Hot topics: Electronic communication and social media

Some of the best-attended sessions at AAHA’s Yearly Conference were on using electronic communication and social networking in the practice.

Tina Neel, DVM, is owner and Chief of Staff of Neel Veterinary Hospital, Oklahoma’s first 24-hour full-service veterinary hospital. She and her son, practice coordinator Scott Buchanan, presented on “Enhancing Client Communications with Electronic Records."

Neel and Buchanan said one very useful electronic tool they use in their practice is text messaging. Sending the brief messages to clients on their cell phones is a cheap and effective way to send out reminders for vaccinations, surgeries or other appointments. They also use texting for thank yous, medical alerts and specials at the practice. Buchanan said clients can opt out of the messages after they get the first one, but mostly the response has been positive. Plus, using technology to communicate with clients can have added value.

“If they think you are on the cutting edge of something new, they’ll also think that’s how you practice medicine,” Buchanan said.

Another high-tech communication tool is digital microscope imaging. The pair described how a practice could spend $500-600 for a typical setup. That includes a trinocular microscope attached to a digital camera and a computer workstation with an LCD monitor. Showing the client microscopic images of their pet’s bloodwork can be an opportunity to educate the client, and it can also provide a dramatic show.

“It’s kind of a ‘wow’ factor for clients,” Neel said. “Their MD doesn’t have this.”

In another session, Bill Schroeder, owner of InTouch Practice Communications, talked about using social media for marketing your practice.

Schroeder said when websites were first becoming popular, just having one seemed like enough. That is not the case now.

“Thirteen years ago, it was the ‘build it and they will come’ mentality,” he said. “Now you need to turn up the volume on your marketing efforts.”

For those who don’t know, social media are websites like Facebook, Twitter, Blogger and YouTube. These sites allow users to create content and quickly network with other users of the site. Schroeder stressed that while many people just use these sites for sharing information with friends, they can be a powerful tool for communicating with current and prospective clients.

In terms of how to use each medium, Schroeder had specific tips. In general, he says, keep it social instead of trying to sell yourself.

Facebook: This is the “workhorse” of social media, according to Schroeder. If Facebook were a country, it would be the fourth most populous in the world, he said. Schroeder advises setting up a page that is a “fan” page instead of a “friend” page. That way people can become fans of your practice, without having to worry that you can see their personal information and photos (which friends can do). Facebook ads can also be targeted to certain demographics. For example, you can customize an ad for your exotics practice to show up for users that say on their personal Facebook page that they love parakeets. Schroeder also recommends posting client-friendly content, such as pictures of the client of the week with their pet.

YouTube: You can upload videos of events or client testimonials and embed them on your web page. With a Flip camera, you can record video and connect the device to your computer for instant uploads to YouTube.

Twitter: This site allows users to post quick messages or updates that are sent out to all of your “followers.” The messages can be delivered online or on smartphones. You can also post the messages either way. Customizing the Twitter page is also smart, as it provides continuity in your practice’s branding.

Blogger: Blogs, or web logs, can also be embedded into your web page. You can write about anything, from tips on pet care to special events at your practice. The trick with blogs is to not update them too often, Schroeder said. Once a month is good enough. Don’t think you need a blog? The top three blog topics are: mommy, technology, and cats, according to Schroeder.

Martin Schulman, VMD, of Crozet Veterinary Care and his practice manager Mia White were in attendance at Schoeder’s talk on social media. Schulman and White said they both use Facebook to keep in touch with their respective children but have not forayed into using it for work yet.

“I feel like I just entered the 21st century,” said White after the session. “That really got my attention.”