There is no doubt that people today are looking online for their veterinary care providers. That being said, there is also a valid need to expend marketing resources wisely. With that in mind, here is a six-step plan for maintaining a useful social media presence by devoting just one hour per week. Let’s get started.
1. Set reasonable expectations
Just like with a workout routine, you can’t expect to put in minimal time and get herculean results. However, focusing your efforts in an efficient, meaningful way can give you results in the long term. You shouldn’t expect to get thousands of fans, but rather to communicate with—and stay in the minds of—people who may actually bring their pets to you for care. You’re going for quality in your connections, not quantity.
2. Remember your brand
Yes, the photo of the cat smoking a pipe you saw on the Internet may have been hilarious, but is that the picture you want associated with your clinic? Every post or tweet you put out should fit the brand image you want to build in people’s minds. If in doubt, err on the side of caution and come across as caring and professional.
3. Pick a platform
It’s better to have a single, well-run presence than a half-dozen neglected and disorganized efforts that all make you look bad.
For most practices, I recommend a Facebook business page. The other social media sites are great, but Facebook is easy to learn. It’s also the largest network by far, and the number of posts you need to stay visible is manageable. Facebook’s recommendation system also helps put your page in front of people who live in your geographic area, and that’s a big plus.
4. Find your content
No one wants to see you pitching your sales and services 24/7. They want follow your practice because you share information that’s interesting, educational, helpful, funny and engaging. You should give them what they want (with a moderate dose of information about your practice, of course).
One easy way to do this is to let other people create the content and deliver it to you so that you can share the best of it with your own clients. Email newsletters are a wonderful way to get articles, blog posts and videos delivered right to your inbox. Some of the best media outlets you can subscribe to are from the AVMA, (gratuitous plug alert!) dvm360.com and ASPCA Poison Control. When you need great content for your social media outlet, voila!
5. Use a scheduler
Now that you have clear goals, your brand on your mind, and a host of helpful, funny, interesting, educational and engaging content that you’re ready to share, it’s time to take action.
First, schedule one hour per week as social media time. Then create a plan for what content you want to put out over the next seven days. Use a web-based program to schedule your posts automatically at designated times.
My favorite scheduler is Hootsuite (hootsuite.com). Users can write their posts, attach files or links, and then set the date and time for the information to appear on Facebook, Twitter and other outlets. It’s free to use, and once you decide how often you want to put out information, you can set your entire week in a single sitting.
The greatest activity on Facebook is on weekdays at 3 p.m., followed by 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. Wednesday at 3 p.m. is consistently the busiest time in the week, while Sunday is the slowest day. Keep these patterns in mind when deciding how best to schedule your posts.
6. Monitor what’s happening
Once your social media initiative is up and rolling, you can’t take your hands totally off the wheel. You must be responsive when clients communicate through your social media channel. Have notifications about client comments sent to your clinic via a regularly checked email address. And decide up front who will address these comments.
When clients reach out in this way, don’t panic. You don’t have to respond immediately, like you would if they showed up in person. Twenty-four hours (48 on a weekend) is a good response time and won’t leave clients feeling ignored.
Like global warming and Justin Bieber, social media is an unstoppable force. It’s undeniably changing and improving the way we communicate with pet owners. Even if you have the most cutting-edge medical practice, you run the risk of seeming outdated without a presence in social media. So carve out an hour a week to log in and have fun with it. Then get back to the work of being a vet.