Death Match: Social Media vs. Rotary

Two weeks ago, I had the honor of speaking at the AAHA National Convention as a part of the BlogPaws veterinary social media track. In a fit of what I can only imagine was perhaps a hypothermia-induced lapse in judgment, Bill Schroeder invited me to co-present for the day.

Bill Schroeder, Dr. Patrick Mahaney, that one person, Tom Collins, Dr. Lorie Huston, Kate Benjamin (courtesy Dr. Patrick Mahaney)

For those of you who don’t know, Bill helms In Touch Vet, a veterinary marketing company that works with 8,000 vet clinics across the country with website design and social media. And I, well, I manage one site, which is slightly less impressive, really. He’s spoken all over the world. I’ve spoken all over the midwest. I’m not entirely sure what he was thinking, but I didn’t want to correct his mistake, so I accepted his offer. And this is why:

Five years ago, there were about three veterinarians on the web. I attended a social media lecture at Western States and they held it in the basement, on Saturday night in Vegas, where a woman with no veterinary experience whatsoever got up in front of the bored looking crowd of 10 and attempted to explain what a “Facebook” was. Now, things have changed. I see more vets trying to get on board. I say “trying” because this is what tends to happen:

1. They attend a lecture, think to themselves, yup, I should do this.

2. Log onto Facebook, become immediately overwhelmed.

3. Back to work / consider asking receptionist to share some pics from George Takei’s page, or worse, post some dull news brief from an academic journal.

End experiment.

Done right, social media is fun, and engaging. I wouldn’t be here all this time later if I didn’t think that were the case (because trust me, I’m sure not making a living off writing on this site.) We’re lucky, as vets: we don’t need 20,000 fans or fans in Dubai or strangers we’ve never met, though I like all of those things; we just need a small and loyal group who support what we do. Being here makes me a better vet because it forces me to concentrate on my communication.

So I got up there with Bill, and he said all sorts of profound things and told some great jokes and showed some compelling slides. I watched. I said a few things, the most profound of which was probably my comparison of Twitter to a one-night stand (it’s not about long term relationships there, and that’s OK), but the one thing that struck me more than anything was: wow, we’re all still pretty far behind the eight ball as a profession. That, and the fact that I should wear lower heels when speaking.

The Fallacy of That One Vet From Michigan

Let me share with you something someone said after one session: a veterinarian, and I won’t guess his age because, well, I never do that anymore, came up to us and said: “yeah, this is great and all, and I’m sure where you are in San Diego everyone’s all into this social media thing (I can’t recall if he used air quotes or not), but I don’t need this where I am.”

So we asked where he practiced, and he said, “Michigan.” Then he said, “Only 2% of my clients use social media. I know this. We have data.” I wasn’t thinking of calling him a liar, since we are an honest profession of course, so I believed him. But then he said this: “So I just think maybe we need to focus on our traditional methods of new client recruitment. Like going to Rotary Club.”

Now look. I like Rotary Club. My father in law is a past president of a well renowned local chapter and the members are amazing. But I think even he would agree, that as a sole way of looking for new faces to come in the door, maybe it is a somewhat limiting strategy.

Social Media: Old People Like Me Use It Too

Then I really pondered what he was saying. Only 2% of his current base uses social media. Who are these people, 98% of whom eschew online interaction? Other than the local Rotarians, I mean. We know, generally speaking, that 67% of US adults are active on social media. According to pingdom, half of all social media users are 25-44, with another 20% 45-54. That’s plenty of middle aged people with pets, I think. More than half are women, who, at least in my practice, show up in the waiting area more than half the time. That works out well.

So I ask myself, does this person live in a small town of Luddites who eschew all forms of web based communication out of a sense of nostalgia? Is there really some place in this country so far off the national average outside of Amish country? Or is he simply handing over, to the clinic down the street, this huge chunk of potential clients who aren’t even aware his clinic exists because they don’t go to Rotary meetings?

Maybe it’s a San Diego thing, but I really can’t comprehend a town where more pet owners  attend Rotary than go on Facebook, or yelp, or any of the other places we now go to find recommendations for businesses. Perhaps, like the good men and women of the Old Mission Rotary, they do both.

I sense from many veterinarians the feeling that the internet, and social media in particular, is overrun with 14 year olds who go onto reddit, post a few LULZ and then get on with their day, none of which involves being the primary caretaker for animals. If that were the case, I would have abandoned ship long ago.

I, however, have spent the last half decade getting to know all of you, and I’m pretty sure that none of us are shopping in Forever 21. I think we’re all pretty solidly Ideal Veterinarian Client Demographic: educated, emotionally vested in our animals, and committed to their well being.

Social media: it’s not just for college kids and Beliebers.

And that connection I share with you all, that sustains me in my moments when I questioned my sanity going into the profession in the first place, is why I wanted to speak at AAHA.

I thought it went well, at least until I saw the first group picture.

Time will tell, I suppose.

Filed: Blog, Daily Life, Musings Tagged: , ,
  • umm… I just wanted to say hello from the Midwest. Indiana, not Michigan. Small (college) town. Not shopping at Forever 21. 3 cats. Giving them the best care I know how. Fascinated by animals, veterinarians, and wanting to really know more about animals and how to keep them healthy. Breaking news: Twitter, Facebook, Yelp and blogs have reached the Midwest. 🙂 The fact that I am a social media researcher/prof has nothing to do with this… I’d read your blog (and my vet’s, if she had one) anyway.

  • Sherry in MT

    Yup, I think you are right on. I live in the twigs and I love it but because of that I actually use social media and the internet more than many because I don’t have access to local help for many things. Do I use it solely to determine my veterinary choices, well, somewhat but more than anything I use the like-minded friends recommendations! Word of mouth (or of the social media fingers) is always your best recruiting method!

  • Summer

    I am in charge of all things internet for our clinic. My boss is not interested in social media, mostly because we are TOO busy and actually wish people would go elsewhere, rather than recruit new clients.
    BUT- I think a blog would be great for the clinic. I would love to write articles on dental health, holiday pet poisons, microchipping, etc… but the legality of blog content makes me cross-eyed. I know not to just snag an image from Google (copyright issues!) but even when looking at Creative Commons images I get frustrated. Also, since it is a blog for a business, doesn’t that make it a commercial blog vs. a personal blog… which makes using images more complicated? But a blog WITHOUT images is super lame and no one will read it. I have started to write 3 different blog posts and gave up in exasperation because I couldn’t find images and the legality things just paralyze me.

    • Generally speaking, I try to stick to two sources: my own pictures, and pictures I purchase the rights to from istockphoto (if you’re willing to hunt a little, they aren’t all $30 a picture.) Google images is a minefield and sadly, even Creative Commons can get you in trouble.

      Here’s my other lifehack tip: if I don’t have a good picture, I use a random picture of one of my pets. Still works.

      • Thomas Dock

        Another option is to consider membership in the Veterinary News Network…we produce two new stories every month and very often we have images or video stills that our members can use with their related blog posts. Not trying to hijack the thread…just trying to help!! 🙂

        • Summer

          Thanks for the tip! 🙂

  • Abby’s mom

    I am a Michigander now and let me put it out there that just about everyone I know in Michigan is on social media. I will say that there do seem to be fewer people online of my parents’ generation and older here than there were when I lived on the East Coast, but really I doubt the accuracy of this man’s data.

  • Great post, Dr. V. I agree with you. I’m older than you are (I won’t say how much older…LOL) and I use social media extensively. Anyone who truly believes that only 2% of their clientele is using social media is living in a make-believe land. This man’s data has to be either out-of-date or just plain inaccurate. Too bad because he’s missing a great opportunity.

  • Well…thank you for the kind words, it was a blast working with you and I can’t wait to do it again. I too have thought of “The Rotary Vet” and have scratched my head…I recall biting my tongue in refrain from asking if we were being “punk’d”…”ok…bring out Ashton Kutcher.” In the end it simply validated why we need to continue to educate the community of the importance and overall reach of social media! Until next time…