Ticks, Fleas, and Social Media: Tips for Marketing Preventives to Pandemic Pet Owners

The increase in pet adoption and outdoor recreation has created new demand for compassionate and compelling messages about flea and tick prevention.

“Our strategy has never changed.
It is educating the client.”
—MELISSA MAGNUSON, DVM

by Constance Hardesty, MSc

The increase in pet adoption and outdoor recreation has created new demand for compassionate and compelling messages about flea and tick prevention.

Last year saw soaring numbers of new pet owners (adopting or fostering), new campers and hikers, and newcomers to the suburbs. Even the number of people walking in city parks skyrocketed.

It’s enough to make your skin crawl—if you’re thinking of fleas and ticks, that is.

Even though flea and tick prevention has always had the “be safe outdoors” message, as more people head for the hills, some pandemic-related behaviors merit special attention. New pet owners are one area of concern.

“There are some alarming statistics addressing the challenges new pet owners are facing due to a lack of understanding and education around properly caring for a pet,” said Robin Brogdon, MA, owner and CEO of BluePrints Veterinary Marketing Group.

Brogdon pointed to a recent Merck survey that found that most people who adopted a puppy in 2020 are surprised and, frankly, daunted by the amount of care their new family member requires. Parasite prevention is one task that new pet owners found surprisingly challenging.

First-time pet owners might be surprised or challenged by their pet’s needs, but they are open to learning, says Melissa Magnuson, DVM, of AAHA-accredited Canobie Lake Veterinary Hospital in Windham, New Hampshire.

“New puppy owners are much more likely to purchase flea and tick products than existing clients because they’re open to education,” Magnuson said. “These owners seem to have not owned pets before, so they are really listening to veterinarians.”

In Magnuson’s practice, sales of flea and tick preventives increased early in 2020 before returning to normal levels.

“Sales actually went up because people were in a state of panic back in March 2020. They wanted to stock up,” Magnuson said.

“Also, because we were only seeing [emergency cases] initially, we still dispensed to pets who were overdue for preventive care exams because we couldn’t schedule those. We allowed a three-month grace period. After that, when we started scheduling preventive care exams again, sales returned to the same level as prior years.”

That included online sales. Perhaps most important, the practice remained a reliable source for clients. Magnuson noted, “We never had shortages, so clients could always buy from us.”

Carrying on the Conversation

With telemedicine, curbside service, online stores, and practice management software to track client purchases, practices have what they need to fill clients’ needs. But what about our most valuable opportunity for educating clients: the exam room conversation?

For Canobie Lake, the loss had little effect. “We did not really change our time with client interaction, we just did it on the phone,” Magnuson said. Online check-in, combined with client-education videos, seems effective.

“I actually think, though I have not looked at the exact numbers yet, that it seems to be working better because they can watch the online video whenever they want,” she said.

In general, the pandemic and its challenges only reinforced Canobie Lake’s commitment.

“Our strategy has never changed. It is educating the client,” Magnuson said. “All of our staff members are educated about what to say for flea and tick as well as heartworm prevention and what we recommend. When you have [customer service representatives], veterinary assistants, veterinary technicians, and all veterinarians saying the same thing, clients know and understand the importance of it.”

For 2021, she sees more of the same. “We are focusing on efficiency, educating our staff, educating our clients, and learning how to do things virtually that really educate the client so they can do what’s best for their pet.”

Canobie Lake also uses videos on Facebook to educate clients about ticks and tickborne diseases. Client education is one place where social media really shines.

“Now, more than ever, practices should be using social media as a way to give clients solid educational information,” said Caitlin DeWilde, DVM, founder of the social media marketing firm The Social DVM. “Sharing information about parasite prevention is a year-round concern, particularly as people and pets are spending even more time together in close quarters!”

Don’t forget the call to action, and direct clients to your online store.

“With any posts about flea and tick prevention, be sure to let them know how they can get the products from your practice,” DeWilde advised.

New pet owners don’t know it, but we do: Buying the product is just beginning. The trick is remembering to use it. An app keeps them on track.

“When 75–90% of your clients have your app on their smartphone device, which, let’s face it, is with them practically all the time, then sending out a notification to remind a client to give their pet their parasiticide is super easy,” said Stacee Santi, DVM, founder of Vet2Pet App Builders.

“This was, in fact, the main reason I found myself wanting an app in 2010,” Santi remembered. “I found that even in the best of times, clients were forgetting to give their pet their recurring preventives. For me, that is one of the biggest barriers to compliance.”

Wayside Veterinary Clinic in Rossville, Indiana, uses Facebook to remind clients to administer the monthly dose. Their monthly posts deliver a straight-up call to action that will take all of five minutes to create in Canva. Check out the November 1, 2020, double-duty post: a monthly reminder that reinforces the need for year-round protection.

“I think any time we’re sharing educational information, we’re acting as a force for good.”
—CAITLIN DEWILDE, DVM

Making the Most of Quality Time

Outdoor recreation, from walking in the park to camping, was a huge trend in 2020 that is holding its own in 2021. Everyone knows why, and, for many, the reasons are quite painful.

How can we promote flea and tick prevention in the great outdoors without making it sound like we’re cashing in on a difficult situation?

“I think it’s important that practices acknowledge the increase in outdoor activities with pets, from the aspect of both increased parasite exposure and the increased quality time. Both are true—and acknowledging both allows veterinarians to explain the importance of flea and tick prevention without appearing to be resorting to scare tactics to push sales,” DeWilde said.

“Here’s where a video from the veterinarian, especially showing a veterinarian with a patient, can really help,” she advised. Even better? Share what the veterinarian is doing with their own pet. Your message might be:

“Toasty and I have been getting out on the trails in Castlewood Park more this year. The exercise is great for us both, and I know Toasty really loves the extra time with our family. Since we’re outside more often than ever before, we make sure she gets her dose of preventive every month so we can be sure she doesn’t bring any hitchhikers back with her! If you need advice on which product would be the best for your dog, let us know—there are lots of options out there and we’re here to help you keep your pets and your family safe.”

With pets spending more time outdoors, whether in urban dog parks, rural backyards, or woodsy campsites, it’s natural to make the connection between pets and community. In recent years, one of the major themes about tick prevention has been the danger of zoonoses, especially Lyme disease.

7 Tips for Ticks (and Fleas!)

  1. Post a video with one of your veterinarians or technicians explaining your hospital’s preferred products: what they cover, how often to give them, and why parasite prevention is important.
  2. Remind pet owners monthly (usually on the first of each month) to give their pets flea, tick, and heartworm prevention.
  3. Share a case story of a patient in the hospital who was recently treated for fleas or ticks. Before and after pictures work great for these!
  4. Visit capcvet.org and use their parasite prevalence map to show the incidence of tick disease in dogs from your specific area—down to the county!
  5. Check out the content from the manufacturers of flea and tick products. They often have some nice social media graphics and videos to share so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
  6. Post your standing preventive rebates (like buy six, get one) on your Facebook page as “offers.” Owners can claim the offer and automatically get the details in their email, and it’s saved as an offer on their Facebook page. Offers are fun and interactive, perfect for when you’re looking for something different to post.
  7. Give a link to your practice’s online refill-request form, create a “shop now” button with the practice’s online pharmacy link, or include the practice’s email address or phone number so pet owners can get in touch and get their pets the products they need.

Bonus tip: Remember the cats! Remind pet owners that indoor cats deserve protection, too!

Source: Caitlin DeWilde, DVM (thesocialdvm.com).

“As we have seen with the pandemic, vets have a big role to play in the wellbeing of their community,” Santi said. Sharing important information with your clients and your community carries it forward.

Santi likes to start with simple, bite-size messages like, “Five things you need to know before you go camping with your pet.”

Spread the messages through all of your marketing channels: email newsletter, app notifications, and print for collaborative businesses in your community to share. And contact your local forest service, campsite hosts, and park areas.

“Remember,” Santi said, “you are the trusted leader in your community. Yes, you!”

The Big Picture: One Health

How can we sustain and expand our meaningful actions to animals as members of our community?

“I think any time we’re sharing educational information, we’re acting as a force for good,” DeWilde said.

“In the cases of flea and tick protection, pointing out how protecting their dog from parasites keeps people safe by ensuring their pets are not bringing fleas and ticks into a shared environment can go a long way,” she advised.

“I know sometimes it’s hard to want to post those articles about flea and tick prevention, since they historically get less likes and engagement than a funny meme or cute picture,” she added. “But we can’t forget that our oath gives us a responsibility to share information to protect public health and pet health.

“Even if they’re clicking on the article, reading it, and not necessarily coming back to ‘like’ the post, they might have learned something—and that is going to lead to a healthier pet.”

Brogdon agrees. Simple and straightforward does it best.

“If you keep your pet healthy and safe, and keep yourself healthy and safe, that translates to a healthier world,” Brogdon said. “The risks and rewards of consistent use of parasiticides really tie to One Health. Clichéd as it might sound, more and more people are beginning to understand the relationship with zoonotic disease and the fact that all beings are truly connected, for good or bad.”

Our Experts

Robin Brogdon, MA, is the owner and CEO of BluePrints Veterinary Marketing Group, a full-service marketing and consulting firm primarily serving specialty and emergency practices as well as the animal health industry. BluePrints provides strategic marketing programs, traditional and digital tools for brand-specific messaging, and analytics.
Caitlin DeWilde, DVM, is the founder of The Social DVM, which is focused on training veterinary professionals to better use social media and marketing to connect with their clients and pets. She is a practicing veterinarian, former medical director, and lover of “shorty” dogs and orange cats.
Melissa Magnuson, DVM, is owner of three AAHA-accredited hospitals, including Canobie Lake Veterinary Hospital in Windham, New Hampshire, which she founded and which was a finalist for the 2019 AAHA-Accredited Practice of the Year award. Magnuson has 23 years of experience as a veterinarian. She is the mom of three teenage daughters and owner of three dogs, one cat, and one bird. She is the author of Animality: How Pets and People Connect and is writing a second book in her spare time. Visit her Facebook page, the Conscious Vet, for more information.
Stacee Santi, DVM, is the CEO and founder of Vet2Pet App Builders, which develops personalized, custom apps for veterinary practices. She has more than 20 years of clinical experience in small-animal and emergency practice, including as medical director for a general/ER, AAHA-accredited practice in Colorado.

 

Constance Hardesty
Constance Hardesty, MSc, is an award-winning writer specializing in science, technology, and veterinary medicine.

 

Photo credits: Wavetop/iStock via Getty Images Plus, damircudic/iStock via Getty Images Plus, Photo courtesy of Robin Brogdon, photo courtesy of Caitlin DeWilde, photo courtesy of Melissa Magnuson, photo courtesy of Stacee Santi

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