Like most of us in the veterinary community, I’m trained as a medical professional but am always making decisions on topics they didn’t teach in veterinary school. I wonder how many of us have ever felt like uttering that famous Dr. McCoy line from the original “Star Trek”?
“Dammit, Jim! I’m a doctor, not a [fill in the blank]!”
The list of things that could go in that blank can get very long indeed. For example, many veterinarians struggle with finances, personally and as business owners. I was lucky in a way that my mother was a successful business owner, and I have long been interested in the business of veterinary medicine as well as the medicine. But that’s certainly not true of many colleagues, who struggle silently with finances and worry endlessly. That’s what we found out when we worked with Veterinary Economics on our veterinary Financial Health Study in 2014.
But even those of us who run practices very well and make good financial decisions may not seem so comfortable handling or judging digital marketing through websites and social media.
I get that. Although as Chief Veterinary Officer for Nationwide I’ve looked at a lot of brochures, posters, ads and websites, only in the last couple of years did I start using social media. And I felt a bit frustrated and lost at first.
But I’ve looked around, listened, read and learned, and started seeing some trends for what works and what doesn’t. I started writing this post more than a year ago, after spending part of a day looking at the online presence of a few dozen veterinary practices. I put the topic aside because I wasn’t feeling confident in what I thought I was seeing. I picked this post back up after watching Drs. Andy Roark and Dave Nichols do a sort of “lightning round” dissection of veterinary websites and Facebook pages during a talk at the CVC-KC. Because, yes, they were confirming something I’d noticed myself.
What they discussed was the idea of wasting your “prime real estate” with a picture of the exterior of your practice. I don’t remember which of them made the observation, but this is a point well-taken: “Unless you’re an architect, you shouldn’t use a picture of a building.”
Yes, indeed. Because a good picture’s worth a thousand clicks. No matter how proud you are of your building, it’s just not that exciting to clients and prospective clients. But cute pets always are!
So what should you have as the lead image for your website or Facebook page? A sharp, well-lit image of a happy pet, with an uncluttered background that’s still identifiable as a veterinary practice — ideally, yours! If your photography skills — or anyone’s in your practice, or among your friends and family — aren’t worthy of the challenge, hire someone to take good images that you can use not only in the digital space, but also in any print matter you have produced for your marketing. This is not a time for a bad smartphone image!
If your skills aren’t good AND your budget is too tight, you can use stock photography. There are any number of inexpensive stock image sites, and once you’re on them, search for “veterinarian” and other terms such as “happy” and “cat” or “smiling” and dog.”
Be aware that (in my experience) many of the images are overused (like anything with this dog and cat in it, or this dog, pictures I see at any veterinary conference, or in so many ads and brochures). And you should always take a real close look at the details, to make sure the canine or feline model is a picture of good health, well-groomed right down to the toenails of the dogs, which in many piece of stock photography are sadly overgrown! For dogs, avoid unnecessary controversy by making sure the animal is wearing a clean, safe flat-collar (not a prong or slip-chain), and for both dogs and cats, choose images of animals who are relaxed and happy.
What are you doing with that stethoscope?
No veterinarian or veterinary technician would miss such a detail, but be sure handling of the pets and of equipment is accurate. I find myself laughing at some stock images, in which the “veterinarian” has her stethoscope on wrong, or is “listening” to a part of the animal where no veterinary professional ever would! Yes, it’s important to look at the details!
Beyond that … follow your heart. The happy, healthy pet image that appeals to you is probably going to appeal to other animal-lovers as well. That picture of your building? Sure, you can still use it, but just not as your largest or dominant images on website or social media page.
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