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
Marketing is one of the last things that team members want to do when a veterinary practice is stretched thin. But remember that marketing allows you to provide clients with the information they need, facilitate online or asynchronous actions like booking an appointment or processing an online pharmacy request, and, best of all, reach a targeted audience. All that means fewer phone calls and calendars full of appointments you want and clients you treasure. You can’t ignore marketing, but you can make it more efficient.
Here are my top 10 tips for improving your clinic’s marketing.
1. Know Your Why
Why are you marketing to pet owners? If it’s not to fill appointment slots, is it to bond the client and team? Promote your mobile app’s telemedicine feature? Send clients to your online pharmacy? All those can relieve some of the pressure in your clinic. Whatever the answer, make sure the content and effort meet your goals.
2. Use the Right Channels
You might be surprised to hear a social media lover like me recommend using fewer social channels, but here we are. Practices without a full-time social media employee can’t possibly manage lots of channels well. Moreover, do you need all of them? Look at last quarter’s analytics. What was the e-newsletter click-through rate? How many clients listed Instagram as their referral source? Did the Facebook ad generate appointments? If a marketing channel isn’t delivering the results — again, return to your “why” — consider cutting it, at least temporarily. If you’re on the fence, email a quick one-question survey to clients and find out how they’d most like to interact.
3. Schedule Time to Plan
You can’t be strategic if you don’t have time to sit down, think and map out a marketing strategy. Spend 30 minutes plotting one month’s content.
4. Schedule With Intention
A content calendar can help place your content strategically. Start by filling in any holidays, clinic closures or animal health awareness events. Next, look at your “why” and develop one post idea a week tied to your goals. Sprinkle in a team member spotlight and parasite prevention reminder, promote your convenience offerings, such as an online pharmacy, telemedicine service or client portal, and finish by sharing a recent five-star review and linking to the site. Quickly, the month is nearly full of content. You’ll have room for patient photos and candid, behind-the-scenes images as they occur, but your content is now meeting the goals of the practice and the needs of pet owners.
5. Schedule Time to Create and Deploy
Now that you have a plan in place, creating photo-rich posts takes time. Block off a few hours a month to assemble and schedule the content on your platforms.
6. Use Marketing Tools
See the sidebar below.
7. Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
Save time by reusing and repurposing content. That “Happy Holidays” graphic worked last year and will do well this year. For any given post, an estimated 30% of your social followers will see it when it’s not paid advertising. The odds that they’ll remember it are slim. Repeat evergreen content, such as convenience offerings and services highlights, at least two or three times. While I’ll always vote for original content, some older pieces are just better, particularly when your time and resources are limited. Also, check out social media toolkits from organizations such as the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Animal Hospital Association, Fear Free and the American Heartworm Society. Diagnostic and pharmaceutical companies whose products you use could provide usable content, too. Take advantage of their graphics, videos and online links, and be sure to put your spin on why what you’re sharing matters to your audience.
8. Outsource When Needed
We’re veterinary professionals, not graphic geniuses. We do diagnostics, not video editing. Capturing awesome content unique to your practice is essential and relatively easy when you carry a smartphone in your scrub pocket. But many times, transferring the content from the phone to a social media platform in a polished way is a significant roadblock. I will always advocate for a practice employee being the source of the material, but if you need someone else to edit a video, design a flier or publish a podcast, don’t be afraid to outsource the work. Look for nearby freelance marketers, work with a veterinary marketing company, or even try online resources like Upwork to move a half-done marketing project to your done list.
9. Use a Style Guide
Whether you’re designing marketing material or working with an outside source, a brand style guide and assets will speed the process. When you use a consistent font, color scheme, logo and messaging, your decisions on the design, look and feel of marketing material are easy. Store all your commonly used digital assets in a cloud-based folder so that anyone on the marketing team has access from anywhere.
10. Systematize Your Workflow
Before my practice organized our patient photos, social media ideas and articles, trying to find the content was a mess. We’d scroll through smartphone camera rolls, search texts from one team member while hunting down an email from another, and then decipher sloppy notes from our last marketing meeting. We finally developed a process for:
- Who would take photos. In our case, anyone could, but a technician photographed new patients.
- What information would be included with the photo. For example, the patient’s name, the owner’s permission and case details.
- How everything would be collected. We submitted photos, articles and ideas to the Slack #socialmedia channel.
- How the content would be stored and scheduled for marketing. We used a “high five” emoji in Slack to indicate something was scheduled. Anything needing further discussion was dealt with in Slack or during a planning meeting.
A TREMENDOUS TOOLBOX
Below are a few marketing timesavers.
- Facebook Business Suite: Sync and streamline your Facebook and Instagram posts, notifications, messages and analytics in one place. Schedule posts to both Facebook and Instagram months in advance.
- Buffer, Hootsuite and Planoly: If you’re using platforms other than Facebook and Instagram, one of these can simultaneously schedule content to more channels.
- Google Alerts: Set up free news alerts to flag your practice’s name, veterinarians’ names and local pet topics.
- Canva: The free graphic-creation tool has hundreds of templates, free stock images and graphic elements. Splurge on the paid account to quickly resize designs, such as to convert your Instagram post into a Facebook ad or exam room flier.
- Google Drive: Store photos, videos and brand assets in one place, making them accessible anywhere on any device.
- Google Docs: Create documents for team sharing.
- Rev.com: Upload videos or podcasts and, for $1.25 a minute, you’ll get back a clean, polished and grammatically correct caption file. Create two pieces of content out of one.
- Upwork.com: Hire a professional to handle your video editing, flier creation or social media. Post what you need done and let the freelancers come to you.
- Grammarly: Save time editing and spell-checking your marketing content. Download the free Google Chrome extension to check your social post and email content.