The first instinct of many business people and professionals who decide to try social media marketing is to jump into the fray immediately, create a page or profile, and start posting. While that certainly provides a result you can see immediately (and it’s always nice to see evidence of progress!), it’s not the best way forward.
Just as you needed to weigh the pros and cons of social media use before deciding that social media marketing was right for you, a thoughtful planning process will yield better results for your social media.
Although it might delay your actual start on social media, you’ll want to take time to write out a formal social media strategy. The benefits are numerous:
- Ensures that your social media ties into your strategic business objectives
- Serves as a guide for anyone who will help manage your social profile(s)
- Helps you identify the resources you’ll need to be successful – staff, content, time, etc.
- Allows you to plan in advance for potential problems, making it easier to handle them if they occur
Your social media strategy should set out all of the following:
- Goals and tactics: what you want to accomplish and how you plan to get there
- Where you will get the resources needed to maintain active and engaging social media streams, including creating content for social media
- Who will be responsible for building and maintaining your social media presence
- Who will respond to problems, and how they will respond (particularly problems that appear to be escalating)
- How you will publicize your efforts – a marketing plan
- Social media rules of engagement for both your staff and your community of fans/friends/followers – in other words, a social media policy for staff and community guidelines to be published on your social media profile(s)
AVMA's Social media 101 guide for veterinarians, available exclusively to AVMA members, can help with all of these steps.
Start by defining your goals, looking to your business strategy as a starting point. Your social media goals should support your overall business goals; they should define how the unique benefits of social media engagement can help achieve your business strategy.
Possible social media goals for veterinary clinics include:
- Attracting more clients
- Furthering relationships with current clients
- Getting important information out to clients
- Promoting services to increase office visits
If you’re a specialist, one of your goals might be to raise your visibility among other veterinarians. If you’re planning for your own personal social media presence and are interested in building influence within your community, then increasing your connections with community leaders might be a goal.
Once you have identified your broad social media goals, rewrite them as SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-based. For example, rather than just “attracting new clients,” your goal might be to “gain 25 new followers per month who are not current clients, beginning in December” or to “increase the number of new clients referred by existing clients from 1 to 3 per month by the end of this year.” This will help you assess how well your social media marketing performs in the future. But it’s important to note that you will need to have a mechanism in place to measure performance against these goals. For example, if increasing client referrals is a goal, you will need to track these referrals. Remember this when you’re determining what resources will be needed for your social media program.
Who’s your audience?
Once you have your goals defined, identify the audience (or audiences) for each goal. Whom do you need to reach in order to achieve each goal? This might seem obvious, but it’s worth putting down on paper. Defining your audiences will help you decide which social network(s) to use and what content to share. Having the information written down can provide both focus and a document you can refer to in defining future priorities for yourself, your practice, and any staff who manage your social media.
Looking at the broad goals mentioned above, the target audience for each might look like this:
|Attract new clients
||Pet owners, horse owners, livestock farmers (depending on your practice)
|Deepen engagement with current clients
|Promote services to increase office visits
||Current and prospective clients
|Raise visibility among veterinarians
|Increase connections with community leaders
||Community leaders in your town
Now you’re ready to define specific social media tactics that you’ll use to achieve your goals. These can be simple, like the type of content you’ll produce (a couple of examples are below), what social networks you will use, and how often you plan to post. By thinking about this in advance – and putting it down on paper – you can begin preparing content ideas while also creating documentation to guide staff in the future. Some examples might help illustrate:
- If one of your goals is to increase preventive care office visits, you might use social media to educate clients (and their friends/connections, who are potential clients) about the importance of vaccinations, dental care, spay/neuter, microchipping, etc.
- Looking to attract new clients, or deepen your current clients’ trust? Consider highlighting your staff members in your social media feeds – with their permission, of course. Talk about the great job your staff does in the clinic, their credentials and CE activities, and even their relationships with their own pets or volunteer activities in the community. People like a personal touch, and getting to know your staff – and their pets – might be a good place to start.
- Microchipping is your best bet for being reunited with a lost pet. Is your pet microchipped? If not, call us to make an appointment!
[Share with a link to information about microchipping or a picture of someone in your clinic scanning a dog’s microchip.]
- Not sure how to brush your cat’s teeth? Our Dr. Jones shows how easy it is in this video. We can show you in person during your next office visit; just ask!
[Post with home-made video of one of your veterinarians brushing a cat’s teeth.]
- Highlight a staff member, including his or her picture and a story from a client about exceptional service that staff member provided. Or, instead of a story from a client, share some information about that staff member’s background, pets or personal interests.
- Share an image of a recent patient (but only after obtaining permission from the owner and anyone whose face is visible in the photo) with a cute message such as “Cute Duke came in today for his wellness exam. He’s healthy, and ready to play!”
An important aspect of defining tactics is determining what social network or networks to use. Facebook is probably the most commonly known and used social network, and might be where you start – but it might not be the best answer for your needs. The options are numerous – and constantly changing, so this is something you might revisit periodically. Your decision will be influenced by considerations such as your knowledge of what social media your audience uses, your own comfort level with different social networks, and the type of content you have to share – whether, for example, you can post enough photos to sustain an Instagram account.
Your social media strategy also should identify how frequently you want to post to your social networks – at least setting a minimum frequency. For most social networks, the minimum number of posts needed to build any level of engagement is once a day; more frequent posting may be needed to cut through the noise on some networks, such as Twitter. See How Often Should You Post on Social Media? for more detail.
Your written social media strategy also should spell out what resources you have and will need in order to maintain engaging and active social media feeds. This includes identifying who will be responsible for managing your social media on a daily basis; the amount of staff time that will be needed; what content will be used for sharing; and whether any budget is available or needed.
A good starting point is to define available content resources, because this affects how much staff time you’ll need to manage your feeds. Can you easily find enough sharable content from reputable sources, like the AVMA’s website and social feeds? Can you quickly and easily snap photos or shoot smartphone videos with consenting clients in your clinic? If you already blog, this will provide good content to share, but you’ll still need to find other content to fill in the gaps. Take time to write down a list of content sources; that way, your staff will be able to refer to your document to find content ideas that you’ve pre-vetted and determined to be trustworthy and reliable.
Once you’ve identified potential content sources and how frequently you need to update your social networks, estimate how much of your own or your staff’s time will be needed to do all of the following:
- Curate and/or create content
- Answer questions and respond to comments – your social media profile(s) should be checked regularly, even on weekends
- Read posts by your followers and others in your community – i.e., listen to conversations so you’ll know the pulse of your audience
- Publicize your feeds
- Measure progress against your goals and determine whether changes are needed
Make sure the staff members who will be in charge of your social media program agree with these estimates. You don’t want to find your staff over-extended, so be realistic about how much time will be needed and whether your existing staff can handle the work.
Rules of engagement
No social media strategy is complete without an outline that shows who will be in charge of managing the strategy and the social profiles; what rules they need to follow in doing so; and what rules you will enforce on your social media communities. You’ll want to set basic rules for staff who are authorized to post to your social networks; staff who might want to mention your clinic, staff or patients on their own social networks; and fans and followers who engage with your social networks. These policies take time to put together, but your effort will be well spent, as it positions you to prevent problems later on. Set Rules to Help Manage Social Media will help you get all of your needed staff-facing and public-facing policies in place.
How AVMA can help
Should you use social media?
Getting started with social media
Rules to manage social media
Creating and curating content for social media sharing
Marketing for social media success
Measuring your performance: Social media metrics for veterinarians