Know your communications goals before you go ‘social’

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As a person who only recently started using social media (here I am on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, just in case you don’t believe me), I understand the reluctance many of us in the veterinary profession feel when it comes to new ways of communicating.

I heard a roomful of veterinarians at The NAVC gasp when Dr. Dave Nicol talked about sending marketing messages by text to the smartphones of clients without clearing this form of communication with them first.  Hands flew up and protests were immediate, but Dr. Nicol insisted that in the UK, text-messaging from businesses is pretty commonplace. I’m going to believe him on that score, but I’m not going to recommend that on this side of “the pond” we start texting clients who haven’t given us their permission.

At least not yet, but we should always stay aware of changes in how people like to get their information. Maybe in a couple years our clients will be comfortable with texts from us, too. Nothing stays the same except change, after all.

Which is why you’re reading me here now.

Until a few months ago, you could have found me squarely in the camp of veterinarians avoiding any foray into social media. Part of the reason why I was so late coming to this particular party has to do with how busy I am, which I know every one my colleagues understands. But I finally came to realize that the social media do not have to be about “me” — and really, it shouldn’t be — but about what I’m trying to communicate with my colleagues. It is a communications tool, nothing more and nothing less.

That was my “aha” moment — and it should be yours, too. So where do we go from here?

Dr. Nicol made the point perfectly that you need to know your audience, and choose your communications platform accordingly. Text-messaging aside, Instagram might not be the best way to remind your elderly clients to bring their pets in, any more than the daily newspaper is the best way to let young professionals know about your practice. Yes, there are great-grandfathers who hashtag and young women who have the Des Moines Register delivered,  but they’re the exception not the rule.

We need to reach the younger generation and the next generation of pet-owners to ensure pet health (and the health of our profession), and that means going where they are getting their information: social media.

You need to be clear on what you’re trying to communicate and what you hope to gain.  For a few years now every veterinary conference I’ve attended has had excellent seminars on how to get started with social media; more recently, there have been more detailed offerings in how to use these new communications platforms. And of course, our veterinary media including the folks at  Advanstar/DVM360.com offer ongoing education and even pre-packaged tweets for the more reticent or time-challenged among us.

These are wonderful aids to the social media newbie, but before you jump in you need to revisit your communications goals. Reminding people of the importance of wellness care? Sharing news of specials during slower periods? Informing clients about recalls, or important pet news? Whatever you’d like your clients to know, consider where social media fits in your overall plan. And remember, first and foremost, that social media is a new communications tool, an addition to those you’re already using. The addition of social media will affect your communications choices — social media is far more important than that stalwart of yesterday, the yellow pages ad — but the basic rules of good communication remain the same.

What not to do? While I was looking up Dr. Nicol’s website, I found this wonderful video with him and Dr. Andy Roark. They explain it better — or at least, in a funnier way — then I ever could. Thanks, again, to the folks at Advanstar for helping out the profession with video like this one.

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