Without a doubt, we’re in a social age. Facebook, Twitter, blogs and websites have opened up communication around the globe like nothing before.
Sure, these online gathering places are great fun—a way to reconnect with old friends and relax. But have you thought about how they can also greatly improve your relationships with existing clients, while bringing new clients into your practice?
Kelly Deewall, DVM, Ashland, Kan., and Marybeth Miskovic Feutz, DVM, MS, Ph.D., Diplomate American College Veterinary Internal Medicine, Princeton, Ind., say social media has taken their client relationships and education to a new level.
By following a few simple tips, they say your clinic can find great success, too.
Feutz, a board-certified large animal internal medicine specialist, says veterinary medicine runs in the family. Her husband, John, and his father, Jim, co-own the Princeton Veterinary Hospital in Princeton. A mixed animal practice, their clientele consists of about 80 percent small animal and 20 percent large animal clients.
Outside of their practice, the Feutzs are both involved in the Indiana Veterinary Medicine Association, with John currently serving as vice president of the organization.
Deewall is one of four veterinarians practicing at the Ashland Veterinary Center in Ashland. The clinic cares for small animals; horses; and cow-calf, stocker and feedlot operations, with the cow-calf operations comprising the majority of their clientele.
Both say social media has helped to increase the relationships with and education of their clients.
Feutz has spent much time in the blogging world and now manages two blogs daily. The first, Alarm Clock Wars (www.alarmclockwars.com), began two years ago.
“Literally, this began as a way for me to track how I was doing, getting up in the morning. I’ve always had battles with my alarm clock,” she says with a laugh. “But it’s turned into more than that. I have a blast with it. Currently, my husband and I are in the middle of a giant home renovation, and I feature what’s going on with that. But I also talk about anything and everything concerning the farm; a calf being born, anything and everything. The good and the bad.”
She began her second blog, AgriCultured (www.agricultured.org), as an agricultural advocacy project just a few months ago. Through this blog, Feutz focuses on consumers’ questions regarding livestock and food production.
“I am trying to be neutral, explaining to consumers what happens on the farm,” she says. “I see it as a way to generate positive information, as opposed to all of the negative information that is so easy to find.”
On this blog, Feutz focuses on new topics each week, including dairy, beef, pork and grain production.
“I plan for it to grow organically, and build with time,” she says. “I’d like for it to be a one-stop shopping place for all things agriculture.”
Feutz and Deewall say Facebook has been a tremendous tool for driving traffic to their websites and blogs. And ultimately, Deewall says, she believes it helps to drive clients through their clinic doors. She sees the site as a great form of free advertising.
“We’re getting a lot of free exposure, and it’s great,” Deewall says. “Once, we had a calf born with seven legs, and we shared pictures of it. Our state senator shared it on his page. We had lots of crazy exposure we wouldn’t normally get.”
When the clinic’s posts are shared, Deewall says their clinic—and beef production, in general—is being exposed to the friends of their followers.
“We believe we’re educating people on beef production, and maybe are changing a bad perception about the industry,” she says. “We’re reaching a broader base for the beef industry, and we’re doing something good.”
In order to drive traffic to her blogs and maintain relationships with her readers, Feutz utilizes Facebook business pages, as well (www.facebook.com/agriculturedblog and www.facebook.com/alarmclockwars).
“Through Facebook, I’ve had great success and engagement with my readers,” Feutz says. “Every time I write a blog post, it automatically feeds onto my Facebook page.”
However, in addition to linking to blog posts, she says she also tries to provide unique information on the Facebook page that readers can’t get on the blog.
“In order to make Facebook work, you must tie your blog posts back to Facebook,” she says. “But also, you need to provide information on the Facebook page that they’re not getting on the website. This will keep them coming back to your Facebook page.”
For her Alarm Clock Wars page, this means posting several times a week with new updates on the remodeling project, while showing a “color of the day” on Facebook only, she says.
Deewall says keeping information current is key to her clinic’s social media success, as well. She attempts to post updates to the clinic Facebook page at least every few days, if not every day.
In addition to providing intriguing information, Deewall says quality photos are also a “must.”
“We say a picture is worth a thousand words on Facebook,” she says. “We post about interesting cases or patients, or link to new cases or products. Photos draw people in, and our followers share our posts with their friends.”
In addition to educating clients, Deewall says these posts also let their fans know all the services their clinic provides.
“It has opened the eyes of people as to what we do,” she says. “They’ll say, ‘I didn’t know you did that. I didn’t even know that was possible.’”
Posting these “sharable moments” on Facebook is a great way to build followers to your page, Feutz says.
“The American Veterinary Medicine Association does a great job of putting out news stories on their Facebook page (www.facebook.com/avmavets),” Feutz says. “That’s an easy way for vets to add content to their Facebook page—by sharing their stories on your veterinary practice’s page. And people eat that stuff up— especially the ‘warm and fuzzy’ stories.”
Deewall says she often shares posts from DVM360.com’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/dvm360).
When the veterinary practice shares these stories, their fans will often share the stories to their page. And, that “share” will link back to you, Feutz says.
“It’s a great way to help build your following,” she says.
Building your following is critical. And you must always keep your key audience in mind.
Feutz says it’s important to remember the geographic nature of your veterinary practice, and hone your Facebook and blog content accordingly.
“Veterinary practices tend to be geographic,” she says. “We won’t have clients coming to our practice in southern Indiana from northern Illinois. We see a lot of fungal diseases in dogs here, but that’s not necessarily a large concern in northern Illinois. You want to talk to the people who will come into your door and spend money with you. If you’re not building clients, you’re wasting your time.”
It’s also important to let your current clients know you’re in the social world, Feutz says.
“You can print at the bottom of your receipts to visit your website or Facebook page,” she says. “Also, make sure it’s on your business cards and appointment cards. And, if it’s a brand new website, make a big deal about it. Put up signs and make sure your receptionists and techs are telling customers.”
It’s also important to remember that Facebook is “social” media for a reason, Feutz says.
“Facebook is geared toward starting a discussion,” Feutz says. “Don’t ask a question and then not respond. Be down in the trenches talking with them —not at them. You’re not broadcasting what you know from a mountaintop.”
And, to ensure that communication occurs, Deewall says a practice should designate one person to monitor Facebook comments and make posts.
“It doesn’t take a lot of time, but you want to police the comments at least once a day to stay on top of that,” she says. “Don’t have everyone in the practice able to post. Just have a couple of people in charge. It’s a little easier to keep a handle of it, that way.”
Scheduling routine updates can also help to build your clinic’s following.
“If you post religiously for a year, you will get some traction and traffic and see some return,” Feutz says. “But if you only post once a month, no one will pay attention. They won’t see your information as new or fresh, and it won’t bring them into your clinic.”
However, she says, there a fine line between posting enough and too often.
“More is not always better,” Feutz says. “If you post too often, people will get tired of reading it all. If you’re not seeing new clients, maybe you’re not posting enough or are irritating them by posting too often. You need to evaluate who you’re talking to and continually evaluate your strategy.”
Feutz posts on her blogs three times a week, and once daily on Facebook and Twitter.
While Facebook is an incredible tool, don’t underestimate the power of an effective website or blog, as well.
Feutz says a dynamic website is critical for any veterinary practice.
“Especially in this day and age, a boring website that hasn’t changed in three years just won’t cut it,” she says. “It’s important to have a web presence, and one that is updated.”
And, she says, a blog can be greatly beneficial to a veterinary practice, as well. However, you first must ensure you have a person to manage it.
“You need to have someone who can write, who has knowledge and who has the time,” she says.
A blog is the perfect place to educate clients about the seasonal issues facing their livestock and domestic animals, Feutz says.
“In the small animal world in the spring, mosquitoes begin to come out and we enter heartworm season,” she says. “You could write a series, then, about how heartworms are transmitted; how it progresses in a dog; how you treat it; how you prevent it; and why it’s important to work with your vet.”
Because of the seasonality, Feutz says, developing an editorial calendar can be simple.
And, she says, enabling “comments” on your blog posts is a tremendous way to continue the conversation with clients. Once again, you must also ensure you’re responding to their comments and questions to keep them engaged.
Regardless of the method you choose for your clinic, the best advice is to give it a shot.