I am on my way home from a veterinary business management conference that involved companion animal and equine practitioners. In spite of the challenges facing our industry and the economy in general, I left this meeting more confident than ever that there are huge opportunities for success. The conference began with some sobering statistics on the state of companion animal practice from Dr. Karen Felsted of the NCVEI. The significant challenge faced by companion animal veterinary practice is that vet visits are down and people are spending less money on their pets. The biggest contribution to the problem of decreased visits is by fewer people taking their cat to the vet. There is a strong feeling amongst cat owners that indoor cats are immune to sickness or disease. In addition, up to 2/3 of clients in general don’t appreciate the need for annual physical exams. Finally, it is no surprise to anyone that pet owners are getting more and more information from the Internet and bypassing veterinarians altogether.
Dr. Harry Werner followed up by painting an even grimmer picture of the equine world. If anything, Dr. Werner’s presentation made the companion vets in attendance feel much better about their own state of affairs. The key message from both presenters is that to turn these situations around, veterinarians need to spend more time educating their clients on the benefits of physical exams and preventative health plans. We also need to be more creative in how we price our services, for example, should there be different pricing tiers based on busy times of day or year versus slow times? I have to admit I felt pretty bleak after these sessions. I wasn’t ready to give up on the profession yet but alternative career paths did cross my mind. The problem is that I love veterinary medicine and the chance of fulfilling a childhood dream of becoming a fireman seemed farfetched. Fortunately, opportunities soon presented themselves.
David Meerman Scott is one of the leading voices on socialmedia in the world. He has presented worldwide and consulted to numerous and diverse industries and companies of all sizes. Followers of this blog know my belief that social media is the perfect tool for getting a message across to many people. David convinced attendees of the huge opportunities to improve client compliance and increase visits through social media. What better way to re-engage and educate clients on the value of our services? With all challenges come opportunity.
Where does that leave us? I am even more convinced that vet practices who commit to social media will prosper, while those that dabble will suffer. Just as you cannot operate a successful vet practice without a receptionist, the vet practice of the near future will need to have a person that is dedicated to social media. The biggest hurdle for any business using social media is the consistent delivery of quality information. Content creation and delivery through social media is essential for the success but it takes time and involves a skill set that is not found in a typical veterinary practice. Based on my experience presenting to veterinarians on social media, there tends to be a huge initial spike on new social med ia initiatives followed by a plummeting decline in continued use.
The question now is how are you going to do it? Here is what I did: I created a Facebook account, a Twitter account, found a couple of books on the subject, and dedicated myself to learning as much as quickly as I could. Approach it as if you are learning a new technique or procedure. After I took a short course on advanced ultrasound you can be sure I ultrasounded every stifle, back and neck on every horse I could. I was terrible at it at first but over time I got better and I do a pretty decent job at it now. It took a couple of years but I did it by learning from my mistakes, seeking help when I needed it and doing it over and over and over.
Here is my challenge to you. Can you take the leap into the deep end of the social media world? Can you either hire or train someone on your staff to be your social media coordinator? Can you foster your practice culture to include social media as an essential part of your practice, as vital as suture material, rectal sleeves and hoof testers? Finally, can you be one of the few veterinary practices that commit to social media over the long term and don’t give up after two weeks?
I have listed several resources to help get you started. I am also going to write about social media on a weekly basis in addition to my other posts on general business issues. Think of it as a weekly lesson with homework. Don’t worry there won’t be a quiz. The success of your veterinary practice will certainly be dependent on how well you understand and utilize social media.
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Books and Blogs
“The New Rules of Marketing & PR – Second Edition”
“World Wide Rave”