Effective use of social media, improved communications explained
posted February 18, 2010
Several hundred leaders of the veterinary profession braved the snow and frigid Midwest temperatures to attend the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference Jan. 8-10 in Chicago.
The VLC, held in conjunction with the regular winter session of the AVMA House of Delegates, featured updates on the Association's financial health and strategic initiatives as well as workshops aimed at enhancing knowledge and leadership skills. An account of the HOD session was published in the Feb. 15 issue of JAVMA (page 385).
Despite the weather challenges, 429 veterinary professionals attended the meeting. Of those, 69 were emerging veterinary leaders, with 10 of the up-and-coming leaders having been specifically selected from underrepresented minority groups.
Hill's Pet Nutrition sponsored a networking event for emerging leaders as well as a shortened version of the Veterinary Leadership Experience—the popular AVMA co-sponsored leadership development program for veterinary students—led by Dr. Richard DeBowes.
The opening speaker for this year's VLC was Paul Lisnek, JD, PhD, a nationally recognized television commentator, author, trial consultant, and motivational speaker. Dr. Lisnek spoke about the dynamics of the communication process and offered suggestions on how to improve dialogue.
Effective communication occurs when the speaker offers a message that acknowledges and respects the listener's opinion. "You have to deal with people in their world," Dr. Lisnek explained. "The goal is to get you to accept my position from your point of view."
Effective communication is based on mutual understanding, according
to opening speaker Paul Lisnek, JD, PhD.
Dr. Lisnek reminded the audience that body language and tone of voice are more powerful than words, and he cautioned against letting nonverbal cues negate the actual message.
Day two of the VLC began with a series of updates from AVMA leaders. AVMA President Larry R. Corry recapped highlights from the previous Association year, reporting that in addition to balancing the 2010 budget, the AVMA saw its membership exceed 80,000 for the first time.
"In spite of a daunting fiscal year, our successes in providing quality programs and services to our members have been numerous and impressive," Dr. Corry said.
The AVMA's strategic goals evolve as new challenges arise, Dr. Corry noted, and he called on delegates to inform the Association about issues in their community. That information will be used to determine whether the strategic goals are still pertinent. "The strategic goals of the Association are determined by our members, and you are their voice," he said.
AVMA Treasurer Bret D. Marsh spoke about how a membership dues increase would help the Association to continue providing top-notch services. The HOD the following day approved a proposal that will increase dues for regular, associate, and affiliate members to $300 annually, starting in 2011.
Executive Board member Douglas G. Aspros provided an update on how the Association is moving into the next phase of its strategic planning with the AVMA 20/20 Vision Commission. The board approved the commission, which is responsible for creating a vision for the AVMA that will keep it relevant far into the future (see "AVMA creates strategic commission, offers welfare policy guidance" on page 488).
Dr. Kimberly A. May, assistant director of professional and public affairs in the AVMA Communications Division, discussed the Association's involvement in social media. In the past year, the AVMA has created Twitter feeds, posted the AVMA@Work newsletter on the Web site, developed Flickr photo galleries, and maintained a Facebook group page. It is currently developing a fan page on the site as well.
The only current candidate for AVMA president-elect, Dr. René A. Carlson, and the candidate for vice president, Dr. Jan K. Strother, gave short addresses.
A variety of workshops were offered during the conference. Dr. Claudia J. Baldwin showed colleagues pictures of dogs living near trash, cats caged without food or water, and animal feces ground into hardwood floors in overlapping polka dots.
Dr. Baldwin, the director of Maddie's Shelter Medicine Program at the Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine, showed the images during a workshop on the impact of substandard housing on the welfare of companion animals. And she talked about the need for veterinarians to collaborate with state veterinarians, VMAs, humane organizations, and the public to improve animal shelters and to combat neglect and abuse by animal hoarders and unscrupulous breeders.
"We have to open our eyes and see what is happening," Dr. Baldwin said.
Veterinarians attending the workshop on substandard housing and the welfare of companion animals also talked about circumstances they had seen in their home states. One veterinarian talked about rescued horses that were virtually unhandled and nearly feral under their new owners; another about 400 cats kept in one 1,200-square-foot animal shelter; and a third, about the recent dehydration and starvation deaths of animals left unattended in a shelter.
Dr. Baldwin urged veterinarians to push for answers when they have clients who, for example, consistently bring in different animals with various medical conditions and refuse to say how many pets they own. VMA executive directors may be the best contacts when veterinarians need assistance, she said, but she also encouraged colleagues to have a voice in local animal welfare organizations and know the identities of their states' animal cruelty prevention officers.
"In spite of a daunting fiscal year, our successes in providing quality programs and services to our members have been numerous and impressive."
—DR. LARRY R. CORRY, AVMA PRESIDENT
AVMA President Larry R. Corry says the Association is strengthening
the veterinary profession despite the economic downturn.
At another of the conference workshops, Kim Kishbaugh, assistant director of electronic communications in the AVMA Communications Division, elaborated on best practices for using social media.
Social media—a category of sites that are based on user participation and user-generated content—means conversation, dialogue, sharing, collaboration, and community.
"You have to be ready for that when you delve into it," Kishbaugh said.
Common concerns about starting to take part in social media for professional purposes include losing control over branding, dealing with negative comments, and not having the time or resources to manage it properly.
Kishbaugh said, essentially, control has already been lost through the very existence of social media, but embracing these tools can offer a way to regain some of that control. It also allows organizations to directly answer detractors.
She also said that for many organizations, the move into social media is inevitable, regardless of whether the organization decides it is necessary. "If you don't create it, someone else will. There are that many people out there who know and like (your organization). Someone will eventually do it," Kishbaugh said.
She advocates for organizations to develop a two-part communications strategy before stepping into Web 2.0—a term used to describe a new generation of Web services and applications with an increasing emphasis on human collaboration.
The first step, Kishbaugh said, is defining the organization's communications needs and goals on the basis of the organization's overall strategic goals. The second step is determining where social media can help achieve those goals.
An organization can start by simply listening to and monitoring online activity such as by searching for its name on Twitter, Google, or Facebook. Other easy ways to enter the Web 2.0 universe are to create a Twitter account to start "following" other people or groups or to comment on a blog. In time, organizations can do more as time and resources allow, such as starting their own Twitter feed or Facebook page or creating their own blog.
"Don't be afraid to make mistakes," she said. "It will get you more familiar with the platform and give you ideas of how to use it."
Other workshops addressed advocacy for the profession, work and home life balance, and leadership skills.
Michael Staver of the Staver Group delivered the closing keynote address, "Leadership Isn't for Cowards," about pitfalls to avoid and steps to take for effective leadership. He said the three pitfalls of leaders are the need to be right, the need to be in control, and the need to be all things to all people.
An effective leader must accept circumstances as they are, take responsibility, take action, acknowledge progress, commit to lifelong learning, and kindle new relationships, Staver said.