Socially Acceptable columnist Caitlin DeWilde, DVM, is the founder of The Social DVM, a consulting firm helping veterinary professionals learn to manage and grow their social media, online reputation and marketing strategies. She earned her DVM from the University of Illinois and is a recipient of its Outstanding Young Alumni Award. Before stepping back to focus on her marketing passion, she served as medical director for a large hospital in St. Louis. Today, she divides her time between practice, consulting and writing. She is the author of the “Social Media and Marketing for Veterinary Professionals” textbook.Read Articles Written by Caitlin DeWilde
The concept of fail-proofing anything is hopeful at best. However, in the world of marketing, we’re much more likely to succeed if we clarify why we’re doing it, identify our audience, ensure that our messages reach them, and streamline our processes. The payoff for us is less stress, more effective communication with the clients who matter most, and more time for the patients we love. Here’s how to get there.
Clarify Your W’s and Cut the Rest
The five W’s (who, what, when, where and why) are must-knows if we want our marketing to flourish. Spend an hour to clarify the following W’s and share your answers with your team.
- “Who” are you marketing to? It can’t be everyone. Market to “your” people and ignore the rest. Look to your VIPs, ideal clients and pet owners who bring your team joy and let you do the work you love.
- “What” marketing content will help your practice and clients? Don’t waste time and money boosting a funny meme or buying another box full of brochures and magnets that clients leave in the exam room or trash bin. Instead, focus on digital and physical content that brings value and resonates with clients and that you can analyze for results.
- “When” do you market? When you’re on the clock? At night and on weekends? Don’t let marketing run you down or take too much time. Instead, define how long you want to spend on marketing and when you’ll spend it, and make those periods a priority. For example, spending an hour creating content or an afternoon working on a new multimodal campaign is much more efficient if you set aside time to make it happen rather than squeeze it in between the 9 million other things on your to-do list. Marketing well takes time. So, add the task to your schedule and stick to it.
- “Where” do you market? Social media, email, website, texting, apps, reminders, postcards? You can use some or all of those channels, but your entire team must know what’s in play to ensure a consistent, across-the-board message. If you’re not using all of them, OK. Just focus on the channels that your clients and team use and forget the rest.
- “Why” you market is by far the most important W. Think about the “why” behind what you do across all your channels. Is it to book more appointments? Increase revenue? Hire team members? Become “the cat doctor” in your town? Whatever it is, own it. Write it down, tell the team, and make sure your marketing gets you closer to the goal.
Collect Email Addresses
This one seems easy but is often overlooked. Many veterinary practices stopped asking for or verifying client email addresses in a hasty scramble to online or digital forms during the pandemic. Email addresses, in my opinion, are one of the most critical pieces of information we get from a pet owner. Here’s why:
- They connect our practices to the client’s smartphone, which goes with the pet owner everywhere, even after a move.
- Email addresses are an easy way to send reminders and practice news, as well as for veterinarians and technicians to send lab results, patient updates, authorization forms, links to our online pharmacy and more.
- You can sort them into custom audiences.
- We own our email lists, while our Facebook and Instagram followers are on rented ground. In addition, we can lose the ability to reach clients when a social media platform is down or a website is hacked. We can transfer email lists to another platform, back them up in the cloud and even print them so that we never lose our contacts.
- Email allows us to clearly and effectively present information without the need for graphic design, fancy animations or continual algorithm changes.
- Email costs continue to decline as texting and social media costs rise.
Ask clients how they prefer to communicate. For example, if they hate phone calls and voicemail, why waste time calling them with lab results when an email would be easier for both sides? On the other hand, if they’d rather get a text message about a checkup reminder, why send a postcard? Don’t waste money or time on communication channels that don’t get your message to the owner in the fastest, most preferable way.
To get to the next level of social media marketing, ask your VIP clients about their preferred channels for receiving your content. By narrowing your channels to those most used, you can build upon client relationships and improve your overall social media engagement. Once you choose the channels, be sure to not only post content but also respond to comments and reviews. In addition, watch client posts for tags and mentions of your practice.
Invest in Efficiency
Time and labor are precious commodities at every veterinary practice. While there is no denying that marketing takes time, let me suggest ways to improve and streamline it.
- Scheduling content to multiple platforms? Use Meta Business Suite to post to Facebook and Instagram simultaneously. Or try tools like Buffer or Later to post to these and other platforms, including Google Business, LinkedIn and TikTok.
- Templates are your friend, so save time by creating them for common communications. For example, try auto-replies for Facebook Messenger and a simple Google Doc of common responses to negative and positive reviews spotted in your Google Business listing.
- Recycle last year’s posts and captions, such as those stating, “We’re closing for the holiday. Did you remember your pet’s prescription?” The same goes for last year’s “Happy Valentine’s Day” message and your monthly reminder for clients to check out your online pharmacy. Save your time and creative energy for content that helps your practice achieve its “why.”
- A written workflow can get tasks done with a team approach and when a staffing change occurs. Examples include how to respond to online reviews, how patient photos get from an employee’s phone to the social media team’s hands and are scheduled, how to draft, test and send an email newsletter, and how to prepare app push notifications.
Get Extra Help
Remember to outsource when you need to get a job done expertly. While I believe that the best marketing is done in-house, I realize that sometimes you don’t have enough hours in the day. After all, we’re veterinary people, not professional marketers, graphic designers or videographers.
Consider hiring an outside professional to handle tasks your team finds difficult or has trouble with. Your staff can pitch in by producing the photos and videos and choosing the main concepts. Commonly outsourced marketing tasks might include video editing, infographic creation and scheduling social media posts.
If your practice is still the brains behind the content and you’re short on time and labor, why not seek help getting the content out to your audience?
ONE LAST TIP
Social media can be a primary driver of a veterinary practice’s business, so consistent messaging is of utmost importance. For example, if your postcards say a patient is due for preventive care in four weeks but your website, social media channels and automated phone messages report that routine appointments are unavailable for the next two months, you’ll have frustrated pet owners who might look elsewhere.