Social Media Management Tips

In determining what you post on social media, it should not only reflect your brand—your culture and the feel of your practice—but also serve a purpose.

Managed Correctly, Social Media Can Produce Trackable Results

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“Hospitals are struggling because veterinarians would rather do anything but marketing. The psychological resistance to marketing, which includes social media, is very real.”

—KELLY BALTZELL, CEO AND OWNER OF BEYOND INDIGO PETS

Brian Bourquin, DVM, managing partner at AAHA-accredited Boston Veterinary Clinic in Boston, Massachusetts, opened the first of his three practices eight years ago. He considered starting up and managing social media accounts just as important as any other part of the new clinic’s marketing programs.

“When we started from square one, we didn’t have a lot of money for marketing and [social media] was an inexpensive way to get the word out,” said Bourquin. “We created our brand and branded a lot of merchandise to give out at community events and lectures and ‘social media-ed the heck out of it’—that’s a social media term,” he laughed.

Bourquin said the clinic’s social media accounts, which include Facebook, Instagram, and most recently TikTok, has allowed his clinics to reach its demographic, which he describes as “younger, hipper, and technology-minded.”

While Bourquin has found success with his social media plan, many clinics think they can delegate the task to someone with no marketing plan, think they don’t have time for it, or simply don’t understand the platforms and how they can assist clinics.

“Clinic owners or managers tend to assign social media to younger folks within the clinic and expect them to know how to use social media for business,” said Kelly Baltzell, CEO and owner of Beyond Indigo Pets, a marketing company located in Hanover, Minnesota, that specializes in helping companies in the veterinary space. Baltzell has a master’s degree in psychology and counseling and said her experience within the industry has taught her one thing: “Hospitals are struggling because veterinarians would rather do anything but marketing. The psychological resistance to marketing, which includes social media, is very real.”

Baltzell added that there are generally three levels in every clinic: the veterinarian(s), the implementor (generally the practice or office manager), and everyone else. “Those three levels don’t talk to each other and none of them have a tendency to have the skillsets necessary for social media for business,” said Baltzell.

Creating Social Media Marketing Begins with Identification of Your Brand

When someone mentions “branding,” one may typically think of logos. But according to the experts, while logos and identifying colors for any business are important, branding means so much more. “Branding is more than just visuals,” said Cheyanne Flerx, social media coach and educator for Hey Cheyanne, LLC, a marketing company in Port Orchard, Washington, that specializes in digital content. “Branding includes messaging and interacting. It’s experiential and more than just your identity, which is a different understanding of branding than it was even a couple of decades ago.”

So, in order to create social media content that will produce a return on investment for your clinic, you must first have a deeper understanding of your brand. Danielle Lambert, branding and marketing consultant for The Snout Group, a company that works in the veterinary industry in Worcester, Massachusetts, explained, “Branding is about how it feels for your staff in your practice and how your clients feel there. You really must address your branding strategy before you know what to do with social media.”

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“It’s really easy to post pictures of puppies and kittens and get ‘likes,’ but ‘likes’ don’t pay the bills. Instead, point out the big smile a dog is showing by talking about dental care. You can then post a link to your website to book a dental evaluation for their pet.”

—ADAM GREENBAUM, CEO OF WHISKERCLOUD

Lambert said there are four key things you must do before embarking on a successful social media marketing campaign:

  1. Identify your core values as a brand. “I always have my clients choose four,” said Lambert. “Who are you serving and who are your employees?” As examples, Lambert said this may include being community service minded; a passion for cutting edge technology; or a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  2. Identify how you want to be recognized. Cutting-edge medicine? Special services? Low cost? Awesome employees?
  3. Identify your overall goal. What is most important for you to achieve?
  4. Identify how you want to start communicating. After you’ve done the above three, you can survey your clients and learn what social media platforms they use.

Robert Stern, CEO and founder of The Social Leader in Livingston, New Jersey, said the basics of creating an effective social media marketing campaign is the same across any industry, but adds three factors—knowledge, likeability, and trustworthiness—are especially important for veterinary clinics to establish.

Of course, traditional branding remains an important part of your social media campaign. Boston Veterinary Clinics use the clinic’s logo as the profile photo on its social media pages as well as the colors clients see inside the clinic, which helps them associate the page with their hospital. They also post as many photos as possible showing their branding colors. “Our carpet is goldenrod and dogs sit there like they’re on the ‘red carpet’ and clients or staff snap their photos and post them,” explained Bourquin.

Who, Where, What

Who

Once you’ve identified how you want your clinic to feel—your branding—you’re ready to identify who in the clinic should be your social media manager. “I advocate for someone within the practice who not only understands social media but understand your practice culture and where your practice is going,” said Flerx.

Baltzell added, “It should be someone who has a high level of trust with management, decent writing skills, and some knowledge of photo software.”

Baltzell also pointed out it is very important you don’t give “keys to the building” to only one person. “If that person walks away from your practice, you want to have access to your social media,” she said. “If you buy a clinic, make sure you have access to the social media they had. You don’t want to have to start all over.”

Perhaps most important, noted Bourquin, is to get someone who thinks social media is fun. “I started on social media with Myspace and gravitated to Facebook. I taught myself through videos and webinars,” said Bourquin. “The person who does it should like social media.”

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“Empower your social media person to be the best and make ways for it to work for them. Find a system that works for them and even allows them to have a little fun, and it will bring in the results.”

—KELLY, BALTZELL, CEO AND OWNER OF BEYOND INDIGO PETS

Finally, social media experts all agree that social media responsibilities should be part of the person’s job description and hours should be allotted for it each week (generally 4–8). In addition, because they will likely be addressing questions and responding to messages before or after working hours, their pay should reflect that.

Where

There is a dizzying array of social media platforms with more added all the time. Here are the top three that experts say you should consider:

Facebook: Social media experts agree Facebook has become cumbersome for businesses and doesn’t have the organic growth possibilities it once had as it now focuses on making money in ads. Still, it isn’t in its last days. “Facebook is just as strong as ever,” said Stern. “What’s difficult is making sure you’re consistent in using it and creating timely content.” Angie Davidson, lead RVT for AAHA-accredited Hillside Animal Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, handles social media for her clinic. “Facebook works best and has the most interaction for us by far,” she said. One thing many clinics forget to do on their Facebook page is to make sure all the information is accurate and current, said Adam Greenbaum, CEO of WhiskerCloud, a veterinary focused marketing company in Newport Beach, California. “Make sure your link to your website is on your Facebook page, your hours are current, and location is correct,” said Greenbaum. “Your Facebook page is an extension of your website and should be treated as such.” Don’t forget frequenting and joining local and neighborhood pages on Facebook, which allow you to interact and educate people about pet care, as well as responding when someone is looking for a new veterinarian.

Instagram: Bourquin, whose targeted demographic is a younger crowd, said that while Facebook serves a purpose for his more mature clients, Instagram is his winning social media platform now. “We have very few people saying, ‘we found you on Facebook’ anymore; it’s usually Instagram.” Instagram also has a lot of features that allows you to tag local, so your demographic sees your posts.

TikTok: TikTok is one of the fastest growing platforms and allows users to share short videos. Bourquin is on the platform and says the videos showing his Fear Free clinic’s practices have been a big hit. “TikTok is also a great place for recruiting new staff members,” said Lambert.

Other social media platforms include YouTube, where you can create videos that educate pet owners, and Nextdoor, a hyper-local app that serves a similar purpose as local Facebook pages and groups. Blogs on your website are also great. You can create educational content and share it on social media and also add Search Engine Optimization (SEO) terms, which Google rewards with higher page rankings.

One platform that isn’t working as well for clinics is Twitter. “We have a Twitter account, but I don’t use it much,” said Bourquin. “I think it’s become much more for political purposes.”

What

In determining what you post, it should not only reflect your brand—your culture and the feel of your practice—but also serve a purpose. Flerx advised creating a targeted goal that blends with your other marketing for your social media. “Your posts should be something more than bringing in new clients. It could be a goal of expanding heartworm prevention awareness, for example,” Flerx noted. “Make it a specific, measurable, achievable, and time-bound goal within a certain timeframe. You can then come up with a posting plan.”

“It’s really easy to post pictures of puppies and kittens and get ‘likes,’ but ‘likes’ don’t pay the bills,” said Greenbaum. “Instead, point out the big smile a dog is showing by talking about dental care. You can then post a link to your website to book a dental evaluation for their pet.”

However, you must be careful about doing too much direct marketing. “I post for a hospital that runs a special every Monday,” said Greenbaum. “That’s okay. Rule of thumb is to do no more than 50% direct marketing and 50% indirect marketing.”

A great form of direct marketing is special offers or discounts, which also help you track the results of your social media reach. Greenbaum points out that special offers on social media also draws new customers, citing a statistic that 66% of new customers come in as a response to special offers.

Indirect marketing could be a photo showing the difficulty of trimming nails of a dog or cat. It might be two vet techs with the caption reading, ”Ever wonder why we charge for a nail trim?”

The key is the three Es, said Stern. “Every piece of content should either be educational or entertaining, and if they’re one or both of those things, then you will get engagement.”

You should also keep it positive. “No one wants to talk about death,” said Laura Kee, DVM and owner of Compassionate In-Home Euthanasia in St. Louis, Missouri. “I post about local pet-friendly festivals and education on dog health, and every one of my clients has an opportunity to post a pet eulogy and photo, which are very popular.”

Susan Wollschlager, marketing and communications manager for the Connecticut Humane Society and Fox Memorial Clinic in Newington, Connecticut, says heart-warming behind-the-scenes stories of survival, such as how the vet team jumped into action to save a stuck puppy and its mother, also do very well.

Dos:

  • Post daily, if possible, including weekends and holidays. At minimum, schedule posts 3–4 times per week. Use the scheduler in Facebook or an outside service such as Hootsuite to preschedule and save time. Allow for cute photos or heartwarming stories to be added as they happen.
  • Use seasons to post about seasonal pet problems such as spring and summer posts about toxic plants, allergies, heartworm, and fleas/ticks.
  • Ask staff to get involved by reminding them to send the administrator(s) photos and client stories. Track the social media reports and give staff access to all the reports showing what is drawing most engagement. “Social media works best as a collaborative event, and that makes it more fun for everyone,” said Baltzell.
  • Have clients sign a social media release the first time they visit your clinic. “If you’re going to post something sensitive, check with your client first. It may have been a long time since they signed the release and they may have forgotten,” advised Wollschlager.
  • Respond to every comment and question in a timely manner, even if it’s a positive one. It could be something as simple as thanking them and telling them how great it was to see their pet again.

Don’ts:

  • Don’t make posts robotic. Even if using a scheduler, tailor it to your practice. Don’t use stock photos.
  • Don’t post scary or gory photos. You can show your practice talents or tell a story without shocking your clients.
  • Don’t take bad comments personally. Never argue with clients who’ve left a negative comment. Always pick up the phone and try to reach the client and try to de-escalate the situation offline. They may even remove the comment.

Finally, when assigning social media tasks, if you know you or your team cannot handle it, be realistic about that. “A lot of hospitals get into trouble and think they can do it all themselves,” said Baltzell. “They just don’t have the bandwidth to handle any more stuff, get frustrated, and the social media train goes off the tracks and doesn’t work because it isn’t consistent.”

Baltzell said you can instead work with a marketing company to handle the mechanics while you take the photos and just do the “fun stuff.” However, if you feel someone on your team can do it and you’re prepared to make it a part of their job, give it your all. “Empower your social media person to be the best and make ways for it to work for them,” she said. “Find a system that works for them and even allows them to have a little fun, and it will bring in the results.” 

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Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell is a writer living her dream life in a small cabin in the Ozark Mountains. She shares her life with her rescued pack of dogs. She is the author of Living Large in Our Little House: Thriving in 480-Square Feet with Six Dogs, a Husband, and One Remote. You can see more of her work at kerrifivecoatcampbell.com.

 

Photo Credits: fizkes/iStock via Getty Images; mynewturtle/iStock via Getty Image; Sitthiphong/iStock via Getty Images; Phynart Studio/E+ via Getty Images; scyther5/iStock via Getty Images

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