownall. He is also a regular blogger on www.equinevetbusiness.com. He will be presenting a comprehensive session on social media at the AAEP Focus Meeting in July.