Have you decided your veterinary clinic should be on social media, but you're not sure how to get started? Don't worry. Although it can seem daunting, it's really fairly simple to get set up on most social media networks.
Before you get started, though…do you already have a written social media strategy in place? Planning out your strategy will help ensure that your social media efforts support your specific business goals, and also will make managing your social profiles easier. It will force you to consider who will manage your social media, and what kinds of content your feeds can and should contain.
Once your social media strategy is in place, the next steps will be:
- Deciding what social network(s) to use
- Creating your profile page(s)
- Creating and finding content to keep your profile(s) fresh all the time
What social networks should you use?
It's important to know that you don't have to be on every social network out there. In fact, you'll be most successful if you pick and choose, deciding which networks best fit your strategy and starting small – often with just one page. It's far better to focus your attention and do a good job on one site than overextend yourself with multiple profiles and struggle to do any of them well.
So how do you decide where to start? There are several options:
- Use whatever social media you're already active on personally.
Pros: Lower learning curve, quicker to get started
Cons: Mixing personal social media use with your professional profile; risk that your target audience might not be active on the same network(s) as you
- Find out what social network(s) your audience already uses, and start there.
Pros: Greatest potential to reach your specific audience; for clinics looking to reach current clients, research can be done at no cost, simply by asking clients during office visits
Cons: Time needed for research; you might need to "learn" a new social network to get started
- Start with Facebook, since it has the broadest reach of all U.S. social networks
Pros: Get started quickly on a social network with broad audience reach
Cons: Your specific audience might be more active somewhere else
- Research different social networks and choose the best match for your social media goals, target audience and the type of content you want to share. This infographic describes differences among some of the most popular social networks and could be a god starting point.
Pros: Strategic approach tailored to your social media goals
Cons: Can be time-intensive and complex
There are many sources you can turn to for information about social media usage, including both numbers and audience demographics. One is the Pew Research Center, which publishes regular reports in this arena that are available free of charge. For information on your own specific audience, why not try asking your current clients? Your receptionist could start asking every client whether and what social networks they use, either during check-in or check-out. You also could set up a simple online survey using a free survey-creation tool (just do an online search for "free survey tool" if you don't already use any), and link to it from your next newsletter.
Here is basic information about the most commonly used social networks:
With the most users of any U.S. social media site, Facebook very likely is being used already by many of your clients, making it easy for them to connect with your clinic there. Most Facebook users visit the site at least once a day, and many check it even more frequently.
Facebook allows you to share photos, links, status updates, and videos with your followers. You can write short or long status updates, and even use it to publicize and invite people to events.
To get started on Facebook: If you're not already signed up for Facebook, you'll need a personal account before you can create a business profile. Follow the instructions on facebook.com to sign up; that will create your account and personal page. But you'll still need to create a page for your business; go to https://www.facebook.com/pages/create/ to do that. Make sure to start a business or company page, rather than a group page or another personal page. For a veterinary clinic, select "Local Business or Place" as the type of page you are creating, and follow the prompts on screen. This blog post provides some good tips to help you get started as you create your Facebook page.
Use our primer on Facebook's administrative options to help navigate the different roles you can assign to your page administrators.
LinkedIn is used for professional connections. It's generally not the best place to connect with clients, but you should have a personal profile on the site. And if you're looking to expand your professional connections and influence with other veterinarians, LinkedIn can be a great fit.
You can share interesting links and articles on LinkedIn, post status updates, ask questions, and join professional and interest-based groups to meet and share knowledge with others in the profession. LinkedIn also has a blogging platform that allows you to write and publish longer posts.
To get started on LinkedIn: If you don't already have a LinkedIn profile, start at LinkedIn.com and follow the on-screen instructions. LinkedIn also offers a series of live and recorded tutorials to acquaint new users with its features.
Twitter has a much smaller audience and a slightly different demographic mix than Facebook, and is good for quick updates and sharing links and pictures. Posts, known as tweets, are generally limited to 140 characters, including spaces, and display in chronological order.
Using Twitter could be a good way to share quick bits of information or links to interesting articles about animal health; but if you're looking to connect with current and potential clients in your area, we recommend doing some research first to see if your local audience is active there. Twitter can be a good way to find and connect with other people in the veterinary profession. If you hit the "follow" button on a profile – for example, on the AVMA's profile, @AVMAvets – that person or organization's posts will show up in your Timeline. You also can see what other accounts they are following, which can help you find other users whose interests match yours.
To get started on Twitter: Go to twitter.com and click on the "Sign up" button, then follow the instructions. Keep in mind that this will be a page for your business, so don't put your own name in the "Name" field – use your business' name.
Once you have a Twitter account, take the time to select a header photo and a profile picture, to give your profile a personal feel. Choose images that portray an image you want for your business. You should also fill in the "Bio" section of the profile and add a location. This will make it easier for people to find you. Twitter's Getting Started with Twitter resource has good information to help you learn more about using the site.
Instagram is a photo- and video-sharing service available as an app for iPhone, iPad, and Android devices. If you'd like to share pictures of your patients (with clients' permission), or events in and around your clinic, Instagram could be an option for you. Instagram also allows you to share 15-second video clips, and you can easily share your Instagram posts on Facebook and other social networks with the tap of a couple of buttons.
To get started on Instagram: You'll need an iPhone, iPad, or Android device to use Instagram, and you'll have to download the free Instagram app from your device's app store. Once the app is downloaded, follow the prompts on-screen to create your account. Instagram also has a resource for people who are just getting started with the site.
Pinterest is another image-based social network, with an audience that is much more heavily female than most other networks. It's a place to bookmark and share images and videos, which other users can like and reshare. Images, known as "pins," are grouped together on "boards;" for example, you might have one pinboard with images of dogs and another with images of cats. You can follow other users or follow specific boards.
To get started on Pinterest: To begin using Pinterest for your business, you can set up a business account rather than a personal one. There's no charge for a business account, which you can create via the Pinterest for Business center; you also can convert an existing personal account into a business one. You'll need to select a business type – usually "local business" for veterinary clinics – and you can add your website URL as well. Pinterest's guide to Pinterest can help you get acquainted with the platform.
YouTube allows you to post and share videos. Your clinic may be able to use it to share clients' stories (with their permission, of course), tell your clinic's story (and/or those of the staff), offer pet care tips, or have some fun with veterinary-related video humor. Videos posted to YouTube can be shared easily on other social networks as well, and you also can grab copy-and-paste code that lets you post your YouTube videos on your website.
To get started on YouTube: Visit youtube.com and click the "sign in" button. If you don't have a Google Account for your business, you'll need to create one – click the "Create Account" link on the sign-in page. This account will be associated with your business, so while you can sign up with your own first and last name, be sure that your username is your business name. YouTube offers some simple steps to help you create a channel for your videos.
Start developing content early
You should have a content plan in place for your new social media profile even before you create your new page. You also should have some initial posts set up and ready to go. This will allow you to post something right away on your new profile; you'll start to get a feel for the posting process, and you'll also have a chance to see how your content will look to followers.
Ideally, try to have a month's worth of posts planned in advance. You might have some posts pre-written and ready to go, while others are in draft form or are just concepts. You might decide, for example, that you're going to create one how-to video for clients – how to trim your cat's nails, for example – every two weeks. While you might not yet have any videos made, you can have a schedule in place that sketches out your first two video ideas and assigns them to specific posting dates as deadlines.
Our resource on creating and curating content for social media can help you think of sources for different types of content that will engage your clients.
How AVMA can help
Social media 101 for veterinary clinics
Defining your social media strategy
Creating and curating content for social media
Who will manage your social media accounts?
Mashable: Beginners' Guide to Social Media