Lawn signs, window clings, in-clinic posters – there are all kinds of wonderful ways to engage your clients when they’re in or near your clinic, but what about when they’re not? Sure, you have a website, but what are you doing to drive your clients there? You may feature your latest promotion or innovative service offering on your site, but if you don’t direct traffic to it, your clients will be none the wiser. Enter social media.
Granted, for many practice managers the thought of marketing a clinic using Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other popular social media platforms is daunting, but with a few simple tools, a fair bit of patience, and, best of all, no hard costs, I’m confident you’ll find the pay-off far outweighs the effort.
My first word of advice on tackling social media: don’t try to do everything at once. Click To Tweet  Take it step by step. Master one tool and one social media channel before applying or posting on the next. You might not have everything mastered next week or next month but by this time next year you’ll be doing this stuff in your sleep! And now, without further ado: A step-by-step guide to social media for veterinary professionals.
1. Plan your entire year in advance.
If you’re going to use social media, you’re going to need content! Chances are you already do something to mark a handful of annual industry-wide events, such as National Pet Dental Health Month in February, or National Heartworm Awareness Month in April. These events present great opportunities to engage with your clients, as do seasonal concerns like flea and tick prevention, customer appreciation events and more. Create a calendar and assign different topics to different months and weeks, so that you’re not flying by the seat of your pants trying to figure out what to talk about next. Keep in mind that not everything has to connect back to your practice website or something you’re doing within your clinic. Marketing isn’t just about building sales. It’s about building relationships. For content ideas, the AVMA Pet Health Awareness Events schedule  is a great starting point.
2. Create your content.
Research indicates that visual content is significantly more engaging than plain text. For example, an image of a dog scratching, accompanied by a headline that reads “Are you prepared for flea season?” will be far more effective than simply posting the words without an accompanying image. With that in mind, sign up with Canva  – an easy-to-use design tool that lets you create posts for all your social media channels effortlessly. The basic version of this tool is available for free. As time goes on, you may be tempted by some of the paid features that are available, but there’s absolutely no need to invest in these right away. The free version offers tons of free layouts, backgrounds, fonts and graphics that you can use to create attractive, eye-catching posts. You can even upload your own images or logo, for that matter, to really personalize your posts. In fact, how about sharing images of your clients’ pets (with permission, of course)? Who doesn’t love to see cute animal pics showing up in their Facebook feed?
3. Schedule your posts.
To get the greatest value out of your efforts, you’re going to want to post frequently (more on that in a moment). Of course, if you have to stop what you’re doing every hour or so to update your various social media pages, you’re not going to be very productive. Fortunately, there are several tools out there that allow you to create posts, save them, and schedule their deployment – in advance! I’m a big fan of Hootsuite . Hootsuite lets you manage up to three social media channels for free. Say, for example, you’re planning to use Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The free version is all you need. If you want to post to more channels – say, Pinterest, Google+ and YouTube – you’ll need to upgrade to a paid version. Within Hootsuite you can view your social media calendar by day, week or month. I like to view by month and then schedule at least two weeks of posts at a time.
How often you choose to post will depend on the social media channels you’re using and the engagement of your clients. To begin, I would recommend at least twice a day on Instagram, several times a day on Twitter, and at least once a day on Facebook. Don’t be afraid to share the same content across multiple social media platforms. Click To Tweet  Once you have a feel for the platforms that your clients primarily use, you can adjust your posting frequency accordingly.
Hootsuite offers analytics and a number of other great tools that can help you monitor traffic and engagement, and even track the success of marketing initiatives, but its scheduling feature is really its shining star for social media managers. All of this said, don’t hesitate to be spontaneous. If a cute patient walks in the door, take a snapshot (again, ask for permission) and post it along with a caption like, “Guess my name!” or “Guess my breed!” These types of posts are great for boosting engagement.
4. Find Support:
If you haven’t done so yet, join Veterinary Social Media: The Snout School Community  on Facebook. This Facebook group is a forum where veterinary professionals gather to ask questions about marketing, share social media posts they’re working on, request feedback from their peers, and more. Danielle K. Lambert is the group owner and a social media whiz! This group will fast become your go-to for content ideas, social media how-tos, advice on what to do if you get a bad online review  and more.
5. Manage engagement:
Remember, social media marketing is a two-way street. Click To Tweet  You’re trying to open a dialogue with your clients. Responding to their comments – good or bad – is every bit as important as posting. Once you have your social media posts under control, download the necessary apps to your phone and set alerts to ensure you’re notified when somebody leaves a comment. The sooner you respond, the better. These alerts will allow you to respond in a timely manner.
Overwhelmed? Don’t be. Remember, it’s okay to start off slow. This month, you might want to simply focus on posting regularly to Facebook and managing engagement. Next month, you might want to add Twitter to the mix. The following month, give the free version of Hootsuite a go, and then continue to build at your own pace. Also, keep in mind that millennials were born with smartphones in their hands! Social media comes naturally to them, so consider reaching out to one of your millennial employees for help.
Want to measure your success? Say you promote heartworm examinations through your social channels. Simply look at your clinic’s revenue for these exams following the promotion period, and compare your numbers to same period last year to see how effective your efforts were. And no need to do it manually. You can track a number of key performance indicators effortlessly, including revenue by professional service, with the help of VetSuccess Practice Overview Reports .
If you have any questions or comments, I’d love to hear from you. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org .