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
Most veterinary practices have a strategic plan to publish Facebook and Instagram posts, email reminders and newsletters, deploy push notifications, and send text messages. Once these marketing efforts are scheduled and executed, the team members responsible can breathe a sigh of relief, right? Yes and no. Practices that stop here miss crucial opportunities to build long-lasting, loyal relationships with clients and deliver the ultimate experience.
In addition to publishing content, practices must place equal importance on monitoring the response to their digital communications (also known as social listening). Once a comment, question or action is identified, the team member needs to follow through with secondary conversations.
Take this example: Your clinic posts a photo of one of your veterinarians examining an older dog. The caption reads: “Dr. DeWilde and Toasty just finished up Toasty’s senior pet exam. Senior pet exams are recommended twice yearly for pets 8 years or older so that we can detect problems before they start and keep pups like Toasty happy and healthy!”
The cute dog photo gets a few likes, shares and comments. One client asks, “How much does a senior pet exam cost?” The question goes unanswered.
The problems are twofold:
- An existing client asked about a service, meaning she is interested in it for her pet, but she got no answer. The lack of a response is noted not only by the client but also by other visitors.
- The nonresponse is an opportunity for another individual, with or without having correct information, to answer.
The client’s question, on the other hand, could lead to an appointment. The solution is to post the price or simply say, “We’ve looked at Maggie’s file and we’re sending you an email with the info you need! If you’d like to book an appointment for Maggie, just click here [insert link]!”
Now, the public can see that the practice is engaged, quickly answers questions and will customize veterinary care. The booking link makes the follow-up simple and convenient.
Practices should routinely monitor pet owner comments in these four areas:
1. Facebook, Google, Yelp and Nextdoor Reviews
Negative online reviews commonly receive the most attention from veterinary practices, garnering not only an official response but also staff worry and stress. However, it’s just as important — in some cases, more important — to acknowledge positive reviews and statements.
Clients who, without incentive, have good things to say about your clinic have chosen to be brand advocates. They publicly sing the praises of your practice and team. Such a gift deserves your attention and thanks since positive online reviews build your practice’s reputation, earn you more clients and boost the team’s morale.
Can you imagine giving someone a birthday gift and not receiving so much as a “Thank you” or “I received it” note? Don’t make a faux pas with online reviews. Acknowledge the review with a like, love or “thanks” reaction (depending on the platform), and personalize the response when possible.
2. Facebook and Instagram Posts
Most veterinary practices update their Facebook and Instagram platforms several times a week with content such as helpful articles, cute photos and informative updates. While many visitor comments, such as “Cute cat!” or “Great article,” don’t need a response, some might be opportunities for further conversation or client conversion. Questions about prices, how to book an appointment or whether a service is recommended for a specific pet could be answered publicly or privately depending on the nature of the comment.
3. Facebook, Instagram and Google My Business Messages
Customer messaging of businesses on social media platforms has grown by leaps and bounds in the past two years. Over 60% of U.S. users messaged a business on the Facebook platform over a recent three-month period, the company reported. Facebook surveys have shown that clients prefer the platform because of its ease of use, 24/7 accessibility and time savings.
The average message sender expects a response within six business hours, yet most businesses, in general, take nearly two days, according to HubSpot. A slow response is an opportunity for clients to go elsewhere with their business, so assign a customer service representative the daily task of acting on messages. Use Facebook’s unified inbox to streamline Facebook and Instagram messages. In addition to setting up notifications, practices can use third-party programs like Front, Buffer or Slack to organize messages and assign them to individual team members.
4. Email, Text and App Notifications
If your practice sends clientwide emails, text messages or app notifications, be sure to monitor the open rates and responses. Because such communication is often sent through practice management software or outside programs, add the platforms to your monitoring checklist to make sure client responses don’t go unnoticed.
Applaud Your Top Fans
At a time when the veterinary industry needs more love and fewer angry clients, focus on the good by celebrating pet owners who leave great online reviews and comments in a neighborhood Facebook group and who interact with your practice’s social media accounts. These allies likely accept your recommendations and value your work. Their online advocacy adds to an already-established relationship.
Hail these small wins publicly in an online response and privately by sharing with your team. If time allows, consider a mailed thank-you note or a quick email.
How to Get It Done
Asking your team to expand their to-do lists is never fun, especially in a COVID environment. To make social media an efficient and rewarding two-way street, I have these recommendations:
- Schedule enough time. Just as your social media team is allocated time to deploy content, the need to monitor, listen and respond should be accounted for, too.
- Utilize platform tools. In addition to setting up notifications — turn on those for client comments and turn off those you don’t need — remember to link your Facebook and Instagram inboxes, as I suggested above. By doing this, all comments, messages and reviews appear in one place on Facebook.
- Share the Facebook and Google My Business workload among multiple marketing team members.
- Set client expectations for when they’ll receive a response, or redirect them to your preferred communication avenues, such as phone or email. You can do this through the settings for Facebook Messenger autoreply and Instagram quick reply.
- Pro tip: In some cases, you can teach the autoresponder to recognize keywords and craft a specific reply. For instance, if your practice receives a message containing the word “appointment,” the autoresponder can answer, “It looks like you might want to make an appointment, and we’d love to see you! Here’s the link to book online while you’re waiting for our team to get this message. We’ll get back to you with a real-person response by the end of each business day!”
Remember that online messages can have an offline response. Particularly in the case of negative reviews or heated comments, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and talk to the person. Some conversations shouldn’t play out publicly, and some questions ask for information that you don’t want to be public knowledge. Calling, emailing or using a platform’s message feature might be the best first step. Just be sure to copy the communications into the client record so that the whole team knows about past conversations.
Also, triage your communications just as you would your patients. This means prioritizing responses to pet owners who have a medical need, to existing clients, and to questions that can lead to a service being provided or a relationship being built.
The growing use of technology and communication platforms has added items to our daily checklists. However, social media platforms provide us with an opportunity to be more efficient, strategic and meaningful in our communications. Embrace all the channels and utilize platform-specific tools to make communication a win for clients and your practice.