Digital business cards can be actual business cards shared electronically, allowing the recipient to use a QR code to find out more about you or your practice. The other type of digital business card is more symbolic, but still used by people to form opinions and make decisions about you and your practice. This digital business card is your personal and professional brand.
The digital footprint we leave online leaves lasting effects. Our digital footprints follow us, and with consideration, we can use this valuable social proofing tool to successfully share your practice’s values and services with the world. There are a few pitfalls to be mindful of when having a business online digital social presence, as well as a personal one.
Free speech online?
We all cherish our core freedoms, and one of our hallmark liberties is our freedom of speech. We enjoy the freedom to speak our minds without fear of retaliation, censorship, or legal sanction. This amendment holds in most of our lives and interactions, except on social media platforms, and there seems to be debates and confusion.
According to Brett M. Pinkus, partner at Wick, Phillips, Gould & Martin, LLP, in his article, “The Limits of Free Speech in Social Media,” “Lawsuits alleging free speech violations against social media companies are routinely dismissed. The primary grounds for these dismissals are that social media companies are not state actors and their platforms are not public forums. Therefore, they are not subject to the free speech protections of the First Amendment. Consequently, those who post on social media platforms do not have the right to free speech on these social media platforms.”
When you share your information about yourself and your personal or political opinions online, it all becomes fodder for debate and criticism. Your opinions are not protected. Not only are they not protected, but there have been recent examples of accounts being censored and shut down. I am familiar with a social media account that was restricted for several days because they commented on a meme that made fun of dogs afraid of fireworks. The comment was in jest about wanting to ‘punch’ the meme, and the page was restricted due to ‘violent threats.’ There have also been cases of people losing jobs or being “canceled” professionally because they have shared their personal opinions.
Trial by social media
In an ideal world, we would be able to have our opinions, freely share them, still be business owners and entrepreneurs, and be separate from our work and business. This is not the case in the real world, and we should be aware of how the words and images we share will impact our ability to earn a living. This is also the case for employees that work within the practice, which could affect the reputation of the practice because of the association.
Consider what you post and share online and what opinions could be formed from those interactions. As a manager and a business owner, I favor transparency; when we share about ourselves, we educate our potential clients. I believe there is an argument to be made about our clients self-selecting based on what they do and do not like about us. Just use caution and teach caution to your team.
Social media influences hiring
People looking for jobs can and will be checked out online. Switching gears away from the practice perspective, consider the job seeker’s opportunities and risks when interacting on social platforms. As managers from an HR perspective, we are not allowed to consider social media platforms when hiring new candidates.
The risk of exposure to information possibly leading to discrimination is too significant. This sounds like it is okay for someone needing the nitty-gritty about someone else, but it is a dangerous place if you are in management. The number of times I have been educated about other people in the industry from what coworkers and colleagues have learned online is high. I did not go out seeking it myself, but it was learned nonetheless. This scenario would play out after an observation or a practice tour during the interview. My team would see the candidate and then get dirt on them, or they had firsthand knowledge of them. Veterinary medicine is a small world, as we all know.
The unfortunate truth is that any dirt found originated from none other than the person’s social media posts and pages. Team members and future coworkers will weigh in on the decision to have you join their team, and what is known about you on and offline will come into play. This is the reality of it. No one wants to bring trouble into the team, and sharing what is known will happen.
Posts are shared
The use of private groups and communities within social media is beneficial and sometimes cathartic. Being a part of a private group with a unifying theme or bond gives a “safe” space to chat about the things that may frustrate the collective. The issue is not everyone lives by the same set of ethics.
Sharing screenshots has been a problem in some of the groups I am a member of and those I admin. While I do not know the hearts and minds of everyone who shares posts from a private group, I would want to give them the benefit of the doubt, however misguided. I have read posts about screenshots concerning industry reps being shared with the rep in question and the practice’s commercial relationship being impacted.
Some shared posts have led to greater incidences of cyberbullying and threats. Sharing posts and conversations from within private groups on social media is often restricted, but there is no true punitive action other than blocking the person from the group. In the compassion fatigue group online that I admin, we had a case of a screenshot being shared amongst colleagues of a person who sought support, and they were bullied and harassed. It was heartbreaking that a place created to support our fellow veterinary professionals in moments when they were struggling was not a psychologically safe place anymore.
The harsh truth is there is no safe space online until we as an industry begin to respect one another in this way. Until then, private communities will not be completely private and should be thought of in the same way as regular platform pages, regardless of your privacy settings.
One final thought regarding the risks of online speech and sharing information: Consider what risks you face by listing your place of employment on your profiles. The practice risks the acts of their team members having a direct impact on their reputation.
Someone who says or does something negative will be tied to the practice if they have it listed. In reverse, the team member can also be setting themselves up for additional trouble if a disgruntled client or former employee targets their place of work. There is also an added risk of personal privacy being exploited by former or future team members who may be doing some online sleuthing about you. Do not make it easy for people to use your words against you!
Digital business cards for brand benefits
The value of having and using a digital presence to build relationships with clients or find fantastic new hires for your practice far outweighs to risks, in my mind. I restrict what I do and do not share online. I am also very aware people filter what they do and do not share online, so I take it with a grain of salt.
Social media and digital communications are extremely powerful tools. It is invaluable to educate pet owners on proper pet care, proper nutrition, effective disease management, or anything else they struggle with. Social media is hard to measure. It is hard to show a direct correlation or causation of the social media efforts online to that of clients who come in the door.
We should train our clients to count on us as resources for their research on their pets’ health conditions and ensuring we are coming to mind when they are ready to make their pets’ appointments.
Here are six ways of creating content to nurture relationships with your present and future clients.
- Share info readers find valuable.
- Educate people on your services and why they are essential.
- Educate your clients on diseases and conditions affecting pets often. Be the online resource!
- Keep your social media pages clear of opinionated hot-topic/hot-button issues that could get in the way of great patient care. Patient care is job one.
- As a brand, share information about the types of work you do, products you provide, or the types of work you would like to be doing. This will help your clients self-select for your practice.
- Create actual digital business cards using QR codes, Linktree, or social media channels to allow people to find more information about you and your brand quickly. Lead them to the resources online you want them to find that you have more control over.
This is the same type of advice I offer to anyone interested in changing jobs or developing a personal or professional brand. The brand would be yourself at this point. You must remember to protect your brand when sharing information online, especially if your brand is YOU. Authenticity and integrity are vitally important, and I am swayed more by this than anything, and I am no different than most people. We can all spot a fake.
Dishonesty and “filtering” your life to present a façade that is not real will get you caught quicker than anything else. People will tell the truth about you. They will out you as a fake. Your brand and persona are worthy as they stand; they don’t need to be embellished online.
Starting with a sense of clarity about your brand and what you want to share online is the biggest hurdle most people face when planning what to post online. Here are a few tasks that help you gain and maintain your practice’s brand clarity:
- Write a mission statement for your social media content, reminding you of who you reach, what you want to reach them about, and how you hope to accomplish this task.
- Brainstorm and list everything you know about your particular topic or brand.
- Make a list of the most common breeds seen in your practice.
- Make a list of the most common diseases and health conditions treated in practice.
- Make a list of the treatments for common diseases and conditions.
If you are a personal brand, here are a few ideas for you to help you reach brand clarity:
- Write a mission statement for your brand. Identify who you want to reach or work with, what you want to do to help them, and how you will accomplish that task.
- Brainstorm everything you know about your niche, your audience, and your solutions.
- Make a list of questions people frequently ask you for help on.
- Make a list of answers and solutions you commonly offer when asked for help.
- Make a list of services you would like to provide.
Your brand, regardless of how you use it, is your digital business card. The digital collateral you create and share online, whether intentional or not, will impact what people think of you. Be aware of what you share.
Whether changing jobs, changing fields, changing geography, or creating change in vet med, veterinary professionals can use their online influence to help themselves and others. Still, their online personas can also negatively impact these significant changes.
Rhonda Bell, CVPM, CCFP, CDMP, is the founder and co-owner of Dog Days Consulting, a social media and brand management company.