Eric D. Garcia
Socially Acceptable columnist Eric D. Garcia is an IT and digital consultant who works exclusively with veterinary practices and speaks at veterinary conferences around the world. He founded Simply Done Tech Solutions to help veterinary practices improve their services and marketing communications efforts. He is a member of VetPartners, an association for veterinary practice development. He was named Practice Management Speaker of the Year at VMX 2020. Learn more at ericgarciafl.com
Whether we’re aware of it or not, people of all types and all around the world gravitate toward emotional messages. Think about the last book you read or the last movie you watched. Chances are, you either liked or disliked the story because of the way it made you feel. Yes, the way we feel determines the vast majority of our personal and professional decision-making.
When your veterinary practice shares stories online or on social media, you elicit an emotional response in pet owners (your audience). The question is, what type of response is it and does it serve your veterinary practice well?
Six primary emotions — happiness, surprise, sadness, fear, anger and disgust — lead to increased engagement with online posts. While other emotions are experienced across the vast human spectrum of feeling, these six categories are proven to elicit online engagement most effectively.
Since the latter half of the list is mainly negative, choosing the right content is especially important so that you bond with your audience rather than alienate them. If your social media post has a sad feel, it should be for a reason. I’ll touch on this later.
Strengthen the Bond
Think about the last time you guided a pet owner through a daunting situation. Do you remember the look on the client’s face while you cared for her pet? This vulnerability, and the way you responded to the issue, has the power to keep clients coming back to you and feeling closely bonded to your practice.
Have you ever saved a pet’s life and received a basket of flowers or a tin of homemade cookies afterward? Chances are, you had such a profound emotional impact on the pet owner that she wanted to express a deep sense of gratitude. Providing care and comfort in these situations can bond pet owners to your practice for life.
I tell veterinary practices to ask emotional questions on social media, such as “What does your pet mean to you?” The open-ended question has an incredible way of prompting a wide range of emotional responses in the reader. Since we all have such a unique relationship with our pets, those who read the question are likely flooded by unique and often wonderful memories that make them naturally want to share.
I especially like asking this question on social media because it’s the perfect example of emotional marketing at work. Remember that the more emotional your post is, the more engagement you’ll receive, and those likes, comments, shares and clicks will increase your visibility further. When you keep the posts open, upbeat and inviting, pet owners will respond with photos — encourage it — and stories of what their pet means to them.
This campaign works season after season and year after year because our experiences and unique adventures with our pets grow over time. I encourage you to share your story or a staff member’s story to show your team’s emotional connection with pets. This will help engage your audience from the start.
On your practice’s website, staff members and veterinarians should share pictures taken with their pets. Adding personal details allows the audience to know more about everyone. At the end of each biography, the person can explain what a pet means to him or her. You’ll be surprised how well the openness resonates with pet owners. When they learn that you’re a pet owner who cares deeply about animals, emotion is evoked and a long-term relationship starts off on the right foot.
Tales From the Trenches
Here’s another idea. Think about a time you weren’t sure how a pet admitted to your practice would fare. Maybe a dog had been hit by a car or a cat suffered an acute medical emergency. If you successfully treated the pet, get the owner’s consent and share the story in four to six sentences — what happened to the pet and how you responded. The emotional retelling will resonate with online viewers.
Sharing the specifics of a scenario, including the uncertainty, twists and turns, can evoke powerful emotions. Even better, posts that end with a positive outcome will create organic traction and visibility. People love feel-good stories and like to share touching accounts with their friends.
If all this works well, consider adding a “Patient Stories” section to your website and share it on all your social media platforms. Even a simple photo and paragraph can showcase your practice’s standards of medicine.
Turn Frowns Upside Down
Unfortunately, your cases don’t always end happily. From time to time, a sad story is acceptable to share. A practice I consulted with in Canada posted on social media the story of a cat that had a urinary blockage and was taken to the practice too late. The cat didn’t survive and the owner was devastated, of course. The practice owner asked the client for permission to share the story online. The pet owner approved because she didn’t want other cats to suffer the way hers did. The negative experience served as an educational and potentially lifesaving lesson.
To honor sad experiences, consider creating a photo album on Facebook or your website and calling it “Pets That Have Passed Over the Rainbow Bridge.” Encourage the client to email a favorite photo and story about the pet, and say you’d like to honor the pet. You might be surprised how many pet owners are delighted to be asked and will eagerly accept an opportunity to share a meaningful experience with their pet.
Many practices have told me they receive long, joyous, unique stories and many wonderful photos. When other pet owners see such a post online, they naturally gravitate toward it and offer condolences, stories and tips on how to cope through tough times.
Even though a pet’s death can be very painful, responding in these ways on your practice’s marketing channels can strengthen a community and help people to bond and share emotions. This is more than good marketing; it’s authentic bonding that instills faith and goodwill across your community.
When your posts are charged with authentic emotion, more people will like, share and chime in. We all have emotional stories we’d like to share, but it’s a matter of finding the right opportunity.
Having pet owners feel bonded to your hospital is a win no matter the type of story you share.