VCA marketing executive explains how to protect your online reputation

Since the creation of social media sites such as Yelp and Facebook, veterinary hospitals and other businesses have been entered into a popularity contest whether they like it or not. 

Hospitals that fare well in the contest benefit with increased revenue and additional clients thanks to glowing testimonials and high ratings. Their less popular competition miss out on the business-growing benefits that accompany a solid online presence.

"Every hospital gets an online reputation: good or bad," said Alexis Nahama, DVM, vice president of marketing for VCA Animal Hospitals, during his talk at the 2014 North American Veterinary Community conference in Orlando, Fla.

Nahama shared the following advice to help animal hospitals manage their online reputation and ensure they are the subject of positive digital conversations.

The importance of online reputation can't be ignored

Nahama's position in the large VCA hospital network enables him to analyze and compare the online reputations of more than 600 hospitals nationwide. His various analyses of available data have turned up a strong correlation between positive social media attention and business growth.

Hospitals with high social media ratings tend to have statistically higher revenue and visits per doctor than those with lower ratings, he said. In fact, a one-point increase in ratings can translate to about 10 percent more clients and an 8 percent revenue boost per year.

Because of the apparently large impact of social media on hospital growth, Nahama stressed that veterinary hospitals need to carefully manage their online reputation to stand out among others.

Which social media sites to focus on

New social media sites are popping up every day, but Nahama said that currently only one has enough clout to significantly impact your business: Yelp. The rest of the sites, including Google Places, which is steadily growing, have relatively tiny audiences and are not yet worth much of your time, he said.

Besides Yelp, the other social media sites to monitor and use for marketing are Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, and Twitter. LinkedIn is more valuable for professional activities such as recruiting, Nahama said.

Pay attention to what is being said about your hospital

Nahama encouraged animal hospitals to "listen" to what is being said about them online by setting up Google Alerts or using paid services such as Paying attention to reviews and ratings can help hospitals defuse negative situations and proactively manage what is said about them online, he said.

Don't be afraid to ask your clients for kind words

Although it can feel strange at first, Nahama encouraged animal hospitals to ask satisfied clients to write an online review. 

He shared that some hospitals choose to conduct automated surveys (which can also be done manually). Whenever someone completes a highly complimentary survey, the hospital asks that person to do an online review.

Nahama also discussed a clinic where the hospital manager calls every new client for a voice survey, then asks some clients to post a review on the hospital website or Yelp. The manager also tells hospital staff members when they are recognized in a survey for exceptional service.

Maintain your composure after negative reviews

Unfavorable reviews do come along from time to time, and it can deal a swift blow to a hospital's reputation - especially if the matter is not handled correctly, Nahama said.

"No amount of ads or promotions can overcome bad word of mouth," Nahama said during his presentation.

Even in the face of lies or unfair statements, he recommended that hospitals take the high road and be empathetic, polite, and professional.

Nahama's other tips for handling negative online reviews included:

  • Research the issue first before responding privately to the person.
  • Avoid fighting publicly at all costs and try to resolve the issue even if you are not in the wrong.
  • If you are wrong, admit your mistake, apologize, explain future steps, and move on.
  • Unless it is an emergency, give your supporters 24 hours to defend you before you respond.