Set rules to help manage social media

Looking for ways to help mitigate the risks that come with using social media to promote your veterinary practice? Setting basic rules of engagement can go a long way toward preventing conflict and crises – and allowing you to step in to mitigate any messy situations that might arise.

Rules of engagement should include:

  • A policy that clearly defines who is allowed to post content on your clinic’s social media profiles
  • Guidelines for all clinic staff that describe what is and is not appropriate behavior on social media (including their personal social media feeds) regarding clients, patients and coworkers; and disciplinary action for violations
  • An enforceable moderation policy that is clearly posted on all of your clinic’s social media profiles

Set clear guidelines for all staff to follow

Laptop computer on an exam tableSocial media guidelines for your staff should address who is allowed to post on the practice’s behalf; whether and how staff may post clinic-related material on their personal social profiles; the use of images, including video, taken in and around your clinic or at work-related events; a chain of command for responding to potential crises; and the appropriate tone of your practice’s posts. Your social media accounts are the face of your clinic – so everyone should be on the same page as far as what’s okay to post, what tone to use, and how to deal with difficult people or situations on social media. AVMA members can use this social media guidelines template and modify it to fit your clinic’s specific needs. (Please note that this sample is not a legal document, and you should consult with legal counsel as necessary when developing your own policy.)

Your staff should understand that if they have public social media profiles, those can and very likely will be seen by clients and potential clients; so even if they’re not sharing posts specifically about the clinic, they’re still representing the clinic on their public social media pages.

Develop, implement and enforce a moderation policy

You also need guidelines for conduct by those who interact with you on social media – your fans/friends/community – and you need to be willing to enforce them. These should spell out clearly what types of behavior, language and content will not be considered acceptable. Spell out what posts you would consider spam that will be removed from your page – for example, posts promoting someone’s petition, fundraiser or product. We recommend that your community guidelines state that you won’t accept any sort of advertising on your page. You also should consider whether you will allow posts about lost pets; while you might want to allow these as a service to your community, they can quickly can add up and overwhelm the other content on your page.

Clear language is important in writing your community guidelines, as these rules are what you will point to when you actually need to hide or delete someone’s post, ask them to tone down their language, or, as a last resort, ban them from participating on your page. The AVMA's Facebook community guidelines can serve as a template for yours, but adjust them to make certain they reflect rules that you are comfortable with for your own community.

Dealing with issues (internal and external)

Your social media profile(s) need to be monitored regularly, including on weekends, so you can see and address any potential issues quickly. It’s virtually certain that you’ll see some sort of conflict or other issue of concern on your social media pages as your community grows. You might see criticism of your clinic, people trying to post thinly veiled advertisements, or arguments between followers/fans. This is when your community guidelines will prove their worth. Because they should state clearly what you will and will not allow, you’ll be able to point to them when you need to take action.

One challenge is determining when to step in. You won’t want to get involved in every interaction on your page – partly because you could be perceived as controlling, and partly because this could quickly consume far more time than you have available. Also, you should find that your community will do some self-policing. Fans will start to call out others who violate the rules, and often will even come to your defense if there’s any criticism of your clinic. Your role is to make sure that the discourse remains civil and that your page doesn’t become cluttered with irrelevant spam posts and comments. Our reputation management guide has a great resource to help you decide when and how to respond to criticism, including a social media response flowchart customized for use by veterinary clinics. When you do need to step in and moderate, always be professional and polite.

It’s also possible that you might need to turn to your internal staff policies to moderate employee issues related to social media. Whether it’s an employee blurring the line or violating your staff social media policies, or a dispute over the appropriateness, wording or timing of a particular post or comment on your page, you can look to your written policies to clarify what’s needed by staff. You might find that some aspect of your policy was misunderstood by staff, and you can then use the opportunity to clarify the policy and make sure all staff know about any changes.

How AVMA can help

Social media guidelines template – This customizable template helps you plan in advance for how you and your staff should respond to negative criticism.

Flowchart: Social media response – This flowchart can help you determine whether and how to respond to online criticism of your veterinary clinic.

Who will manage your social media?

Managing your online reputation – A comprehensive guide to monitoring and nurturing your online business reputation.

Facebook community guidelines – Use the AVMA’s community guidelines as a starting point for writing your own community guidelines.

Social media for veterinary clinics – Whether you’re new to social media or a long-time user looking to improve your clinic’s social marketing, this guide offers resources, tips, and best practices that will help.