Wondering why I stress that your veterinary hospital needs to utilize social media to communicate, educate & connect? Well – if I haven’t convinced every veterinarian to get social yet, I might finally be able to with this post!
I recently read a DVM360 article by Mark Opperman, CVPM entitled, “Is Veterinary Medicine Too Transparent?” In it, Mr. Opperman discusses the truth behind common misconception that veterinarians are “in it for the money.” Now, I run payroll at my practice see how hard our veterinary team works every single day. I can confidently say that we are not in veterinary medicine to get rich quick! As the DVM360 article clarifies, the average starting salary for a veterinarian is $60k, making them the lowest-paid veterinary professionals.
However, a great percentage of the general, pet-owning public might disagree. (Remember the 20/20 piece on how every veterinarian is just trying to rip pet owners off?!) As hospitals, we having a lot working against us, including the human medicine misconception that medical care doesn’t involve an immediate bill. When I broke my wrist while living in Spain, I went to the ER. After an exam, x-rays, and cast application, I walked out without paying a euro. When I go to the doctor in the US, I pay a small co-pay. My insurance handles the rest behind the scenes.
If pet owners are used to that sort of system, veterinary clinics need to work harder to clarify why they have to spend money up front for Fluffy or Fido. In his article, Mr. Opperman discusses “spin” and the need for veterinary organizations to do a better job of representing us. He states that many state or local veterinary groups don’t see the value in spending the money on that sort of marketing campaign.
While I agree with Mr. Opperman that veterinary organizations need to do more to educate the public about our industry, I disagree that they’re our only hope in the age of the Internet. Nowadays, you can be your own powerful media company. All you need is an iPhone.
We all have access the Internet. Our clients use the Internet. Pet owners use the Internet to Google everything. The eyeballs are on the screens waiting to learn, but the majority of individual veterinary professionals aren’t working to put important, quality content there that adds value to our profession.
I am all about offering ACTIONABLE solutions, so here are the 5 things I think veterinary professionals can do – on their own – if they want to combat the misconception that we’re all in it for the money:
I recently attended the BlogPaws 2014 Conference as a speaker, and was in awe of how many veterinary professionals were there teaching pet bloggers about pet health. Now, I absolutely love the pet blogging community, but this was a bit shocking. These veterinary professionals are already full of knowledge, so why aren’t they the ones sharing it online?
While I think pet bloggers have a role to play in education, I believe the veterinarians who have spent years learning and practicing medicine should be at the forefront of online pet health information. I think of people like Dr. Andy Roark who add so much personality into education, and I smile.
WATCH NOW: Dr. Roark educates about the dangers of leaving dogs in hot cars
Now, you might not all be willing to dress up as a dog to get your point across, but we can all take a lesson from Dr. Roark. That lesson is: Get your knowledge out there somehow! Start a blog, create a YouTube Channel, get tweeting.
Dr. Cody Creelman uses Vine, Twitter’s short-form video app, to make both educational & entertaining videos. Now, this one grossed me out… but… sometimes that’s the most effective form of education. (Plus, I’m assuming you’re all veterinary professionals with stronger stomachs than a practice manager!)
Whatever form of media content works for you, use it and start educating.
Related Snout School online course: Blogging Basics
Come on veterinarians – I’m a practice manager. I know you like to give stuff away for free. I’m going to even tell you a little secret: Last year alone, my veterinarian father gave away $41,000+ in services. He’s the practice owner, and that is his philosophy. (Business-wise, it might drive me to an early grave. However, I respect him for wanting to help our community.) So your opinions on this discounting behavior may differ, but if you think your hospital doesn’t give away that much, you’re probably wrong. It’s in your veterinarians’ DNA.
Now, you might not exactly want to tell your clients that you discount that much. (After all, they’ll all be looking for that sort of treatment!) However, apart from the “courtesy exam fees” and “just take this as a sample” versions of giving back, many veterinarians also donate their time and practices to help non-profits.
So share that information on social media! Don’t hide your giving nature from the local community. If you’re donating your time to a Rabies vaccine clinic, take pictures and post them to Facebook. Tweet about the shelter dog you just saved. Be proud!
Petplan Pet Insurance does daily tweets about the reimbursements they give out. Don’t you think that makes pet owners who are paying into insurance feel better about it? Take that concept to your hospital!
I’m willing to bet there is some sort of “Buy Local” movement in your local community. Do some old-fashioned networking with the other local small businesses in your town or city and brainstorm ways to help each other.
As mentioned before, Mark Opperman’s article on DVM360 mentions “spin.” Creating a marketing campaign, along with the help of your business’ neighbors, can help re-frame you as a small, local business. Attend community events, tweet about each other’s businesses, share Instagram photos of your staff getting lunch at a local sandwich shop.
Do whatever it takes to firmly clarify that you are a small business, just like that mom & pop shop. When you do this, it shows that you need the same kind of support that those businesses need from the local community. It can be easy to offer support for each other with posts like this:
The more you can position yourself as a small, local business, the less you are going to appear like some money-crazed monster. Since we know that the majority of veterinary hospitals are struggling small businesses, it is important to establish this sort of perception.
At my veterinary practice, dog owners save significantly when they purchase larger quantities of heartworm preventative at a time. (IE: An individual dose in a 12-pack costs considerably less than an individual dose.) We’re very transparent about this – offering pricing charts to our clients. We show them that when they purchase a 12-pack of heartworm prevention through us, it is actually cheaper than buying it at 1-800-Pet-Meds.
Being very clear about your costs is key. Not only that, but conveying value is critical. With heartworm prevention, we stress that you’re getting the guarantee from the pharmaceutical company and our extensive knowledge to back up the product.
You can apply this same concept to services. Our veterinary technicians & I created this short YouTube video that walks through the steps of a feline dental cleaning using an iPhone and the free YouTube Video editor:
Using this video has helped our veterinary technicians explain what happens during a dental cleaning, and it has lessened the confusion over the cost. Not only that, but our compliance on feline dental care is up 61% from the year we implemented this video. Happy clients, happy cat mouths. Win-win!
Blogs, pricing charts, videos and infographics can really help us to break down the details of pricing and communicate value to clients, both online and in-hospital.
Tip: Use Canva.com to create an infographic showing the steps of a service.
Veterinarians often hear the importance of talking through an exam. This means explaining what you’re doing as you are listening to a pet’s heart or examining their oral cavity. This comes back to my last point, regarding communicating value, but I feel as though it’s where a lot of veterinary communication skills end. So let’s discuss this further!
It’s 2014 – does your practice email, text, or tweet your clients? If not, they might not find you valuable & trustworthy because you don’t seem accessible. Are you responsive when they post on your Facebook looking for help? Can they book an appointment from your website when your hospital is closed? Do you have an app?
These things count. In a world where communication happens fast, quick response time & convenient communication allow you to establish a strong bond with your clients.
If you have questions about improving your communication, please feel free to contact me.
What I’m trying to convey with this blog post is that it is time for veterinary professionals to get proactive about how we’re perceived. We don’t need to rely on news outlets or large veterinary organizations to do it for us. With the power of social media and communication, it’s time to start defining yourself and your views on pet health. Use the tools that are at your fingertips!
Are you already taking action, or do you plan to? Comment below to let me know your thoughts and plans!