Taming social media for vets

Illustration: Steven Moore

Social media can seem an intimidating beast, but never fear: it can be tamed. Krisinda Merhi explains the dos and don’ts of social-media practice, including dealing with negative responses and keeping content interesting

This might be a controversial opinion, but mastering social media is not reserved for tech-savvy millennials with ego-complexes and new reading glasses; anyone can become a social-media sensei. In fact, for veterinary practitioners, it would be silly not to. The internet, when used correctly, provides them with a useful opportunity. Not only does it allow you to communicate to many people in a personalised way, it also provides an edge against your more conservative competitors.

All you need (apart from a computer and maybe some Advil) is motivation, dedication and a knowledgeable Mr Miyagi to pull you through.

Now, I admit, I’m no ninja: I can’t do a roundhouse kick or catch a barfly with chopsticks. But I’ve spoken to some people with a little more skill in social media and a lot more experience than me to teach you some useful tips and tricks. So step into our dojo and get ready to fly through the air—or at least, the digital aether.

Something new to the table you should bring

The internet is bursting with content. And although all of this information can be a good thing, it makes it difficult for practice owners to generate stand-out content.

According to Rob Johnson from Engage Custom Content, “The one way to stand out is to be unique. You as an individual is your strongest selling point.

“No matter how good you are as a vet […] no matter how swish your practice looks, or how cool your equipment is, or how nice your scrubs are […] in the end, in the eyes of potential customers, you look the same as the next vet down the road,” says Johnson.

“So to stand out from the crowd, you have to be able to showcase the one thing no one else can duplicate. That is, being you. Your personality has to be central to all your content. Even if you’re owned by one of the big branded corporate groups, clients will be more comfortable bringing their pets in to a person who they know, like and trust.”

Never poke the beast

The usefulness of the internet is matched only by its extreme power. It’s a mighty, relentless beast flanked by a pack of users who can ambush you with negative comments, bad publicity and a tirade of pointy-edged weapons.

The internet is a beast that sits and waits. And you must never, ever poke it.

Should it pick up your scent, never fight it head-on. Defensive replies, snide posts in ALL CAPS, profanities or insults will only draw more attention to you.

Instead of rashly fighting negative press with slander of your own, it’s best to wait patiently until the nonsense dies down. Be strategic in your battle plan.

Whatever action you take should position you and your practice positively and assist your recovery. It should never be about trying to get in the last word; once you start, it’s just a race to the bottom, and there’s no turning back.

It’s worth noting that all of this is a bit on the dramatic side—local veterinary clinics are unlikely to attract the wrath of online users in the same way a supermarket giant who is ripping off customers might.

“And if someone does, the great thing about social media and comments on your website is you get to see and approve anything before it goes online,” says Johnson.

“And if people are hell-bent on attacking you online, you can just block them from your site or social media page so no-one else can see them.”

From past mistakes you must learn

Effectively dealing with a crisis is only half of the solution—how you learn from it is just as important. Realising the errors that lead you to the firing line in the first place will help you avoid returning there. And, should you return, you will be better equiped for battle.

According to Socom, a Melbourne PR agency specialising in crisis management, there are four main steps to managing potential crises:

1. Prevent—recognise early warning signals and intervene early;

2. Prepare—it’s useful to have a team member in charge of managing your online accounts;

3. Respond—proper communication can make or break you;

4. Recover—rebuild rapport with the public and also rebuild confidence within your own practice.

Pay attention

If one person complains, they could be wrong. If a lot of people complain, you’re wrong. One angry tweet will not shatter your reputation, but a tirade of negative reviews are worth paying attention to. Don’t miss an opportunity to collect valuable feedback. Improving your practice will help keep you on the public radar for all the right reasons.

For Dr Liz Chmurycz, this is especially important. As the resident vet at Russel Vale Animal Clinic in NSW, Dr Chmurycz began to notice a certain stigma around small veterinary clinics. She began to use Facebook to challenge public assumptions by painting her business in a capable, positive light, and has since reaped
the rewards.

“You can control the tone [of your practice] within your Facebook posts,” says Dr Chmurycz.

“I needed to create an image or a brand. I needed to create a profile to say, ‘This is what we are. Even though we’re small, we’ve got facilities and equipment that large practices do not have. We provide a service that larger ones cannot provide you: one vet, continuous care. That we are here, that we exist, and that we are going to continue being here’.”

Of course, insight into your practice can be found in a variety of places—online comments and customer conversations are important, but you should also pay attention to the opinions of your staff. The second your internal network breaks down, you are more prone to crisis. So make sure you’re investing attention where attention is needed.

Good performance creates amnesia

The best way to move on from a bad review is to outperform it. Soon enough, what started as a disaster will bring positive results and, unlike negative comments, you can use positive reviews to your advantage.

Common practice is to collect and share positive client testimonials on your website or Facebook page, but Johnson believes this is not always a good idea. For vets especially, whose relationship with their clients is built solely on trust, sharing reviews may seem more pompous than positive.

“I personally think it’s a good idea for vets to stay away from testimonials and positive reviews. If people want to give them, that’s fine and great, and there are places they can do that. But if you solicit them, or worse, fake them, you’re starting out a relationship with any potential clients by lying to them. Which is not a good thing,” he says.

Instead of looking for written affirmation, Johnson encourages veterinary professionals to let their actions speak for them. “I know there’s a strong element of social proof in motivating people to come to you, but it’s not something you can and should try to control. And you have many other ways of encouraging that response from your existing clients—including just being excellent.”

Vet Practice magazine and its associated website is published by Engage Media. All material is protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in any form without prior written permission. Explore how our content marketing agency can help grow your business at Engage Content or at YourBlogPosts.com.

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