Social media. Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter or any of the many social media platforms, people (including your clients) are using them to interact with their friends and family about their daily lives, including their pets. How can your veterinary practice start using social media to interact with existing clients and develop new client relationships?
Reasons to Use Social Media to Build Relationships
According to Forbes, whether it’s the medical, financial and automotive industries, more and more companies are using social media to let people “share their story” and gain feedback from their customers. This helps them better understand their customers. When it comes to building relationships with clients, Diane Rayfield, founder of Chicago, Ill.-based full-service social media agency Harp Social, explained that social media is the perfect tool to accomplish this.
“If a vet office or an animal hospital was to use social media, there would be different benefits they could gain from that,” Rayfield said. “One would be to develop relationships with their current clientele as well as gain awareness with new or potential audiences. They can also gain trust and authority using social media.”
While there are numerous social media platforms, Rayfield recommends Facebook as a good starting platform. Animal hospitals can use Facebook’s image-focused posts to let “friends” gain insight on a practice’s happenings. Photos can feature physicians, pets or medical specialties of the practice. A great way for vet practices to interact is to have veterinarians post a picture of their patients.
Leveraging Facebook and Twitter: How Often to Post
Rayfield recommends only posting once or twice a day at the most for Facebook. She also cautioned against making posts too long even though there’s no limit to Facebook’s posts. She recommended to test posts at different times throughout the day to see which ones get the best responses.
For tweets, Fast Company pointed out that 71 to 100 characters is the best length to share a substantive message, to permit mobile users to easily read the Tweet and to let users respond with ample space.
“With Twitter, it’s been compared to a firehose of information that’s real time. It moves fast … you can really tweet multiple times a day, three, four to eight times a day. [That] would not be unrealistic,” Rayfield said. “Twitter is very social … when you @ mention people, it gets their attention and you can start conversations that way.”
Leveraging Facebook and Twitter: How and What to Post
Posting helpful articles in Facebook and Twitter also helps businesses develop trust and authority with their users. As Rayfield said, “there’s something called 3rd-party content.” These articles can come from your own practice’s website or blog, but equally information can come from reputable sources.
An example she gave included tweeting out or making a Facebook post that includes a link from the American Veterinary Medical Association on why giving your dog heartworm medication is important for your dog’s health. Even though it’s not from your practice’s website, it builds authority and awareness with your practice with social media users. It demonstrates that your practice can be trusted because it provides information from a reputable knowledge source.
Rayfield also pointed out that using hashtags (#) with Twitter posts can increase its visibility with current followers and fans. It can also increase the likelihood of it getting retweeted to your followers’ followers. This can help your practice reach Twitter users you would otherwise not be able to reach. The hashtag symbol, used in conjunction with a word, according to Twitter, acts the same way a keyword works in a search engine like Google does – it helps your account get found by like-minded social media users.
“You’ll want to use a hashtag around the type of category you’re posting,” Rayfield said. For example, she suggested using #dogs, #Dogmonth or #NationalVaccinationMonth or whatever is timely and relevant to the post to garner interest. By simply using a hashtag, according to The Moz Blog, Twitter accounts gain, on average, 2 percent more followers.
When users become comfortable with your social media presence and start following Facebook feeds and Twitter feeds, they can take the next step to reach out to your practice, whether or not they have been to your practice.
Public and Private Communications
Whether existing clients sign up for your Facebook or someone not connected with your practice finds your Facebook page, it can start or keep building a relationship. According to Rayfield, it helps build on-going customer relationships because they can check-in to see new practice-related posts, videos and informational articles.
Fans can reach out to your practice publicly by commenting on posts or through private messaging to ask a question, get advice or even make an appointment. Twitter permits public conversations through public Tweets or private Direct Message features.
Tying it All Together
Rayfield puts it best on the perfect mix of promotional and informational content. “You don’t want to be too promotional on Twitter, or on any of the social networks. There’s the unwritten 80/20 rule … 20 percent of your content can be perhaps promotional or self-serving … the other 80 percent should be helpful, should be conversational, should be conversational, should be retweets.”