Facebook: The Ever-Evolving Social Media Platform and How Vet Clinics Can Benefit From New Features
Social media consumes an important part of our lives. Facebook is one of the most used apps and companies quickly saw the potential of this platform that attracts all socio-demographic profiles. On the other hand, the return on investment of time and resources that we spend on it is not clear. Many veterinary clinics dedicate body and soul without having a concrete plan to convert users to customers. Many feel they are wasting their time.
To entertain and raise awareness is commendable. However, converting users into customers who will offer their pets proper care, that’s even better. The two major challenges on social media:
- Drawing the attention of those who have little to no awareness of us (attract)
- Converting these prospects into consumers (convert)
These issues are not unique to our profession. In fact, these two concerns are the first steps of conversion funnels, a concept in sales which has become more relevant since the Web is now seen as fertile ground to renew one’s clientele. In theory, this is true. In practice, it is a major challenge. Internet users are constantly bombarded by advertisements. Here are some tactics that you can use for your veterinary practice.
Attract customers with the help of influencers. Influencers are for the most part humans and, sometimes, famous animals who have more than 10,000 subscribers to their pages and are willing, in exchange of a certain amount of money or trade (exchange of services or goods), to mention you in their posts. It’s a powerful and flourishing industry, especially on Instagram. In 2017, an estimated more than US $8 billion was paid to influencers. The FYRE documentary illustrates their power, to the point of being able to attract thousands of participants to an exclusive festival on an island in the Bahamas, which turned out to be total chaos, without food nor water, and very few beds. The reason is simple: Internet users now have more trust in people than in companies to influence their consumer choices. This is the rise of personal brands as seen with the friendly Dr. Andy Roark!
How to make the most of it in veterinary medicine? Find someone local, who is friendly and of influence, whose conveyed values and messages are similar to yours. Carefully follow this person on social media for a few months to be sure:
- That the image they project is constant and professional.
- Their reputation could have an impact on yours!
- That they are not allied with a company whose messages go against your own (e.g., a business against vaccination or for the raw food diet).
- Of the type of subscribers to this person and of their involvement with them.
- That they are not overexposed in promoting multiple companies at the same time.
You must have the general feeling that this person will not bring you shame, but rather that they will have you enjoying a new pool of Internet users. This influencer must also be able to have a sincere interest in animals and in you.
A quality influencer, without being a megastar, can make stories by tagging you and adding a swipe-up link to your website. You, then, create connections within their group of subscribers and are discovered. Favour videos, and if you are adventurous enough, “Live” ones. Facebook now offers screen sharing to make Facebook Live videos, which makes for very interesting logistics. Now, how much might an influencer request? Many say $100 for every 10,000 subscribers; but this varies according to the time required, if the post is ephemeral (story) or permanent, if it’s a photo or a video in IGTV (the new TV section that allows long-form videos in vertical format), and the number of interactive options (ex.: survey in the post).
Converting visitors into consumers with ads (sponsored posts containing a Call-to-action [CTA]): even if your online presence is engaging and you have a budget to ensure a better range, your results may be disappointing if you do not have a CTA that encourages users to act. Here are the call-to-action features offered as of writing these notes (good news, additions are common):
- Book Now: take appointments or reservations on your page. If your page does not have many thousands of subscribers, my experience is that the activation of reservations without promoting it will disappoint you. However, you can activate it in a precise context for which you will have a media plan. For example, you might be organizing a tour day for students interested in veterinary medicine, organizing training for puppy owners on care basics or a lesson on first aid, etc.
- Get in Touch: receive messages from visitors to the page through Facebook Messenger or encourage them to contact you using the information you have provided. It is important to configure email options so that automatic replies are sent when you are closed or too busy. Sunday night is a popular time for pet owners who are trying to contact their veterinarians after seeing their animal being sick over the weekend.
- Learn More: direct people to your professional link or your informational video. Although we tend to choose this option because we often wish to inform pet owners, this is the option with the least conversion. It is best to collect email addresses in exchange for the information they are trying to get. This technique is frequently used with free e-books where you are offered a subscription. Be aware that this technique is possible (and relatively simple) if you use an automated marketing platform such as Mailchimp that offers landing pages and subscription forms. In the email confirmation of the subscription, you simply add a link to the tool that you promised them!
- Make a Purchase or Donation: direct people to your website’s shop or donation page. It’s a way of showing your involvement in the community and demonstrates your values. However, beware of fundraising for a sick animal that has been abandoned or of which the owner does not have the means to pay. Internet users often think that by giving money, they are entitled to receiving news from the patient. Should the animal be euthanized, you could be the subject of a smear campaign. Social media, the cost of veterinary care and abandoned animals are an explosive cocktail for the reputation of veterinary practices.
- Forms: lead ads allow you to collect information from potential customers. Information that you can collect includes, but is not limited to, names, email addresses, telephone numbers, and much more. Lead ads can be used to collect subscriptions to newsletters, names for specific training on the development of the puppies and how to encourage good behaviour, or for starting a weight loss program group for overweight dogs. It’s actually a great way to find potential clients and then to share relevant information with them or to organize an event according to the theme.
Another significant advantage to using a CTA is that the ad is more visible, the CTA area is highlighted. Important reminder: invite all who interact positively to your posts to subscribe to your page; this small gesture will have a real impact on your total number of followers over time. If users like or comment on your post, they might forget to subscribe to your page. Therefore, you can invite them individually to follow your page. People are rarely offended by the request. At the very worst, they ignore it. Many accept it. Knowing that your subscribers know you or have already shown an interest, it will be easier to target them with sponsored campaigns. Marketing remains a challenge with social media.
Some will tell you that it is rather easy to target pet owners as they represent 50% of the population. Personally, I find it’s not so straightforward. Fifty percent is a large proportion of the population, without being the majority. A big budget is needed to reach it. In addition, you may reach individuals who no longer have animals or who are loyal to their veterinarians. The best is to have mostly existing customers as subscribers. By targeting them, we can hope to remind them to return for a preventive exam or for dental care, to not forget to apply their broad-spectrum antiparasitic, etc. It’s certainly easier to convince a client that you already know than converting one with whom you have no relationship of trust.