Doesn’t matter who the person is.
Doesn’t matter morning or evening.
This is the greeting I get when I go to my local 24 Fitness. Pretty much the same tone. Monotone, non-committal, insincere. The voice varies, the face varies, the message is the same—“I don’t really care who you are, I just have to say something.”
How about this one?
#$%^&*( Animal Hospital, hold please!!!
Note: First published for VetLearn September 2010 in a different version.
By Jim Mahan & Kelly Baltzell, MA
Before we talk about the relevance of Facebook or tweeting, let’s talk about the big picture. All of us, right now, are living in a time of considerable significance. Like the early 1900s, the past 20 years have represented more than a technological progression, but a complete paradigm shift for the world. Prior to the turn of the 20th century, you had upgrades to candleholders. By the early 1900s, you flip on the light switch. For hundreds of years, mankind perfected the saddle. By the end of the First World War, you could choose between feeding your ride and filling it up to get to work. The point is, in history some periods simply have a greater leap in technology and outlook. Inevitably it forces those who straddle the two eras to choose. What matters more—the comfort with the way one operated before the shift or the difficulties that arise from testing the new methods of the time? There is no wrong or right when choosing between a car and a horse, but it does reflect on you and possibly your goals.
Fast-forward 100 years. The Internet, email, and the global community that has developed in the last 25 years are massive changes from the previous 100 years. Everything shifted, and not in a small way. It didn’t even trickled down to business culture; it smacked it upside the head. Social media has burst through the door screaming at small businesses and owners to adapt or be left behind. This isn’t true in every case, but it has significant merit. The problem, from what I have seen, is the speed and ferocity that social media has taken in the world intimidates those of us on the fence between two generations—those of us who have a choice to make. If you think your head is spinning and you can’t keep up, there is a good reason. Check out these numbers: Facebook came on the scene in 2004 and has grown to the point where 175 million people visit it each day. Twitter, as of January 2010, had 75 million visitors to its web site. YouTube is only five years old, but defined the last presidential election. There are 247 billion emails, on average, sent each day, and in 2009 alone, 47 million web sites where added.
What I tell our clinics to do is simple. Take the urgency out of the situation, but promise yourself one thing: Do not stay on the fence. Educate yourself on the benefits, and then make decision. Where do you get educated? We having a saying: “Google is your friend,” meaning use it to find information to answer your questions. Or ask a friend, a consultant, or just create a Facebook account and press buttons to see what it does. Most of the time, when our clinics review the facts about what Facebook and Twitter offer, it is very difficult to argue that they should, as a business, ignore it. So, let’s make a case, look at a few things (there are many more than we have space for), and deal with social media slowly but thoroughly and with an open mind.
Why do businesses stay away from Facebook or Twitter initially? Typically, the retort is that, “I don’t want someone saying something bad about the clinic on my Facebook page or under my Twitter account.” My response is simple: Do you think you not being online will keep that person from saying something negative about you or your clinic? Most of the time, what we see is such an overwhelmingly positive reaction to a veterinary Facebook page, loaded with “sticky” content (pictures of the doctors with patients, the animals of customers that have given permission), that it’s actually more difficult for someone to stand up and criticize. Veterinarians who show their clinics in a positive light consistently across several platforms (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn) can produce a great deal of goodwill instantly. Today, people have been “trained” by television to want to know more about the internal workings of a business. Take a moment and think of TLC, Animal Planet, and the Discovery Channel show offerings. When you offer information in a positive, fun way about your business, people will “tune in” to learn more and follow the story line. The huge benefit is that NONE of this costs a dime.
If someone does rant about your clinic, the mere fact that you have a strong online presence and a progressive effort to look solid and thorough in your presentation on the Web helps your cause. Anyone can say something negative online at anytime. Is it better to have the response be silence? I would argue 100 positive reviews and 1 poor one make the person who posted the poor one look more at fault. Plus, and this is important, on Facebook, you as the page owner can delete any comment you wish. The point, of course, is that a strong, progressive offense is the best defense. Fear should not keep you from exploring social media; if anything, it’s scarier to remain in the dark about its benefits.
Another aspect of fear is the notion that, “My staff won’t have time to manage our social media properties.” Or the flip side is they will spend too much time managing the clinic’s Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and blog accounts. There are two options to negate this fear. One is to make social media a business priority and to set aside 20 hours of a staff person’s time each month to manage this aspect of the business. The second option is to hire an outside vendor/individual to manage it for you. The key is making social media a priority for your business, just as in the “old days” it was essential to have a Yellow Pages ad. Today, it is essential to be able to find your business online.
More important than simple goodwill, being on these social media sites benefits one of the most important things for a clinic—SEO (Search Engine Optimization). SEO is all about one thing: making sure YOUR clinic web site shows up when people type a certain phrase into Google or Yahoo. You may be saying, “Great, I have a web site, I don’t care.” Let me ask you this: If you built a sign for your clinic, would you care where you put it? What if I put it out back by the dumpster? Would it matter? It is the same with the web site. If you have a web site, then well done, it is absolutely necessary. But if it isn’t optimized and nobody sees it, what does it matter? Not only does it need to be optimized, but also your web site or some aspect of your business needs to show up on page one of Google, or at the very least page two. FYI: Google has been, on average, conducting 72% of all the searches on the Internet. This is the search engine to place your most focus.
For example, if someone types in “Wilmington, NC veterinarian” and all your competitors show up on the first page and you are eight pages back, how much business is your site gaining for you? Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and others ALL provide a way to boost your site’s SEO. For free. That in itself reflects a direct revenue benefit to your clinic. If all you had to spend was 90 seconds a day “tweeting” or updating your Facebook page, and it brought you one customer a month, would you do it? What if the customer is worth three years, $1,500, and three referrals? At some point, social media starts to make a lot of sense.
The second aspect of social media that cannot be overlooked is word of mouth advertising. People tend to put more “weight” toward a recommendation from a friend then an “unknown.” Facebook makes recommendations take wings and “fly” through the friendship network. Harness this power to benefit your company and have other people pass the word about your services. Again, it is free!
If you want to spend a little bit of money, look at Google AdSense and placing an ad on Facebook. Ad placement on Google and Facebook isn’t free; however, the words most veterinary clinics would be targeting cost so little it would most likely be a huge return. Google Adwords is what you see in the yellow box at the top of the search and on the right side of the page. The box says, “Sponsored links.” All that means is you paid to be there. Of course the question is: How much? Well, that’s one way Google makes its millions. It determines the value of the words people are searching. You pick the phrases you want to show up for in the yellow box and side bar and Google tells you how much it is worth. If someone clicks on your link in the sponsored area, you pay Google.
Whereas Google AdSense works with keyword searches, Facebook targets potential viewers of your ad in more detail. On Facebook, you can select the age range, demographic, gender, income level, education level, place of education, geographical zone, and interest. Facebook then tells you how many people will see your ad. It gives you the opportunity to either advertise your Facebook page to gain more “fans/friends” or your web site. The numbers say it all for the popularity of advertising on Facebook reported by BizReport (www.bizreport.com) on June 2, 2010.
In the first 3 months of this year, the social networking giant served up a whopping 176.3 billion ads — more than 50 billion each month, more than one billion a day. That total represents 16.2% of the total number of banner ads served up across the entire Internet.
Both Facebook and Google give you detailed statistics on how your ad campaign is working, including number of click throughs and your cost to date.
On either platform, you pay per click not per view. This style of advertising allows multiple viewers to see your ad. For instance on Google AdSense, if you wanted to be in the “Sponsored” box for the term “Trial lawyer,” it may cost you $85 every time someone clicks it. Yet, the phrase, “Wilmington, NC Veterinarian” may only cost $1 every time someone clicks it. But if you have $25 to spare, then you receive 25 clicks to your web site from the sponsored area. The odds of just one of them becoming a client are good, and it would immediately pay off the $25 investment.
Using social media, ad words, and the Web is all about being progressive. You don’t have to use them to be successful, at least not yet. However, the upside, especially for a practice that most customers WANT to love and support, is significant. Show them what you are, how good your service is, and let the overwhelming presence of positive information and news be your online presence. Don’t hide and hope no one says anything hateful. Use the media provided, for FREE, to drown out a rant. That works much better than silence.
You can stay away from the Web, ignore the social media, and use word of mouth. It still works—and very well in some places.
But you can also ride a horse to work.