Online networking—it works
Have you plugged into the Web lately? It's bursting with blogs and twittering with tweets by the millisecond. And as the social networking movement prompts more people to use the Internet to connect, savvy businesses are following suit. Facebook, Twitter, and other sites are the newest vehicles used to market businesses and stay in touch with clients.
Shiloh Veterinary Hospital is a great example of a practice engaging clients—and potential clients—through social networking. To start, the practice's two locations share an awesome Web site at http://myshilohvet.com/ with several short, informative videos. The videos are hosted on YouTube but play right on the hospital's site. One shows the practice's history, while another offers a quick tour of each facility. Others showcase practice doctors discussing pet ear infections and puppy training. What a great way to establish a feeling of familiarity in the minds of potential clients.
In addition to the videos, the site provides a link to Twitter, where you can choose to "follow" Shiloh ( http://twitter.com/shilohvet). Followers receive short messages, or tweets, from the hospital about all the wonderful things going on there. In fact, during a spring snowstorm when the practice had to close for the day, the staff tweeted that information to followers. The last time I looked, the practice had 327 followers. Imagine that! At least 327 people want to follow the hospital's every move—now those are bonded clients.CONNECT WITH YOUR CLIENTS
Social networking is a great way to keep in touch with clients and update them on what's new. You could post about pet dental health month, a new product, or services you provide. For instance, if you decided to open an online store on your Web site, you could tweet about it to your followers or post it on your Facebook page for your fans to see. These are inexpensive ways to market your practice and keep your followers and fans in the know.
I know of one practice that started a "treasure hunt" using Twitter. The practice gave clues to its followers about where to find things around the city, many of which involved animal-related services and facilities. For example, one clue led participants to the local zoo, where they had to find another clue at the monkey exhibit. The winner received a laptop. You can bet it caused a buzz in that community.
UNDERSTAND HOW IT WORKS
If you haven't already joined the social networking revolution, there's no better time than now. It's free, and the rewards can be great. But before you take the plunge, you should take a little time to understand how this new way of connecting works on an emotional level. Your communication style and messages need to be effective and not turn off your fans and followers.
My first recommendation is to create a personal account on one or two of these social networks to see how they work firsthand. When I joined Facebook, I was pleased to see how user-friendly and ubiquitous the site is. It's easy to get started. When I entered my basic information—age, high school, and college—Facebook came up with the names of two roommates from college I hadn't spoken to since graduation! I followed instructions to "friend" them, and we now post messages on each other's virtual walls to keep in touch.
So get on, set up an account, and see how the social networking world operates. You'll then be ready to set up an account for your business. You might also want to inquire within your practice to see who's most familiar with social networking sites and might want to help you or head up this project. People love to connect, and you'll be amazed at how many people will ask to be your fans or followers.