Socially Acceptable columnist Caitlin DeWilde, DVM, is the founder of The Social DVM, which trains veterinary professionals to better use social media and marketing to connect with clients. She is a practicing veterinarian, a former medical director, a lover of shorty dogs and orange cats, and an all-around marketing geek. Dr. DeWilde earned her DVM degree from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine. Learn more at thesocialdvm.comRead Articles Written by Caitlin DeWilde
When time and staff are in short supply, putting energy into social media — particularly multiple platforms — can be hard. As social media evolves, you will find more opportunities to drive business to your practice along with more opportunities to waste precious time.
First, let’s review the landscape. Ignoring business registries like Google Business, Yelp and Nextdoor), you will find many popular social media platforms. In general, veterinary clinics are most tempted to use:
- Facebook, for posting updates and sharing photos, videos and articles. It offers business tools such as free and paid call-to-action buttons (“Book now!”), targeted advertising and messaging tools.
- Instagram, for sharing photos and videos. You will find a prevalence of pet accounts. Business tools include paid advertisements and calls to action.
- Twitter, for sharing photos, videos and text of up to 280 characters. It has limited application for advertising in the veterinary industry.
- TikTok, for sharing videos lasting three to 60 seconds.
- Snapchat, for sharing photos and videos, often using fun filters and geotagged locations.
- Pinterest, for sharing online content — photos, videos, links and websites —to “boards” on your profile.
What the Numbers Show
Now, let’s look at the data. Well, I wish we could. The good news is that the veterinary industry spends a lot of money on medical data and not so much on marketing data.
The available data tells us that an estimated 70% of veterinary practices have a Facebook page, but far fewer utilize the platform regularly or to its fullest potential. Sixty percent have branding for their Facebook page, 25% use Facebook stories and 80% claimed a vanity URL. However, just over a third of practices verified their page, a feature essential to receive more reviews and client/follower trust as well as to access several Facebook Page features.
The data is paltrier for the other platforms. Research confirms that millennials and younger generations make up the largest percentage of pet owners. Veterinary practices, particularly those that want to connect with this demographic, should consider Instagram.
Ask Your Clients
Does your client registration form allow pet owners to indicate how they found your practice? If not, it’s time to update the form with boxes listing the key social media platforms you want to track. I recommend starting the form with choices for Facebook and Instagram. If you’re working on growing your Snapchat, Pinterest or TikTok presence, you might want to include them so that you can track whether they are actually driving business.
Next, survey existing clients. Keep it short and sweet by creating a quick SurveyMonkey poll that you can share through social media and email. Ask pet owners:
- Which platforms do you use most frequently?
- On which platforms would you like to see posts from the practice?
- What type of content would you like to see more of? Helpful pet tips? Educational content? The latest news? Fun stuff? A behind-the-scenes tour?
Identify Your Objectives
Think about your practice’s reasons for using social media. Amassing a huge following is great if it helps your patients, pet owners and your practice. The viral TikTok dance you put up might have been fun to create and gets tons of likes, but has it generated business? Did it help a patient or pet owner? To be fair, it might have. It might have gotten the attention of a TikTok user in your community who will remember the name of your practice when it’s time to find a veterinarian.
A TikTok account might show that your practice is young and trendy, but with 70% of TikTok users ages 13 to 24, where’s the payoff? If your goal was to build name recognition, the time and energy could have gone into an Instagram or Facebook video that would reach a wider demographic. On those two platforms, you could target the ideal client through paid advertising.
You might have many reasons to be on social media — there is no right or wrong objective — but a practice must be clear about its goals in order to maintain an effective strategy and avoid wasting precious time and advertising dollars.
Think about your practice’s social media “why.” Are you using social media to reach new clients? To better bond with existing clients? To reduce phone calls at the front desk? To grow a particular service, such as telemedicine or cat-friendly office hours? When you’ve clarified your why, you can look at the platforms more objectively and see which ones will help you achieve your why. If a platform can’t do that, eliminate it.
When reviewing a chosen platform, ask yourself these questions:
- Does it help drive business or help me attain my goals?
- Does it resonate with clients? Have any of them said they discovered my practice on social media?
- Do I or a team member have the interest and skills to post and monitor the platform?
If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” then the decision is made. The platform is not for your practice, at least for now.
Save It for Later
There’s no harm or cost in registering on a social media platform. Setting up your practice’s account is free and easy and can be another way to collect data. If you enable email notifications, you might find that clients are trying to interact with you on Instagram, for instance. The added bonuses of claiming the platforms, even if you don’t plan to use them, are that you can capture your practice’s username so that you are consistent across platforms and that you would prevent other uses from purporting to be your practice. Then when the time is right, you or a staff member can dive in and make the best use of the platform.
The Bottom Line
At the risk of sounding old and curmudgeonly, I don’t see a great return on investment for practices beyond Facebook and Instagram. Of course, if a practice happened to have a marketing team, lots of extra time and a creative sense of humor, posting viral veterinary TikTok dance-offs would be awesome.
Knowing how clinics struggle to keep clients happy, the staff sane and an influx of pets healthy, I recommend the old quality-over-quantity approach. Stick with:
- What works.
- What will get you the biggest bang for your buck.
- What your clients have told you.
Focus your efforts on posting quality content that helps meet your goals, and don’t sweat the other platforms.
YouTube: This platform is valuable only if you have a collection of videos from your veterinary practice. Since it’s owned by Google, YouTube can be a great way to organize and store videos while improving your search engine optimization (SEO).
LinkedIn: A company page, instead of a personal profile, offers the ability to post jobs and for your employees to add work details to their profiles. It’s not widely used by practicing veterinarians or technicians.
Reddit: A collection of topic-themed forums where users can upvote or downvote your content, over time building “karma.” Sharing content here would be visible to a global audience, most of whom are anonymous users, so building a local community or reputation would be difficult.
WhatsApp: Now owned by Facebook. WhatsApp users can text, chat, send messages and share videos, much like with traditional text messages. It’s widely used for international contacts because users can avoid more expensive text or calling fees, but it’s not used widely used in the United States or by businesses.
Tumblr: This is a social network that also has a blogging platform. It’s a good idea in theory, but better to host your blog content on your website so that you’re not driving viewers away from your hospital’s brand and offerings.
Twitch: Another video-streaming service and mostly live. It’s used almost exclusively by video game streamers, so it has little to no value for practices.