For Vet Times this month I pondered the good, bad and ugly of the smells we get exposed to in The Veterinary World. That might sound weird but there’s something very powerful about smell and memory and in the vet world we get to sniff the weird wonderful and down right nasty.
Check my blog out here, but sorry, it’s not scratch and sniff!
I first became familiar with the # when training as a veterinary nurse. The symbol appeared frequently as the practice saw a high number of emergency patients and there were the inevitable broken legs from dogs being hit by cars and the broken jaws and pelvis of the high-rise syndrome cats.
Happily I now associate # as a hashtag and enjoy using it on social media, a little different from seeing it and knowing I was heading into theatre for a 3-4 stint. I find on social media people usually see a # and either love it, avoid it or misuse it, so what is it, what does it do and how can you use it?
What is a # ?
Simply put a # is a form of metadata. i.e. it provides data on other data. While that sounds quite dry and dull it’s a very specific way of saying that a # used on social media links all posts that use that #. # terms are also picked up by search engines so can help with your SEO.
It’s an easy way to link people with similar interests or to raise awareness of events or issues without it being focused on an individual account or page.
What is trending?
It is usually the content of a # that you will see “trending”. Trending describes the list of the most popular topics on social media sites. It can be a single word, a phrase or a name. It lets social media users see what is popular on their platform at that time. It can help spread messages quickly which, like my previous blog on viral posts can be really beneficial.
Is a # beneficial to me?
Using a # is quick and easy and can create different communities within your followers and attract new followers. It saves you setting up new accounts for sharing new products or information yet you will still be able to be found on social media and using SEO – yes you can Google #s.
It can be great for short term sharing of information – like having a stall at an upcoming summer fayre or a promotion on preventative health care. I use #planetrvn on social media to link my posts and others use it too to promote what they are doing in the ventures world. It also makes the posts less about me and my account as a person, its a community.
How do I start one?
Choose your message and put a # in front of it – it’s that simple. But make sure your message is easy to understand and not easily confused with others. Avoid the basic pitfalls of:
- Bad spelling – Facebook you can edit posts on – Twitter you can’t so that will live with you forever (deleted posts don’t disappear entirely either) and people then can’t find all the posts
- Typos – as above a typo will make the # look poor and hard to find
- Punctuation – #’s don’t like punctuation and it will stop linking letters and numbers, meaning #no.1petcare will become just #no – not a great #
- # already in use – check especially with commonly used words or initials. Your message will be lost Google your intended # as well as searching on social media
- creating words you didn’t intend to – Susan Boyles album launch # was #susanalbumparty which doesn’t read well when put together
- piggy backing on popular # – some companies have done this and it doesn’t end well. We know that #strictly will trend most weekends over autumn in the UK as the BBC have Strictly Come Dancing on and it’s a show where viewers vote for contestants. Yes, it’s popular but it’s not really vet related – unless Noel Fitzpatrick is in this years contestants. Posting something about flea treatments with #strictly usually won’t win you any favours!
Managing your #
Do remember to head into your # (just click on it) and check whats going on. This means you can make sure it hasn’t been hi-jacked, but also you can respond to comments and re-post. This has the effect of connecting you to more followers and boosting the frequency that your # is seen, as well as creating a community.
#plan, #create, #enjoy
Using a # well can really expand your horizons on social media and it is a great way to increase your SEO. Avoid the pitfalls above, plan what you want to do and enjoy! Join me on #planetrvn to see how it can work.
Since the advent of social media we have become addicted to likes, shares and retweets. It shows our post is good – doesn’t it? If likes and shares are good then a viral post must be the best?
Well, it shows people are interested but if your post gets more than the normal number of views is it really good for you? Is the Moon the dream viral destination, or a lonely place with little interaction?
What is a viral post?
The name tells you little about what a viral post is. Yep, it’s like a virus…. It’s a post that takes over and grows larger than your usual audience and usually at a rapid pace. That might mean a few hundred shares and likes or more, but still within YOUR community. It’s truly viral if it gets shared across more than one social media platform, gets trending or spreads outside of your country, EVERYONE sees it.
Of these two options – either viral for YOU or viral for EVERYONE which do you think is best and how does it get there?
What makes something “go viral”?
viralmadnews.com – is this an image you would like to be known for?
There are common themes for viral posts we often see. The post usually provides one or more of the following:
- Invokes a reaction – good or bad
- There’s an error – beware of cropping pictures properly, typos, checking facts, photo bombs
- It’s emotional – animals always get a response! Telling a story with animal pictures/videos will always get increased interest
- New information – which might seem obvious to you but is new to clients – think of the recent interest in the posts on not giving sticks to dogs
- Use of key words or # – this creates an easy way for people to search for and find your post, naturally increasing the audience
- Timing – local papers can pick up stories that then get into national press. This is more likely to happen on a slow news day for most vet related stories.
There’s Good Viral and Bad Viral too. Posts often get shared because of a reason…
|Invokes a reaction
||Re-uniting lost pets
||Animal welfare issues raised that are contentious – cruelty cases
|There’s an error
||An amusing typo
||Client details revealed on paperwork or screen!
||Feel good stories – patients get better
||Highly contentious areas
||Health advice such as not throwing sticks for dogs
||Issues with insurance claims – may be relevant to your clients but not to the wider public
|Use of key words or #
||Active veterinary #s such as #teamvet #planetrvn #whatvnsdo
||Piggy backing from a trending # not related to your post – dodgy Bots do this so avoid!
Social media sites have many examples of businesses promoting poorly chosen products for likes – do you want to answer all these negative comments for a the sake of a few more likes?
Is a viral post the Moon Landing of a good social media account?
This might be a surprise to you all but having a post go viral isn’t the unicorn that people think it is. As a service provider a vet practice is unlikely to see a huge benefit in having posts go viral for EVERYONE.
It will probably reach more people than you wish to register at once and they are likely to be out of your geographical area. The point of practice social media is usually to drive more clients to your door or website – but at a level you can cope with and creating committed clients who will return and again and again, not people who travel miles to attend a “celeb” vets but don’t use you for all their pets care.
There is a lack of control of a post once it goes viral. It is harder to read and respond to comments made and you will need specific software to track the post. It can be more work than you intended to keep up with a rapidly shared post.
As a vet practice in the UK there can quickly be a loss of context for some posts. Animal issues vary widely between countries and something that is of concern here may be routine in another country. This can result in then some negative comments that are not intended to be, but are posted due to the lack of context that can happen. Social media users are aware of this and you often find other posters advising people of the origin of a post. Having others correct issues is a great attribute so don’t rush to correct people too quickly yourself.
I see social media is another way of spreading the traditional word of mouth recommendations and a viral post can result in a loss of personal interaction. I like ensuring that comments on my posts or blogs all get a “like”, even if there are too many comments to respond to each individual comment. It’s the same for a business page.
Your practice Instagram is unlikely to become the vet equivalent of Beyoncè, where thousands comment and you aren’t expected to reply, just exist and be adored! It is more realistic to have tens of replies that you can respond to and engage with clients or potential clients. Therefore, a viral post can quickly remove the practicality of doing this and reduces the posts impact and ability to do what you want – increase footfall to practice or website.
What type of viral is best?
For the average vet practice a post that is in the “good” category AND is viral to YOU is the best option. These types of posts generate a bigger audience, they may be picked up by local and maybe national newspapers (or a spot on This Morning!) for a story but you still have control over seeing the responses to the post. If your usual likes are 15-20 and share 5-10 then a viral post for YOU would probably see likes of 150+ and shares hitting 35+. This is great work, and is an asset to your practice, not a burden.
Shoot for the Moon and you’ll still land among the Stars? Maybe hanging around the Stars is the best place to be, the Moon isn’t all its cracked up to be.
We also need to consider our staff and giving consent and handling data.
Team photos and stories are popular with clients. You need only see the number of vet shows on TV to see that people love to see behind the scenes at a vets. If your team are to feature they too must consent to their image and information being shared. This could be included in staff contracts or handbooks and discussed at induction. Staff can also change their mind about consent so you may wish to add this into annual appraisals to ensure the consent you have is current.
There may also be times when a staff member has their own pet in as a patient. While this can seem to be an ideal case to share please make sure the staff member is happy for that to happen.
Security of images
We also need to consider where images and information provided by staff come from and where they are stored. This is a long-winded way of saying you need to check who is taking pictures and what is happening with them.
You really need to have control of the devices that photos are taken on. You don’t want a situation where a staff members phone has sensitive pictures on it that get shared, either on purpose or by accident. If you are creating a library of pictures as a library for the future or for training then it is a good idea to have a practice phone or tablet that takes the photos.
Older phones that are not used as the owner has upgraded can get a PAYG SIM card or new tablets that are set up for limited functions of email, web browsing and photo storage may work well. These tablets are for sale for around £50 and would be useful for practice social media activities, if used with the practice wi-fi there is no ongoing cost, but you may wish to spend more to get extra storage as pictures do take up a lot of space.
This gives the practice control over who has the password and access to the photos. I am aware many practices also now have rules that prevent staff having mobile phones on them at work so providing a way to take photos without resorting to personal devices.
The number of images you have will build up quickly. It is prudent to keep photos and label them properly. If you are to use certain pictures regularly, such as seasonal themes then checking the patient hasn’t deceased since the last use is key. I had people share a photo of my cat on Instagram a few months after she died. While they are free to do that and the post was lovely, I still took a few minutes to compose myself after I had seen it. Please don’t upset clients in the same way! Put a name, date and reason for photo on each one so you always use it appropriately and can trace where it came from.
Copyright is often mentioned in general terms in with data protection and consent. While it is a different issue to client confidentiality you need to be aware of where your content comes from. If you haven’t produced it yourself you need to know the source. There are websites out there for fee free images to keep you safe, and you can use Google to find these:
Just copying a picture and crediting the website does not guarantee you have avoided a copyright issue so be very careful and either use your own images or copyright free ones. If you wish to use copyright images again in the future then do make sure you check there have been no changes to the images status since you found it. I would keep the URL where you found it and a screenshot of the web page. This is important in proving it was copyright free when you used it.
If you wish to use any veterinary products on your social media then contact the company that makes it. Where you used to be mailed a poster for the waiting room most companies now have a social media pack to send you, with approved images and information that are safe for you to use. This will also mean you are not breaching any advertising rules on prescription products or putting out incorrect information.
More practical, less performance
Looking at the last 3 blogs on social media for vet practices I seem to have painted a fairly bleak picture of what you need to do to have a successful and stress free social media presence. You do need to be methodical, plan, file, and control what you share.
This has been partly planned from my side. Too often people start social media with great intentions… Biogs appear announcing “Daily facts and info…” and other common errors.
It’s unlikely you’ll be able to keep up daily posts and sharing posts once the novelty has worn off. It will gain you more followers longer term if you start small, but keep it up than if you post frequently but this slows down and eventually fades away.
As I said at the start its more about planning what image you wish to share and creating this than snap chatting every puppy you see. In this way social media can be stress free and enjoyable for the whole team, and for your clients.
Using social media for your business can seem like its riddled with potential problems.
- What if people complain online
- What if someone disagrees with a post
- What is consent for pictures and cases and how do I get it
- What is copyright and how can I avoid breaching it
I’ll deal with the online complaints in the future – you’re already dealing successfully with issues brought to you in house, so social media is just a new branch of this. The bigger question that gets many people unstuck is consent.
We’re used to talking about and gaining informed consent for procedures but what is consent when applied to pictures and stories, how do we ask for consent and how do we make sure we do not become liable for copyrighted content use.
The RCVS have a guide for using social media and it’s an easy to read guide. It covers the basics and while it speaks from using social media from a personal point of view it is applicable to business use.
- Avoid bringing the industry into disrepute
- Avoid inappropriate behaviour
- Protect the privacy of clients, colleagues and friends
When do you need consent?
You need to be able to explain what you will do with a picture or case details for clients or staff to be able to consent. This is where the planning posts are worth a re-read. I would ask for consent in these situations:
- You need to share pictures or information with another vet for diagnosis
- You have planned posts that this case or picture would fit
- You would like to feature the pet in the future as it is an interesting case that could educate people
We often share case details with other professionals and this requires the clients consent – it’s not just for sharing information publicly.
Let’s check the law
According to the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) vet practices hold personal data. This means you need to comply with the DPA. While the act is quite a lot to read through the Information Commissioners Office have great guides for the public and for organisations. In their view we hold data that can identify a member of the public and this should not be shared without their consent.
That seems pretty easy? We wouldn’t post their address or phone number online so we’re safe? If we post a case and no picture it won’t be able to be identified, will it?
This is where consent gets tricky. We never know who is reading the information we share. That can be exciting and interesting and can make things go viral – the unicorn of social media. Not knowing who is reading your posts also opens you up to people misusing or misinterpreting the information you share. This is why you need consent, even if you think the information or picture is not identifiable.
With so much already going on in a vet practice how do you gain consent?
Show what you are doing
Clients will be more likely to consent to sharing pictures if they can see some of your posts. To show what your activity is on social media you may wish to use pictures from your timeline in the waiting room. You also get more use out of great posts by using them as your own adverts – a simple screen shot and a colour printer and you have personalised posters – and may gain some more followers.
Review your current consent form
Consent for sharing information can be incorporated onto your current consent form. This can take whatever format you need but I would recommend having two aspects to consent for sharing pictures and information.
We need consent to share data with other vets, I would put this on the consent form as non-optional consent. This removes the stress of asking every client if they will consent to sharing information for diagnosis – especially when it isn’t always clear at the start of a case this will be needed. This consent should include the taking of pictures for training. We have all benefitted from seeing photos and videos of patients. Previously the preserve of textbooks we can now create our own library of images from the cases we see every day.
The RCVS recommends:
If a veterinary surgeon considers it is appropriate to discuss a case – for example to further an animal’s care or the care of future animals – steps should be taken to anonymise the client, and/or the client’s animal. Veterinary surgeons should note that although individual pieces of information may not breach client confidentiality, the totality of the published information could be sufficient to identify a client.
With gaining consent for taking photos for use within the industry you have already cleared one hurdle for getting photos for social media. During a busy shift, or with critical cases you have consent to take photos. If you decide in the future they are useful for social media you can contact the owner at a more appropriate time.
You should include an optional section for sharing on social media on your consent forms. This can be simply worded and have the option to tick for consent. It is worth training staff on your social media policy so they can explain to clients what giving consent means.
I like LifeLearns template and it’s available for free here. Again, it splits the consent into two sections – one for consent to share the image but also a second statement that covers any alterations to the image, such as adding an arrow or notes to a point of interest. It is best practice to say you will share any alterations with the client before they are shared.
While the line about compensation may seem a little dramatic it does clarify that you and the client understand that what happens to an image once it is in the online domain is beyond your control – to quote Dangerous Liaisons. You can adapt this form to suit your needs.
Options for sourcing pictures with consent
You can get clients to send their own pictures in. A post on social media could say you’re supporting Rabbit Awareness Month and please send in pictures of your rabbits for you to share. The client is then consenting for its use by submitting the picture. To ensure you are giving enough information, state where and when pictures will be shared – website/social media – and in what context. You may wish to have categories showing best hutch, most varied diet or similar so you get content to match your plans. Follow up with an email to confirm they have submitted the image and it may be used.
Other options mean going back to your planning, would you prefer to create posts that use stock images, or images of equipment and avoid the issue of client consent? You can still have a successful social media feed with minimal or no client consent required.
One final tip – never promise to use an image! Nothing will infuriate a client more than telling everyone their beloved pet is going to be a star… for you to post one image 6 months later! Make it clear their image MAY be used and it may not be in the near future. This is why explaining your plans for a picture are best practice.
Next time we’ll look at consent from staff and how to avoid copyright issues if you use photos and content from others.