Friday, November 29, 2013

1226. SOCIAL MEDIA PG 4. Social media & Veterinary practice

Social Media and Today's Veterinary Practice
ABVP 2012
Bill Schroeder
Vice President, InTouch Practice Communications, Schererville, IN, USA
23016882
Introduction
Gone are the days where Facebook, YouTube, and blog sites are novelty sites for teens to interact. The fact is that social media has evolved quite quickly to become today's most effective method of communicating with most anyone anywhere. The veterinary community should be proud in that, unlike the slow acceptance of websites 10 years ago, social media has been embraced by practices who understand that, regardless of their personal opinions or desire to be involved with social media, their clients expect them to have a presence and utilize the medium for education.
Why Does This Matter?
Picture the perfect day in practice. You are looking forward to the day, because all of your "favorite" clients will be visiting with your patients. Why are these people your "favorites"? Could it be that they are those who do what you ask them to do? Is it reasonable to think that those who do what you ask are easier to work with because of the lack of need to retrain or reeducate? Would I be going too far to suggest that those who do what you ask on a regular basis are the greatest source for your profits? I don't think so. With all the buzz about practice compliance ratings, one has to ask themselves why all clients are not 100% compliant. In 2009, AAHA did a study on why clients are not compliant; the bottom line to the study was that compliance ratings had very little to do with finances of a pet owner, but everything to do with education. So, provide clients with information and they will react by purchasing services. That's the reason your practice should participate in social media...right? Almost.
If you have been in practice for more than 10 minutes, you have heard about the greatest source for your new business being your existing client base. Could social media be an excellent source for educating your current clients so they understand all of your services as they pertain to their family - but also so that they can "spread the word" to those who are not your clients? Yes! Yes! Yes! Imagine a barbeque setting where a client of yours is speaking with a neighbor who, on a whim purchased a sugar glider for his daughter. Without a clue of how to care for this animal, this family has marched off into exotic animal ownership bliss. It does not take long for them to realize that they will need professional care for the sweetest (I couldn't resist) member of their family. Over casual conversation at the picnic table, your "dog and cat" client hears the tales of the sugar glider and, because she read a Facebook post about your exotic capabilities, suggests that he bring the new pet to your practice for care. Is it that simple? Yes it is. Without education, delivered in a manner your clients want to receive the information, you are missing the opportunity to grow.
How Did This Happen?
Magic. Well, almost magic. While some would argue that the birth of social networking came with the first email or the first electronic bulletin board way back in the 1970s, that is a hard pill for most to swallow. The 1990s brought about some unique sites like Geocities, AOL, and Six Degrees. Perhaps these were foundations that directly or indirectly inspired the Zuckerbergs of the world for the 2000s and are where the real action begins. Very basic teen-targeted sites like MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter pop onto the landscape. But should we grant sole credit to the sites or is it bigger? I think so. Without going too deep and crediting the computer or Tom Edison's electricity, I'll tip my hat to the smartphone. Did you know that 85% of all phones sold today are "smart" and that owners very seldom speak of the device's ability to make phone calls? How long will we continue to call them phones? Anyway - not that I am big into statistics - but this makes my point: 90% of "smartphone" owners are no more than 15 feet from their phones for more than 18 hours a day. What does this mean to your practice? Unprecedented, target access to your current and potential clients.
Where Do I Focus My Attention?
Good question. While I do not have a working crystal ball that can predict the future of social media, I can tell you that with great experience in working with practices to develop effective social media plans and presence, there are three sites worthy of your attention. The ever-changing landscape brings new social media sites and shifting capabilities of established channels. My suggestion is to let the tool prove its value and resist the temptation to jump on board with every latest and greatest "Facebook slayer" medium. Here are my favorites:
Facebook
The granddaddy of all social media sites is by far the most used. Here comes another statistic: if Facebook were a country, it would be the third most populated place in the world. Most smartphone applications and other social media networks seek to integrate with this giant, making it an excellent space for a practice to devote a major amount of their social media attention.
Personal Facebook vs. Business Facebook
Simply put, they are as different as your personal and business lives should be. The personal side of Facebook is where it all started: people looking to interact with their friends through status updates, photo sharing, and messaging that connect "friends" on a personal level. Businesses soon began to advertise on Facebook and demanded a presence that supported their advertisements. To insure acceptance by the personal users, Facebook developed a business product which protects the privacy of the users who choose to follow a business or brand by not allowing a business user to interact the same way a friend would. Business page setup and opportunities are different than personal pages. I recommend that a practice seek professional advice when starting a social media plan, as many who think that they can handle the task make costly fundamental mistakes early on due to the natural misunderstanding that since they manage a personal profile on Facebook, that they are capable of business management.
Common Facebook Uses
 Post photos and status updates that scroll through a follower's news feed
 Central location for other social media sites to link. Many consider Facebook to be a social media "hub" or "cornerstone."
 Message clients without texting
 Link back to existing websites
Facebook Capabilities that You Should Not Miss
 Done professionally, Facebook posts will be "findable" by Internet search engines.
 Not all Facebook sites need to look the same. Effective sites are branded with your practice brand, offer direct links back to your brand, and allow a social visitor to experience your brand without leaving Facebook.
 All posts must be well planned and crafted to engage your audience. Business postings are not random but rather parallel your practice's business plan and what has proven to encourage interaction.
YouTube
Video is super powerful. Remember the grade-school excitement when the audio-visual kid wheeled the television into the classroom? Your audience does. They were born for this stuff! YouTube offers the unique opportunity to be your very own broadcasting network. Forget about the need to hire a professional camera crew for social media videos and look to your smartphone. Most modern phones have the ability to take videos that are of greater quality than the Internet can handle. Did you know that YouTube is the number one place a person goes to learn a new skill? What about the fact that Google owns YouTube? Do you think that this will help videos on YouTube display during Google searches?
Common YouTube Uses
 Create video tours of your practice
 Request video testimonials from your clients
 Develop instructional videos that support appointment discussions/recommendations
YouTube Capabilities that You Should Not Miss
 Brand your YouTube channel with your practice colors, logo, and message
 Link your YouTube channel back to your practice Facebook page so that you experience "cross traffic"
 Properly "tag" videos with key words so that search engines understand the content and can properly populate user search requests with your videos.
 Keep videos informal, yet professional. No more than 2 minutes of length.
 Brand every video with your logo, phone number, and other identifiers
Blog
Be not afraid. All too often I hear veterinarians and practice managers remark that they are too busy to blog. Those of that mindset are frequently misinformed into believing that a blog, which, by the way, stands for "weB LOG," needs to be a long dissertation on one topic or another and that it needs to be maintained every day. The reality is that a blog is simply a running listing of articles, statements, or pic postings. Most blogs are designed with a theme in mind, i.e., your veterinary practice, a topic you are passionate about like pet obesity, or even a running diary of your thoughts. The reason blogs have become so very popular is that, when done properly, all content posted has search value. Meaning, the search engines like Google and Yahoo pick it up! Cool, huh?
Common Blog Uses
 Explain a procedure
 Provide an opinion on a topical issue within veterinary medicine
 Advertise through education
 Blog entries will "live" as long as you maintain the blog
Blog Capabilities that You Should Not Miss
 Convert all printed material to blog form
 Assign appropriate tags to the blog so that search engines recognize the conten.
 Use blog to support video postings (for more information on this video, click my blog below)
 Link blog back to Facebook
 Brand your blog with your colors, logo, and mission statement; link this back to your website.
Opportunity Brings Responsibility
What a drag, huh? Yes, like most everything we run into with our businesses, we need to be responsible. What if I had gathered you in a room to see me speak on the topic of social media and just as the presentation started, I wheeled out a laser. During the lecture I attempted to weave social media into my presentation, but my clear motives were to demonstrate the laser's abilities, or, dare I say "sell" you a laser. I bet you'd be mad. You should be. For, the topic of social media was the bait, and the presentation was the trap. We had a contract of sorts. This contract was that I was going to deliver information that you could use to broaden your understanding of social media - not lasers.
Social media is exactly the same. If a person chooses to follow your practice, they are expecting that the information posted relates to the subject matter at hand. This is not the place for personal (non-veterinary) opinions, comments, or suggestions. For that reason I suggest that you avoid what has become the "knee jerk" and, by default, assign the youngest person in the practice the task of managing your social media presence. Unless, of course, this person has a grasp of your current marketing plan, business social media, and how social media can affect and engage your current and prospective customers. All too often we see practices break these virtual contracts between themselves and their followers with posts that do not relate to veterinary care. "Today I had the best caramel mocha latte" is just plain wrong.
A practice's responsibility extends beyond relevant and compelling postings into consistency. Your followers will develop an expectation of when information will be delivered. Believe it or not, they will learn to depend upon at very least seeing the posts, but more often than not, being influenced by the content. Very frequently practices make the mistake of starting off strong and then running out of gas, leaving sites abandoned and the undertone that this is how clients are treated. When recognized, practices attempt to rejuvenate the program and are met with opposition based upon the "been there done that" feeling of your deserted followers. My advice is to do it right the first time!
In Summary
Social media is here to stay and has proven to be effective medium for educating current and prospective veterinary clients. Effective use of social media involves blending with existing proven marketing methods, staying focused on channels that truly benefit your needs, and recognizing the responsibility you have to provide relevant, consistent information. Furthermore, you may want to consider professional assistance in social media program development, channel launch, and daily management.
  
Speaker Information
(click the speaker's name to view other papers and abstracts submitted by this speaker) Bill Schroeder
InTouch Practice Communications
Schererville, IN, USA

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