The double-edged sword of social media

The double-edged sword of social media

New technology allows for connection with clients like never before, but what happens when a veterinary client vents her frustration online?
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Mar 12, 2018

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Dr. Jim Jenkins was a cutting-edge practitioner who was kept busy by a demanding suburban community. He loved his patients, befriended his clients and had a flamboyant personality, to say the least. His pet German shepherd frequently roamed the clinic wearing a sign that said, “I’m Dr. Jenkins. May I help you?”

Dr. Jenkins loved his profession and let it be known to all who would listen. His practice was active on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and community websites. He constantly posted pet-related pictures, healthcare tips and anecdotal tales about his veterinary patients.

Dr. Jenkins’ gregarious practice style was a hit with many pet owners, but a segment of his clientele was less enthusiastic. Recently one of the disgruntled clients had posted negative comments about Dr. Jenkins on Facebook, Twitter and a local community website. The staff brought this to his attention and told him how unfair they thought the client’s remarks were.

Dr. Jenkins was livid. How could anyone say he was insensitive and—even worse—unprofessional? Compounding the issue, the comments were spread all over social media. He wouldn’t take this lying down.

The practice support team and associates recommended handling the situation with restraint. They thought it would be best for Dr. Jenkins to cool down and then approach the client in a professional manner to try to understand the source of her dissatisfaction.

Being the personality that he was, Dr. Jenkins rejected their advice. He wrote a post on his town’s community information page rebutting the comments made about him there. Then he copied his comments to his clinic’s Facebook and Twitter page. Instead of simply saying he was sorry this client felt displeased and offering to discuss the issue, Dr. Jenkins went on the offensive. He stated that he was always sensitive and professional, and anyone who thought otherwise had poor judgment and probably shouldn't own pets at all.

This social media campaign was met with mixed reviews. Local pet owners who didn’t know Dr. Jenkins and his practice now saw that at the very least he was proud and volatile—at worst, he was a self-centered egotist.

It took awhile for the dust to settle. The team’s consensus was that Dr. Jenkins’ reaction had hurt the practice's image and reputation, but the damage wasn't irreparable. Ultimately Dr. Jenkins posted that he may have reacted inappropriately.

Dr. Jenkins learned that social media posts are like double-edged swords. They reach huge audiences and can draw a lot of attention—but they also create self-inflicted wounds if not used with care.

What do you think of Dr. Jenkins’ actions? Let us know at [email protected].

Dr. Rosenberg’s response

Veterinarians in busy clinical practices must have thick skin. We are often faced with emotionally volatile clients—we see them when they’re dealing with death, painful disease and negative family dynamics. In these moments pet owners often say and do things they later regret. If we are to be effective practitioners, we must act professionally and not be drawn into the chaos

Dr. Jenkins is not an unusual practitioner. He’s proud, committed and sensitive. He clearly overreacted and paid the price. If you don’t want to occasionally be yelled at, insulted or otherwise confronted, you're in the wrong profession. This is the price we pay for helping animals that can't help themselves, and we also experience the rewards that come along with this care.

Marc Rosenberg, VMD, is director of the Voorhees Veterinary Center in Voorhees, New Jersey. In his private time, he enjoys playing basketball and swing dancing with his wife. Although many of the scenarios Dr. Rosenberg describes are based on real-life events, the veterinary practices, doctors and employees described are fictional.