Protecting your veterinary practice from a cyberattack
“The No. 1 thing people can do to weather the online media storm is to be prepared,” says Erik Bernstein, vice president of Bernstein Crisis Management, a PR firm that consults with veterinarians. “In veterinary medicine, you know the predictable categories of crises, so plan for them.”
Communication issues, unexpected animal deaths and billing disputes cause the most problems for veterinary practices. So start crafting your message now for each of these eventualities.
“You’ll have to customize the wording for the specific situation, but you should make a draft of what you would say in response to each of these situations and have it on hand, just in case,” he says. Bernstein says you should be able to post a response within an hour of any situation—timeliness is key.
Because weekends are when Internet trolls come to life, that’s when you’re most likely to get hit with a cyberattack. But weekends are also when most lawyers and public relations specialists are off duty. So do your prep work ahead of time, including getting a lawyer or public relations expert to look over your work.
Next, know that even if you “aren’t into that social media stuff,” your clients are. You must have a social media presence on all the major sites and use it to control your own message. Recruit loyal customers to give good reviews and boost your online presence. Bernstein says Facebook, Yelp and Google are still the biggest sites to watch, but up-and-coming sites like NextDoor and private Facebook groups are becoming major players in the reputation game.
Thankfully there are apps and third-party software applications that allow you to monitor your online reputation all in one platform. You can get notification anytime your practice name, your name and other identifiers are posted—allowing you to stay on top of posts as they happen.
“If you don’t know what people are saying, you don’t know how to react, and it’s nearly impossible to play catch-up,” says Bernstein. “If you don’t know about a review for a week, that is forever in the digital world.”
Bernstein has advised more than 100 veterinarians, and he currently works with about 30 veterinary clients to keep their reputation in check. “We have stopped the bleeding from so many crises because we caught them early,” he says.