Most of us by now will be well-aware of the concept of social networking. In fact I’m sure the vast majority of you reading this will have already embraced Facebook, and enjoy dipping into its slick functionality to catch-up, share photos and arrange gatherings with friends and family.
Social networking’s recent astronomical rise in popularity is due to a number of contributing factors. Firstly not only is it simple to use making it universally understood by all ages and nationalities, but also because it’s not only fun and has a habit of easily and quickly relaxing us, as well as being very conveniently available 24/7, and of course absolutely free of charge to use.
Furthermore with the topic of communication in the pet-industry literally on everyone’s lips and finger-tips right now, what better way to engage with clients both existing and prospective than by using the latest in social media?
Indeed it’s not even that you ‘should’ consider engaging in this way; today’s convenience-culture governed consumers – particularly in their 30s and 40s are now already subconsciously expecting those brands they trust to provide them with that extra dimension of communication.
One where they can feel they can interact, send messages or ‘talk to’ in their down-time and simply bond – and weirdly enough – sometimes not even expect a reply!
But I’m not talking about Facebook for this particular business-client relationship (although Facebook does have a place which we’ll get to shortly); for I’m referring to the world’s latest craze – Twitter, or www.twitter.com to give its full name.
Now most people you mention Twitter to will automatically snap back with “Isn’t that just bored celebs telling me they’ve just had a cup of coffee?”, or “I just don’t have the time in my day for another thing to do”.
But with any forward-thinking business (vets, behaviourist, responsible breeder, pet-shop, kennels, cattery, etc) especially one that’s already invested time and money in a decent website with interesting and relevant dynamic content that you control (e.g. a blog), I’d say it was absolutely essential.
For those who still aren’t totally sure, a ‘tweet’ is a short message that is available to view by all who ‘follow’ you, and vice versa. This could be anyone from clients/individuals with pets, charities, animal behaviourists, pet-food to pet-insurance companies, or, even pet-loving celebrities too.
But Twitter isn’t an in-your-face selling business tool as such; it’s much more subtle than that.
In fact Twitter works in a completely opposite, reverse-psychology kind of way, briefly engaging the client with your practice logo and permitted 140 characters or less of interesting and relevant information – or better still – by adding relevant web-links straight back to your own business’ website.
Twitter gives your ‘followers’ the option to read or click on that link, thus the opportunity to inform/educate your own brand’s personal audience of pet-owners, and at the same time driving the all-important traffic to your site; and all from the click of a button – live from your consulting room, reception desk, office, or even mobile.
By far the Golden Rule to remember when tweeting is the ‘reason to tweet’. And when you work closely with animals, we’re all never short of animal/pet facts, or stories that we know our clients will find interesting.
And continuing the PR-tip, it’s a lesser-known fact that local papers across the UK are crying out for animal stories, and in my opinion, this channel of client communication is vastly under-exploited.
It’s amazing the difference that arranging to meet one of the reporters from your local newspaper for a simple coffee with can make to your pet-business brand’s visibility in your community.
Get an email address and keep sending them stories – they’ll no doubt all appear after a request for pictures and usually an interview with the excited owner. Everybody wins – and all just for the price of a latte.
But Twitter is for the here and now: Summer pet tips? What operation you’re about to do next? Even a link to your opening hours webpage? It doesn’t really matter as it’s all good relevant stuff that can capture however briefly or in depth the attention of your followers making sure your business is communicating like any other well-respected brand in the marketplace, and therefore has a trusted voice in which your clients and customers can enjoy engaging with.
Twitter can be a gold-mine of information to you and your business as well. By following vets, animal charities, dog trainers and other pet-owners across the globe you’ll be handed on a cyber-plate a wealth of links to relevant and interesting websites all over the world giving you easy access to content you may never have come across otherwise.
Indeed just typing in search words will tell you in a second who’s talking about important animal/pet issues, topics, conditions; and all playing a truly fascinating part in the world’s biggest conversation.
So what about Facebook then? Surely we can set-up business pages for clients or customers to become ‘fans of’ or ‘like’. Well you can, and I suggest you do, but be extremely wary of the content, i.e. what you write.
When people are on Facebook they are generally in an escapism-type of relaxed state, either taking a quick break from stressful work or relaxing watching the telly at home, so the last thing they need to feel is a business engaging with them and being all ‘businessy’ or worse-still being directly sold-to. If anything it could prove detrimental to your brand.
However by uploading photos of puppy parties, cattery open days, interesting pets, etc, you’re providing interesting and more importantly relevant content without offering ugly discounts on vaccinations or neutering deals that could potentially turn people off your brand for good.
Incidentally by uploading photos of cute pets, these will usually be shared across the owners Facebook friends like wild-fire ensuring that now someone else unconnected work-wise to your practice is now helping you to spread your net and capture like-minded local pet-lovers – a bit like the pyramid selling model but with no actual money changing hands – just valuable brand awareness.
Furthermore if your Facebook Page is linked directly to your Twitter-feed (very easy, quick, and free to set-up) your follows on both sites will be engaging automatically with your brand and continue to further increase both on- and off-line practice-loyalty.
If you’re now wondering how to start tweeting you preferably need to be online at your place of work (you may laugh but sadly still in 2010 not everyone is!), although you can of course use an iPhone, Blackberry, etc.
Indeed these devices are perfect for ‘Twitpics’ from their inbuilt cameras too – photos of pets that can be uploaded and viewed by clicking on a simple weblink and made public in a second.
Setting up Twitter for your business to use is so easy and only takes a few minutes.
Your business’s name can be your username, then write a short description of what you pride yourself on (i.e. value for money, cats, dogs, etc), add your business website URL (long bit at the top of the browser) if you have one, and start following other animal/pet related users, and away you go!
Personally I would recommend that all browsers used are Mozilla rather than Internet Explorer, and you also download (again free) a widget called Echofon.
This makes Twitter easier as it not only allows the user to click on a tiny icon in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen to view their personal Twitter-feed when needed, but it also has the huge advantage of shortening your posted URLs (weblinks) thus allowing more space in the 140 allocated characters for your relevant content.
In an ideal world all computer screens in the building should have Echofon installed on them so any colleague in your busy team can update your business Twitter feed and continue to provide that extra dimensional voice to your rapidly expanding group of eager followers.
By exploring Twitter and getting accustomed to its unique way of communication, you’ll soon grasp the power and meaning of the ‘Re-tweet’ (RT), the hash-tag (#) and even ‘Follow Fridays’ (#ff), and discover why it’s such a great, must-have, add-on to your business as you develop your relationship with potential clients, and supporters.
But please don’t be too put out if someone you follow doesn’t follow or answer you back – it’s quite normal and sometimes takes while.
And to really take full advantage of your new communication toy, try hooking your website upto a free-to-use online analytics tool, e.g. Google Analytics, Statcounter.com; you’ll also be able to track how much traffic is being driven to your site from twitter and what your followers enjoy reading about the most. A Twitter and Facebook ‘button’ on your business’ homepage is also very handy.
Lastly if you’re not sure knowing who to follow then here are some well-established and excellent pet-themed tweeters that are definitely worth a click: @DogsTrust, @KCLovesDogs, @thepetnet, @OldiesClub, @petethevet, @HeeneRoadVets, @kittentocat, @TheMayhew, @Vetsonline, and myself @marcthevet.
So now you can enjoy what Twitter can do for you. It’s alot more useful as a business tool than you could possibly imagine, as well as a great way of gaining and informing new and existing clients and customers; and at the same time a really fun cutting-edge way of communicating – and it’s all completely free!