August 12, 2014 / Point of View
Kelly Harmon Schmitt
Increase Animal Health Clinic Visits through Social Engagement
It’s no secret that consumer spending in the pet industry is changing. Americans spent an all-time-high $55.7 billion on their pets in 2012, and that amount is expected to grow to $60 billion in 2014. That's a huge jump from 1996, when it was just $21 billion.[i] But spending has shifted from vital health clinics to more emotionally satisfying or gratifying experiences for pet parents. Spending on pet services, such as massage, day care, birthday parties, grooming and more, has increased by 5.6 percent since 2012 to $4.9 billion and is predicted to grow 6.5 percent annually through 2017.[ii] Consumers are increasingly spending their money elsewhere because they don’t perceive the value of veterinary visits.
To attract business, veterinarians need to emphasize their knowledge, expertise and services. And animal health companies can be a resource for engaging content, educational materials and counsel. Successful veterinary practices already define how their practices are centers of excellence for veterinary medicine. Their communication helps differentiate them and build relationships with clients and increase the clinic’s visibility. Social media is one of the most accessible ways to strengthen relationship marketing with clients. It generates value outside the clinic and reinforces the value inside the clinic. Here are guidelines to get started:
Engage With Clients Where They Are
Many pet owners consult the Internet first when their pets are sick or injured rather than call their veterinarians. While it may seem paradoxical, veterinarians can use the Internet to build a smart social strategy and combat this troublesome trend. It makes sense to provide information in the places where pet parents are communicating already, like social media.
Create a Social Strategy
Not every business needs to be on every social channel. Veterinarians should learn the ins and outs of social media to better navigate the different channels, (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, Instagram), decide what channel(s) works best for their businesses and make the most impact with each selected channel. Some, like Facebook, may require an advertising investment to be effective.
Provide Relevant Content
Once the social strategy is set, content (written posts, images, responses, etc.) should always be relevant and useful to clients, not just marketing messages. Veterinarians should learn what their clients’ wants, needs and concerns are so they can address them directly. Posting engaging videos, photos, posters and books can educate and entertain. Supplementing the hardworking, more serious posts or tweets with lighter fare — such as pet care tips, puppy training recommendations and cat enrichment activities — can keep clients engaged and informed. And the veterinarian / client relationship can be celebrated when veterinarians feature photos and letters from their clients.
Be Consistent, Frequent and Responsive
Real-time and frequent dialog between clinics and pet owners builds valuable relationships that keep the clinic top-of-mind. Veterinarians can create a schedule (often referred to as an editorial calendar) so messages that communicate the expertise and value they provide are sent out regularly. Combining the “It’s time for Barney’s annual exam” reminder with messages about special services offered and the importance of veterinary care for the well-being of pets is another way to connect with clients. It’s important to stay active on social channels, as well as be ready to react and communicate directly with clients when they reach out.
Adapt and be Ready to Change
Since social media technology is changing all the time and people are always finding new and fun ways to communicate on social channels, veterinarians should stay flexible and be ready to adapt along the way. Vets should be aware of how clients are engaging with the information they provide and identify what works. It may alter how they use social media. Not every piece of content will generate a new appointment. Online communication leads to a long-term relationship that deepens with every connection made.
Simply put, veterinarians can increase clinic traffic by promoting their valuable professional services on social media. Focusing on providing the best care for patients helps ensure that solid relationships with clients and patients are formed and best medicine is practiced. Social media is a great tool for increasing communication and building relationships with clients.
[i] APPA, 2013 National Pet Owners Survey
[ii] Mintel, Marketing to Pet Owners 2013