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Protect Your Online Reputation

It’s difficult enough to build your veterinary hospital’s brand without having to worry about rock-throwers attacking your reputation on the Web.

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It’s difficult enough to build your veterinary hospital’s brand without having to worry about rock-throwers attacking your reputation on the Web.

The growth of online communities means anyone can undermine your hard work to build a positive practice brand. Many pet owners look online for veterinary hospitals and rely on others’ opinions when deciding where to take their pets.

Satisfied clients rarely go out of their way to let others know they’re happy. Those with a bone to pick, no matter how small, tend to make an effort to share their dissatisfaction and  they usually use high-profile online forums.

Key people who can hurt your online reputation include:

• Customers who feel poorly treated;
• Disgruntled employees seeking to publicly air their grievances;
• Unhappy vendors with unresolved disputes.

Negative reviews and comments about a hospital are likely to turn up on websites such as Yelp.com, AngiesList.com, InsiderPages.com, and many more. They also can be found on blogs, Facebook, and a host of other social media websites.

According to Yelp.com, as of December 41 million visitors browsed 15 million reviews, on which readers can comment, in just 30 days. That’s a lot of opinions.

Hospitals need a defense against the online chatter. Allowing negative reviews to stand is a huge mistake—especially those that are hyperbolic or untrue.

What You Can Do

One may feel overwhelmed by the task, but specific steps can protect and enhance the online reputation of a practice. They include:

Establish an online reputation management process: Online Reputation Management should not be a haphazard, ad hoc activity for your practice. Whether a single-doctor veterinary hospital or a multi-department specialty center, hospitals need to establish a protocol for monitoring and reacting to negative reviews and comments.

A response needs to be appropriate and proportional to the review. Don’t react emotionally or risk inflaming a grievance and starting a public argument. Instead, focus on resolving the conflict and removing the offending comments.

Consider hiring an online reputation management firm: Most veterinary hospital owners are too busy to manage these matters on their own. There are professionals who can monitor the Web for mentions of a practice and also have the relationships and skills to ensure that negative reviews and comments are removed, or at least dulled. Fees vary widely depending on the depth of service, as well as the size and scope of a veterinary practice. Monthly charges can range from $20 to $300, and even as high as $15,000 per year, so shop around.

Consider purchasing online reputation management software: Several good software products, such as Google.com/alerts, Technorati.com, Keotag.com, Blog Patrol, and ReputationDefender.com, are designed to conduct thorough searches of the Internet for mentions of specific tag words, and then report the findings.

Seek out the site administrator: If a review is posted on a site such as Yelp.com, let the administrator know when you are displeased. Make it clear why you would like to see the problem addressed. Offer a succinct and accurate solution. And again, seek resolution, not retribution.
 Remember, these sites depend on accurate and credible reviews to remain successful. If reviews are mudslinging contests, consumers will go elsewhere for information. Through positive and productive communication with the administrator, you are helping to maintain the integrity of their website.

Be honest: Research why the client felt mistreated. It may be that he or she has a point. Offering an apology and a discount or credit may smooth out rough feelings. Your efforts may lead to a revision of the review that positively reflects your efforts.

Handle the issue privately: There are exceptions, but it is in your best interest to try managing the issue privately. A string of charges and counter charges, even a courteous public airing of the issue, is not in your best interest. If you need to respond publicly, keep to the facts, be honest about the issue, and plainly seek positive resolution. If you are to blame, apologize. If the review is inaccurate, state your view without embellishment. Readers are usually savvy enough to see your point of view.

If you respond publicly: If the site administrator or reviewer refuses to talk with you or remove the comment, respond in the comments section. Again, be polite, succinct and honest. Remember, you are not just addressing the negative comment, but all of the people who read what you have to say.

In the case of blogs: Bloggers also depend on credibility. If they get it wrong, they are most likely to correct a misstatement. Reputable blogs enforce rules of integrity in their comments section and remove the dishonest or over-the-top ones.

Receiving a negative review doesn’t feel good, especially if there is some merit to it. Yet, these are learning opportunities. The point is to sharpen the appeal of your practice and improve your brand. If people consistently complain about your website, listen to them and fix it. If they complain about your service, improve how you handle clients. 

Dr. Feltz was in practice from 1979 to 2002. He now owns VetNetwork LLC in Dover, N.H.

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