The Social DVM: How to safeguard your reputation online

Published on April 10, 2019
Dr. DeWilde
Dr. Caitlin DeWilde, founder of the Social DVM (Courtesy of Dr. DeWilde)

Dr. Caitlin DeWilde, founder of the Social DVM, a social media consulting company for veterinarians, hosted an AVMA webinar on Feb. 28 to discuss key strategies veterinarians can use to protect themselves online and how to respond to complaints.

"Eventually, there will be a problem like a bad review, but if you take proactive steps, hopefully we can minimize the incident," she said. Dr. DeWilde's responses have been lightly edited.

Q. How can veterinarians use social media?

A. Veterinarians can use social media to broadcast who they are to potential and current clients.

Q. Can you define some key terms such as online reputation and cyberbullying?

A. An online reputation is everything that includes your brand online.

Cyberbullying is bullying that can happen online and can include texts, emails, online and offline rumors, fake social networking profiles, and embarrassing photos and videos.

For veterinarians, the majority of cyberbullying is experienced on Facebook and usually involves disputes about a patient's care or disputes about the cost.

Q. Can you share an example of an online attack?

A. An online attack can look like negative reviews, threats of physical or financial harm, and threats of complaint against a medical license.

Seven of 10 online attacks are from former clients or staff, according to data from the AVMA.

Q. How can someone prevent an online attack?

A. First and foremost to prevent online attacks, you need to be aware of your social media presence and monitor your social media channels.

The following tips are also the best way to prevent attacks:

  • Make sure you have access to your online review accounts by claiming your Yelp and Google business pages.
  • Set up email or text notifications for every social media channel.
  • Set up proper administration access to online social and review accounts for yourself and trusted employees, and keep a list of passwords or use an app like LastPass so you can access them.
  • Schedule time to regularly monitor your social media accounts.
  • Develop a protocol to deal with complaints or bad reviews.

Q. Is there a good way to respond to complaints?

A. It depends on the type of complaint, but you should determine whether responding online or via phone is more appropriate.

If the review is a legitimate and balanced complaint, respond with the three C's of crisis communication: competence, confidence, and compassion. Make sure to review the patient case history and reread, or have a third-party read, your response before posting.

If the review is unbalanced, use the three C's but also encourage some offline discussion. However, it is important to make an effort to publicly resolve the problem so other clients can see the results.

If a problem persists, make sure to let your team know about the problem so they can prepare themselves for potential calls or further issues. You can consider involving a crisis management professional or local authorities if you feel it is necessary.

It is important to note that you don't have to respond to every review and you don't have to interact with everyone.

You can follow this AVMA flowchart (PDF) to determine how to proceed with a complaint.

Q. Any other advice you can offer?

A. You have put a lot of work into your social media channels, so don't take your page down even when things seem hard—it will get better.


The AVMA has the following online resources that can help practitioners with cyberbullying:

Related JAVMA content:

New resources help practices manage online reputation (Sept. 15, 2015 )

Cyberbullying in veterinary medicine (Sept. 15, 2015)

Fighting the cyberbully (Nov. 15, 2014)

Directory Web site getting bad reviews from businesses (May 01, 2010)