Why your vet practice needs Twitter

With today’s customers becoming increasingly more choosy about where they spend their hard-earned cash it’s important for any business in these tough economic times to not only acknowledge these trends but more importantly to act on them both quickly and constructively.

Once the public have discovered a brand or service they feel comfortable with, i.e. they trust, they become bonded and will happily shop, enjoy, and even spread the word to other like minded consumers, friends and family, so they can all reap these same exciting benefits.

How a brand communicates with its customers and the positivity of every single one of its client interactions has never been as crucial to that brand’s success and longevity as now, with businesses able to explore a growing number of platforms from which to creatively engage customers and greatly expand their loyal user base.

So it’s no surprise that well known superbrands, e.g. Tesco’s, are masters at communication, but that’s no reason for veterinary practices not to follow suit and connect with both potential and existing clients’ subconscious to improve trust, confidence, loyalty and hopefully footfall.

The recent surge in popularity of social media in our lives is impossible to ignore and applying it to business is an art form.

Most people will check their Facebook in their downtime or when on the move, so can often be reluctant to engage in a brand when tired brains are well and truly switched to friends-and-family mode. Indeed promoting business on Facebook can in fact be detrimental to a brand unless approached lightly with sensitivity, creativity and fun.

Don’t get me wrong, your practice needs a presence on Facebook (preferably its own page to attract ‘likes’) but please fill pages with happy pictures of dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, puppy socialisation classes, open days, interesting cases and perhaps the odd discussion; encouraging clients to get involved and upload pictures of their own pets too.

So back to our hectic marketplace, busy with consumers and expecting more from brands; their ever-shortening attention spans and even more time spent online.

The effects of this are all too easily seen every night with popular TV programmes from BBC Question Time (#bbcqt) to The Only Way is Essex (#TOWIE) all showing their Twitter tags before, during, and after every show encouraging viewers to interact with the show and share their thoughts.

So what exactly is Twitter?

Twitter is quite simply a free way to spread a message that you’d like others to hear about. Those others, or ‘followers’, then have the opportunity to read your tweets 24/7 and act accordingly if they choose.

For example, if your tweet is a statement they can read it, if it’s a link they can click on it, or if it contains a picture they can view it.

Every tweet starts with space for 140 characters but links to websites can easily be shortened either manually (using TinyUrl.com) or automatically depending on the device you’re using thus freeing up valuable character space for any accompanying message.

It’s crucial to have a ‘reason to tweet’ (see below) as each tweet is an extension of your brand and in a vet practice you’re never short of news, pictures of pets or even behind the scenes info that all play such an important part in transparency of your business which increases trust and therefore customer confidence and bonding.

Always ask owner’s permission before tweeting pictures of pets but in my experience most clients are thrilled the vet wants to take their pets’ picture!

Reason to tweet

This can be anything you choose really, allowing you and your colleagues the freedom to be as creative as you like.

For a veterinary practice I’d definitely recommend starting with educational tweets like tips for caring for pets e.g. neutering, seasonal tips, firework advice, as well as links to stories or blogs on the practice website, competitions, special offers on products and services e.g. flea treatments, free weight clinics, and microchipping.

(Above) Example of a tweet: “@marcthevet Just removed this tick from a cocker spaniel. Big innit? #ticks #dogs”

Inviting every member of staff to tweet can raise team spirit as everyone’s equal in being the voice of the practice, and you’ll soon know who’s responsible for giving your practice this exciting new dimension in personality – and successfully hooking clients in at the same time.

“But I’m already too busy – I just haven’t got time to tweet!”

Tweeting only takes a few seconds and there are no rules to how often you have to tweet.

If a few of your colleagues are tweeting a few times a day that means less pressure for you individually but it’s always a good idea to keep your account active as it shows your practice to be dynamic, creative, informative and ‘with it’.

If you have valuable information tucked away on your practice website like blogs, cut-and-pasted press releases from drug companies, directions to the clinic, even opening times – these are all worthy reasons to tweet and can only inform your new followers about your business by cleverly driving traffic to these individual pages when normally you’d be relying on clients to first find your site and then trawl their way through to find this information themselves.

As well as giving, Twitter is all about receiving and exchanging information too with accounts you follow sharing their news, facts, pictures and links, keeping you well informed up-to-the-second of the goings on in the pet, human or any other world you’d like to follow.

With your practice happily tweeting away it’s soon no great surprise then to find that all of this extra brand transparency, personality, bonding and loyalty leads to increased trust and greater practice web traffic and footfall, making you the pet voice of your local community with potential clients much more likely to approach, engage and interact with your brand rather than anyone else’s.

This greater visibility will also let your ‘just one visit a year for booster’ clients know that you’re offering pet services all year round encouraging extra all year round visits.

Starting up

Creating your Twitter profile is easy and only takes a few minutes. Go to Twitter.com and pick your username (practice name), password, and follow simple instructions.

Your practice logo/picture is a good idea for your avatar, and I suggest making the short description your practice’s mission statement not forgetting to include important keywords (e.g. dog, cat, rabbit, care), and the all important link to your website, as this will also improve search results for people looking for your clinic online.

Then it’s time to follow some fellow tweeters. Perhaps start by following local press, radio, media, animal charities, rescue centres, local and national influential people (particularly if they’ve got pets/are known to love animals).

Some of the Twitter language intricacies e.g. hashtags, ‘@’ signs, re-tweets (RTs) and Follow Fridays can appear daunting at first but are extremely easy to pick up and all designed to help spread the message in a fun way, spot trends and widen your net even further.

Recommended accounts to follow include @marcthevet (myself), @vetsonline, @BritishVets (BVA) @KCLovesDogs (Kennel Club) @DogsTrust, @TheMayhew, @mrcvsonline (MRCVS), @PupAid.

Finally

Remember Twitter is all about reflecting a brand’s personality, so as well as vet-related tweets you can be brave and tweet jokes (clean ones obviously), comments about the weather, football, fun dog show pictures, etc; you’ll be surprised at some of the responses you get and the new followers you quickly gain from being ‘non-vetty’, and just having an opinion on public conversational common ground.

When you have successfully created your practice Twitter account ask your web designer to add a button and even incorporate your Twitter feed onto your practice homepage – and you’ve just got your first reason to tweet. Tell your followers all about it and happy tweeting!

Twitter Advantages

• Free
• Simple to use
• All members of staff involved
• Educational for clients & staff
• Greater web presence
• Personality of practice esp. non-vetty tweets
• Offers/discounts/competitions
• Links straight to practice website/blog/shop/FB page

(Above) Another example: “@marcthevet Check out this rescue guinea pig’s teeth! Neglected by original owner. Gonna feel so much better! #guineapig”

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