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Compendium September 2010 (Vol 32, No 9)

In Practice — Social Media for Your Clinic

by Jim Mahan, Kelly Baltzell, MA

    The Internet and e-mail have created a global community that has developed massively in the past 2 decades. Because of these inventions that have become available to so many, the world shifted. Social media burst through the door, screaming at us all to adapt or be left behind. The speed and ferocity of the rise of social media have forced us all to make a tough choice: use it or not?

    Look at these numbers: Facebook came on the scene in 2004 and now has 175 million daily visitors. Twitter, as of January 2010, had 75 million daily visitors. YouTube is only 5 years old, but it defined the last presidential election. On average, 247 billion e-mails are sent each day, and in 2009 alone, 47 million Web sites were added to the internet. Maybe one of them was yours.

    In the “old days” of 10 years ago it was essential to have a Yellow Pages ad. Today, it isn’t enough for your business to have an online presence—what’s essential is that people can find it.

    What Social Media Can Do for Your Online Presence

    When we review the facts about what Facebook and Twitter offer, most of the clinics we advise agree that they want to use social media. The huge benefit of a social media presence is that it is free advertising. So, let’s look at just a few things to get acquainted with social media for use in your practice.

    Being on social media sites gives your clinic an Internet edge—SEO (search engine optimization). SEO is all about one thing: making sure your clinic Web site shows up high in the results when people type a certain phrase into a search engine like Google or Yahoo (see box ). For example, let’s say your clinic is in Wilmington, North Carolina. If someone types “Wilmington, NC veterinarian” into Google, and all your competitors show up on the first page while your clinic is listed eight pages back, your site may not be gaining much business for you. For your Web site to show up on the first pop-up page of Google results (or, at the very least, on page two), it needs to be optimized. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media all provide a way to boost your site’s SEO for free. That in itself can have a direct revenue benefit for your clinic.

    Placement on the search engines is as important as the placement of your clinic sign on your building. On average, Google is used to conduct 72% of all Internet searches, so this is the search engine on which you can maximize your exposure.

    The second aspect of social media that cannot be overlooked is word-of-mouth advertising. People tend to give more weight to a recommendation from a friend than one from an unknown source. Facebook recommendations take wings and “fly” through the friendship network. Harness this power to benefit your practice and have other people pass the word about your services. Again, it is free and easy!

    Common Fears About Social Media

    Why do businesses stay away from Facebook or Twitter initially? Typically, they do not want someone to publicly say something bad about them on a Facebook page or under a Twitter account. Our response to this fear is simple: If someone has a negative comment to make about your veterinary practice, do you think that your practice’s lack of a Facebook account will keep them from saying it online? Anyone can say anything negative online at any time. Is it better to have your answer be one of silence?

    Most of the time, visitors have an overwhelmingly positive reaction to a veterinary Facebook page that is loaded with “sticky” content, such as pictures of the doctors with patients or clients’ animal pictures. Sticky content is anything published on a Web site that is meant to get visitors to return to that particular site or to hold their attention and get them to spend longer periods of time on the site. (As with all Web site content, obtain the subject’s or owner’s permission to use any pictures or information that you intend to post before posting it.) Veterinarians who display their clinics in a positive light across several platforms (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn) create warm feelings in the reader/visitor to that site. A strong online presence on the Web can also help you appear progressive and on the cutting edge. At the same time, if someone says something negative about your work or your clinic on your Facebook page, you can see it and reach out to that person, both in public and, if necessary, in private. As the page owner, you can also delete any comments you find inappropriate.

    Another reason veterinary clinics are wary of social media is that they have the notion that their staff won’t have enough time to manage the sites. On the other hand, some worry that their staff will spend too much time managing the clinic’s Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and blog accounts. There are two ways to negate this fear. The first is to make social media a business priority and to set aside 20 hours of one staff member’s time each month to manage this aspect of the business. The second is to hire an outside vendor or individual to manage your accounts for you.

    Beyond Free Advertising

    If you want to spend a little bit of money on your online advertising, look at advertising on Google and Facebook. Ad placement on Google and Facebook is not free; however, the price of an ad in, for example, GoogleAdwords, depends on the popularity of your chosen search terms or desired audience. Google AdWords produces the results you see in the yellow box at the top of a Google search and on the right side of the page under “Sponsored links.” All you have to do to get your clinic’s Web site into one of these areas is pay to be there. Of course, the question is: How much? Well, that’s one way Google makes its millions. It determines the value of the words people are searching for on Google. You pick the words and phrases that you want to display in the yellow box and sidebar, and Google tells you how much they are worth. The words most veterinary clinics would be targeting cost so little, this advertising would most likely result in a big return on your investment. If someone clicks on your link in the sponsored area, you pay Google.

    Facebook targets potential viewers of your ad in more detail. On Facebook, you can select the age range, gender, income level, education level, place of education, geographic zone, and interest of your target audience. Facebook then tells you how many people will see your ad. It gives you the opportunity to advertise either your Facebook page (to gain more “fans” or “friends”) or your Web site.

    The popularity of advertising on Facebook was reported by BizReport (www.bizreport.com) on June 2, 2010. In the first 3 months of 2010, the social networking giant served up a whopping 176.3 billion ads—more than 50 billion each month, more than one billion a day. That total represents 16.2% of the total number of banner ads served up across the entire Internet.

    Both Facebook and Google give you detailed statistics on how your ad campaign is working, including number of “click-throughs” and your cost to date.

    Get Out There!

    Our bottom-line advice is simple. Educate yourself on the benefits of social media, and then start using it. How do you get educated? One way is to go straight to the source. We have a saying: “Google is your friend,” meaning, use it to find information to answer your questions. For example, to find out more about AdWords, type “AdWords” into Google. Or create a Facebook account and start experimenting with it. Alternatively, you can hire a consultant to get you started.

    Using social media, ad words, and the Web is all about being progressive. Show people what you are, how good your service is, and let the overwhelming presence of positive information and news be your online presence.

    About the Authors

    Kelly Baltzell, MA, is president and CEO of the Beyond Indigo family of companies, including www.beyondindigopets.com. She speaks frequently about marketing trends and Web site design at national conventions.

    James (Jim) S. Mahan IV is the vice president and director of marketing for Live Oak Bank. He spends much of his time educating young veterinarians about financing and how best to maintain and grow their clinics.


     

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