Use of social media in the veterinary practice
So-called “social media” are currently very popular and one gets the impression that (almost) everybody is permanently connected to their mobile devices in order to exchange information and opinions. It is no longer possible to imagine day-to-day life without Facebook, Twitter and many other platforms and the fact that they facilitate a very particular, dynamic way of generating and exchanging thoughts and data across great distances.
Users of social networks are no longer “just” information-consumers, they are increasingly becoming information-designers and opinion-makers, building up a high level of influence by constantly exchanging and evaluating information about certain events, services and products. Participants’ posts on certain services – especially as genuine ’users‘, compare notes there – and are for many people, more believable and trustworthy than statements made by the companies themselves about their own services or products. It is the difference between marketing and P.R.
If one observes this dynamism and expansion of social media, then of course the question arises as to whether these platforms can also be used for veterinary practices and if so, how?
Fundamental considerations about social media
First of all it is essential, even if a practice decides against actively using social media, to nonetheless check regularly what opinions are circulating about them on the Internet; how the practice is portrayed there; what is said about competing veterinary practices and how other practices in the neighbourhood utilise social media. This kind of monitoring enables the practice to extract some useful information, such as:
• Which clients are engaged in the different social media platforms?
• Which veterinarians and practices are engaged in social media?
• What is being praised?
• What is being criticised?
Using this mix of opinions, the practice can extract the information which is relevant and use it to improve its service and client communication. For example, this means approaching clients, who have expressed a positive opinion and reinforcing this in a targeted manner. It also involves actively dealing with negative opinions and clients by engaging in conflict management. It should be the practice’s goal to eliminate any negative image, which has built up on the Internet as quickly and as effectively as possible.
The second consideration is to find out whether your target group, i.e. your clients, use social media and if they do, on which platforms? This plays an important part as it is imperative to restrict active usage to the media where you will encounter your clients. You don’t always have to use the largest networks, such as Facebook and Twitter for the practice. In every country there are numerous smaller networks within which very specific groups of people move, and these could potentially be of interest to a veterinary practice.
As an example of an interesting and new platform for a specific group you can go to: www.unitedcats.com. This is a platform especially designed for the needs of cat owners and lovers and shows how social media can be used in a very enticing way.
Thirdly, it is essential to consider what the practice’s goal is by taking part in social media. The question as to what you aim to achieve is key in shaping the practice’s presence in the new media. Social media can, for example, increase the level of awareness of the practice or clinic; specific offers can be displayed and advertised there, and clients can be canvassed to give their opinion on specific topics in small surveys.
Organisation and usage of social media
If you have taken the fundamental decision to participate in social media and the goals are clear, then resources need to be planned. That raises the question as to who is going to be responsible for planning, installation and maintenance.
Participating in social media should not be an experiment; it should be carefully planned and implemented. If the practice does not have its own know-how and manpower in order to design interesting, current and interactive platforms, there are agencies that can take on this role. The advantage of this is that the professionals can approach the implementation in a fast and professional way and can work with the subject matter on an ongoing basis, whereas a practice team would first have to undergo laborious training and the result may well turn out less than optimal. Professional media agencies can act in an advisory capacity and by selecting suitable networks and their different tools, in the complex world arena, can elicit the best results for a business.
Monitoring success, i.e. measuring the results of a social media campaign can be difficult because of the fact that software tools are not yet optimally developed in every area. However, this will definitely change with appropriate developments and then monitoring, feedback and analysis of the extracted data on the social media activities of a business will become a matter of course. But until then a practice has to very carefully consider if the time invested in this media is really worthwhile – not knowing if and how this investment will be rewarded (financially, positive image etc.).
Paradigm change in the social web
In the age of the Web 2.0 with its mobile devices, a paradigm change has taken place: ’Target groups‘ have evolved to conversational partners, ’communication channels‘ have become meeting platforms and ’messages‘ have become topics of conversation. A business needs to actively follow this development and adapt its communication goals appropriately.
This is because the interactive nature of the new and faster media requires a completely different type of communication than businesses have previously adopted. Platforms in social media must, if they are to be done professionally, be up to date and designed with a very personal and authentic style of communication. ’Content is king‘ applies here, i.e. those sites that carry attractive content from the clients’ point of view win the fight for users. Attraction to a site is solely generated by the users’ perceived benefits from using it.
If a practice wants to position itself in social media, then the following steps are sensible:
• Analysis of social media: where are your target groups active?
• Setting goals: what do you want to achieve with a practice presence?
- What benefits can you generate for your participants?
- What tools can you use for this?
• Resource analysis:
- Can the practice install and operate its own social media platform, i.e. does it have sufficient knowhow and manpower?
- Is the involvement of an external media agency sensible and necessary?
• Implementing, maintaining and controlling activities in social media.