Second of two parts:
Social media are evolving rapidly, and their power can help you drive more website and front-door traffic.
Earning a social media audience is not difficult. It is fun and effective, but it does take time and an understanding of the tools. In order to decrease the time commitment, many veterinarians are very successfully using a trusted staff member to help them in their social media communications.
To make this simple, let’s take a look at six tools that can be used to earn an audience and drive them “home.”
Today, most people will visit your website before ever visiting you in person. Ninety-six percent of the predominant generation (Gen Y) has a social media profile and 71 percent of them has two or more. Consumers of all generations are joining the social media world and using the Web for research, finding recommendations and evaluating a business. The power of a great website and building a social network cannot be overstated.
Consequently your home on the ’Net—your hospital website or blog—is your Web foundation. All the other audience-building activities will lead visitors there. Your Web home is where you tell people about yourself, show off your facility and proudly invite users to visit you in person.
Your website should be professional, functional and fun to visit time and again.
A good website for a veterinary hospital should cost about $5,000 on average to build. The design, construction and hosting should be done by a professional, and you should have excellent user controls over small details and editing. The site should allow you to build and maintain a database. Of course, the more functions you have, the higher the cost.
Founded in 2004, Facebook is now the largest and most popular social network in the world. Facebook has more than 400 million users, half of whom log in every day. It is very social, friendly and informal.
You should first create a personal profile, then build one for your practice. Business profiles are called Fan Pages and can attract many “friends” or “fans.”
What do you do with a Facebook page? Use it to say things that would be interesting to your clients and potential clients. Post photos of interesting cases, link to your blog, announce what you are doing for the community and offer your opinion on news. Fans will gather, enjoy and appreciate your involvement. Many will come see you as new clients!
A blog is simply a Web log—in other words, a column on the Internet. They have become extremely popular over the past seven years. Writing a blog is a commitment to your audience, just as writing a column for the local newspaper is a commitment to the publisher. While it is a time investment, it can be a powerful tool in influencing people. Many do it as a hobby and others use the tool to drive website traffic and become a source of new clients.
Blogging allows you to humanize your business, improve client service, promote your profession and offer client education. Be brief and visual. Link to interesting sites, comment on other blogs and share a link to your blog in your e-mail signature. All this interconnectivity helps build your audience.
LinkedIn is a mostly business and professional site begun in 2003 and with more than 55 million users. About 600,000 new accounts are created each week.
An outstanding professional connection site, it is essentially a giant database of professionals from all walks of life and from all around the world. LinkedIn is a great research and connection tool. It is also your online resume and gives you the ability to demonstrate your expertise.
You will want to create a profile and fill out each section as completely as possible. Use a good “head shot” photo and update your status weekly. Invite people to connect with you, which expands your degrees of connectivity.
Link to your hospital website and even your blog site. Once you have set up a profile, search for my page (Dr. Jim Humphries), and send me an invitation to connect. My profile offers various slide presentations on media training, and you will immediately expand your network to more 2 million third-level connections.
Twitter is called a “micro-blog.” Each entry is about the length of a sentence or two (140 characters maximum). These “tweets” are posted into a constant stream of micro-blogs. To make it usable, you “follow” a person on Twitter. On your home page you see tweets only from the people you follow.
This is a fairly new social media tool. It began as a mobile-based application and therefore has a younger demographic. Users feel as though they are “life-casting” to a community with which they feel highly connected.
Many professionals do not know how to use the tool to drive business, but experts agree that an understanding of and use of Twitter can generate good traffic to your website, your Facebook page or your blog. In this way, it is yet another method of social influencing and audience building.
Internet forums are an extremely popular and time-tested tool of expert question-and-answer functionality. These highly interactive sites allow users to participate in both asking and answering questions.
Forums are a great way to enter social media—the software interfaces are simple and users are very grateful for information and resources. They are highly searchable and you will find them fun and useful for any interest you have, either as a user or an expert.
Visit PetDocsOnCall.com to see an example of a great forum. To find any number of other forum sites, simply Google the subject and “forums.” For example: “motorcycle forums,” “veterinary forums,” etc.
A complete understanding of how these tools work is not needed to begin using them. Find these sites, set up profiles and begin to participate. Over time, your comfort level and understanding will grow and your participation will build along with your audience.
I would encourage you to join the Veterinary News Network at MyVNN.com. It is free and we provide traditional and new media resources and training.
Internet communications and interactivity are the future of communications, education and marketing. Social media networking is a huge part of that power. Dive in and watch the positive results!
Jim Humphries, BS, DVM, is president of the Veterinary News Network and executive director of the American Society of Veterinary Journalists. He is a 1977 graduate of the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine. He spent the past 25 years in all types of public media.
This article first appeared in the July 2010 issue of Veterinary Practice News. Click here to become a subscriber.
|Part 1 of 2: Profit from the Social Media Evolution|