Hot summer topics: What and how to share with pet parents
This summer already looks busy with families planning fresh adventures. In the rush to have fun after a long winter, people may accidentally expose pets to common dangers or risks specific to your community.
Use your expertise plus existing reputable resources to help protect patients and prevent unnecessary client stress. Set up veterinary client communication topics and timelines now that educate and engage people on summertime subjects.
Hot topics for summer
Universal summertime topics to address with pet parents include:
- Parasite prevention (fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, heartworm)
- Heatstroke during exercise or while inside hot cars
- Hot pavements
- Thunderstorm or fireworks phobias
- Wildlife encounters
- Food dangers at barbecues (bones, fatty foods, suffocation from potato chip bags)
- Sunburn for pets with fair coats or existing dermatology issues
"When you create evergreen content, you save time and staff resources that can be better allocated to direct patient care or other activities. Every year we do the same thing," Michael Shirley, owner and practice manager of Family Pet Health in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, says. "About June, we say, 'Don't forget. If your pet is afraid of fireworks, now is the time to refill your prescriptions.'"
Other topics vary based on risks specific to your area:
- Wasp or bee stings
- Algae growth in local waterways
- Drownings (canals with steep sides, boating without life vests
- Saltwater ingestion
- Toxic plants common in the community
- Gardening or landscaping materials and chemical
- Weather-related escapes during thunderstorms or high winds blowing fences down or gates open
- Foxtails (breathed in, burrowed into the skin)
- Snake bites
With the growth in brachycephalic breed popularity, clients new to such breeds need education about the dangers of exercising in the heat. Or if cases of rabbit hemorrhagic disease surge, families with bunnies need warnings and advice. Those are just a couple of examples of targeted veterinary client communications.
So, what's new, or at least newly important, for 2022?
- Traveling with pets
- Boarding pets
With pandemic travel restrictions lifted and so many people with new pets (perhaps for the first time), Shirley already sees clients asking about how to board their pets or travel with pets safely. He says, "That's one of the things we're building out for our social media and email campaigns right now."
For example, people might not know which vaccines on what timelines local boarding facilities require or which facilities require a trial visit before play-group-style boarding. Clients might not know they need a rabies vaccine certificate or health certificate or both to travel with pets. "Health certificates are not easy to get," Shirley says. "Your veterinary office is very busy, and if you're loading up and need a health certificate, that's not something you can typically call and get day of."
Veterinary client communication best practices
Whether you already create and send robust veterinary client communication flows or plan to start strong this summer, consider these best practices.
Know your marketing goals. Cheyanne Flerx, founder and CEO of Hey Cheyanne, which offers veterinary social media coaching and education, recommends starting with your overall marketing goals — such as increasing new clients, boosting parasite prevention compliance, or other client education. Based on that decision, you can then focus your content with practice personalization and local relevance.
Choose a workable frequency. Rather than create a veterinary client communication plan that's too aspirational and risk falling short, start with timelines that feel doable. For Shirley, right now, that means monthly emails. For social media, Flerx suggests at least three times each week for each platform. Simply use the same information, formatted for the different platforms. No need to develop original content for each.
Build in flexibility. Yes, some topics require specific timing, but make sure you're ready for anything big that crops up in your community, such as rabies cases, a rash of dogs getting skunked or quilled, or disease outbreaks.
Consider email your primary tool. Build, update, and control your own client email list as your primary mode of direct connection because social media algorithms limit what clients see. "We own that email list," Shirley explains. "There's no threat of someone all of a sudden banning our account from social media. We can always reach our clients with email."
Leverage existing resources. Veterinary client communication tool providers can include email templates and reputable content you can personalize and use. In addition, a manufacturer partner program even sends targeted emails that promote the vaccines and parasiticides you offer on your behalf. In 2019 and 2020, practices in the program saw average year-over-year increases in these ROI measures:
- 16 percent more doses of vaccines and parasiticides sold per pet
- 16 percent more doses dispensed
- 19 percent overall practice revenue
Create original content, especially photos, graphics, and specific language. "I'm always a huge advocate for trying to create original content as much as possible," Flerx says. "Nowadays, it's so easy to have people misconstrue copyrights or get in trouble for borrowing content they thought was safe but actually is not."
Original content from your own veterinary team supports messaging consistency by putting forth your in-house experts with information specifically for your clients. Focus on one topic at a time and blanket all your communication efforts with the same information to boost reinforcement and reach. For example, instead of generic Independence Day fireworks warnings, customize your client education through practices such as:
- Sharing your unique deadlines for making appointments or medication refill requests for anxious pets
- Specifically listing fireworks times and locations planned for your community
- Creating a calming music playlist clients could access and use to drown out fireworks noise
- Explaining how clients can double-check their contact information linked to pets' microchips, just in case pets get loose
Shirley also beefs up brand awareness and loyalty and community involvement through online/real-world events. The practice's Walk-My-Dog Program runs in May and June (before the weather gets too hot in Tennessee), and people from all over participate by logging how many miles they walked with their dogs each week and taking part in sponsored social media challenges for the chance to win prizes from other local companies — from a bakery to a local kid who created a cactus farm during the pandemic.
Mix it up with calls to action. Always ask clients to do something, anything in support of your goals. Flerx says, "Every post has a purpose, whether that's to get engagement or to do a straight-up hard sell to get someone into the clinic."
For example, one post may offer a summertime hiking checklist and ask people to show what's in their backpack. Flerx explains, "The way I go about it is like every fourth day. And again, this really depends on the clinic and their goals, but every three or four days, I will come out with a direct sales post, like, 'Schedule this appointment,' then I'll go with a softer approach and then an engaging post to kind of build suspense."
Example calls to action include links or directions for people to:
- Book an appointment
- Read more
- Visit your website
- Place an order
- Post in comments
"When you create evergreen content, you save time and staff resources that can be better allocated to direct patient care or other activities."
Benefits of keeping pets safe
Educating clients about potential summertime dangers protects pets from accidental illness or injury and their families from the heartbreaking guilt that comes with making a mistake or simply not knowing the risks.
Strong, consistent client education also protects your already-busy schedule and team stress levels by lowering the number of urgent calls and requests, especially when many of you want and need time off this summer too.
Flerx explains that it can take several months or longer to see measurable results from veterinary client communication efforts, especially if you don't already have an active presence or community. It takes busy families time to tune into your efforts and messaging.
Common ways to measure veterinary client communication success include:
- Asking on intake forms where new clients heard about your practice
- Client email open rates
- Client email click-thru rates
- Social media post engagement stats (likes, comments, shares
Tying social media directly into key practice performance metrics isn't as simple. You probably can track how many direct calls to action result in specific types of appointments promoted in emails or social media posts, but bigger-picture things may prove harder to pin down.
Shirley says, "Our veterinary professionals are finding the time in the exam room educating clients as to why we're making recommendations is going down as our communications outside of the exam room are going up."
Measuring those efficiencies is tough. However, less stress and greater satisfaction for veterinary teams count as a win for retention and emotional wellness.
"What we noticed the most is our average client transactions have gone up since we really started concentrating on our marketing," Shirley says. "And our efficiency in the rooms is going up, but our training is going up as well. So, it's hard to put your finger on [a single thing]. I did this podcast, which resulted in 15 more wellness blood workups this month. Well, it could have been that we talked about wellness bloodwork with that client three or four times before, and finally, they decided to do it."
Shirley sums it up like this: Veterinary client communication needs to make it incredibly easy for clients to find the information that they need — from you, rather than someone unknown online — and for you to deliver important messages you want them to know to keep pets healthy and safe.