20 May 2016

South Australian veterinary practice Vets4Pets were troubled by their social media presence. The community-based business, which boasts seven practices in Adelaide’s northern suburbs, knew it needed a Facebook page, but it was proving an unsavoury experience.

“People would post negative comments,” says Vets4Pets Business Manager Carole Benassy. “They would have a bad experience in a clinic and instead of saying something to us, they would go home and post it on Facebook.”

The negative Facebook experience had left the partners at the clinic disengaged by social media, but Benassy had an idea. Inspired by case studies from a US Vet Conference, Benassy began working on a strategy to turn things around.

“At the conference, they talked about how you could dial up the positivity to drown out the negativity on social media,” she says. “I was hooked on that idea. The partners were fed-up with Facebook, but we knew we had to have a presence, so I thought, ‘let’s try and do it in a positive way’.”

Benassy created a community-centric social media strategy that would tap into Vets4Pets strong ties with the local area as well as bringing the brand’s motto, ‘Family Vets for Family Pets’, to life.

Benassy and the team began posting positive messages on the Vets4Pets Facebook page showing the work the clinics were doing for the community. The feedback was instantaneous.

Posts by Vets4Pets began to grow with some reaching large audiences and attracting 10,000 to 30,000 in reach.

“Then there were local bushfires, which we were heavily involved with, and that helped to boost things. People started to realise we had a nice social media corner where there is no negativity,” says Benassy.

Building the brand

With the strategy in place, Benassy set about creating a publishing schedule to ensure the brand had monthly themes to assist in creating regular content.

The schedule incorporated seasonal events, such as Christmas and Easter, as well as topical things such as hot weather, ticks and pests warnings, and Puppy School updates.

“We drew up a schedule, and that changed everything,” says Benassy “Our social media has been more successful, and our followers have been increasing on a regular basis. In the past two years, we’ve also been creating set monthly competitions, such as Pet of the Month, and that has been very successful.”

Vets4Pets now boasts more than 3000 followers on Facebook and is looking to new channels such as Google+ and YouTube to drive more growth.

“We use social media as an education platform, not as a commercial platform,” says Benassy. “We want to create a community through a nice, friendly, education-based social media profile. The aim is not to make money out of it and not to sell product through it. Our goals are information, education, and patient care – that is everything to us. We just want to provide great patient care.”

However, Benassy admits that this approach has been an excellent method to help build the brand and create a community of engaged and loyal customers.

“Our goal is to involve our clients and build strong bonds,” she says. “We want to bond with our clients in as many ways as we can: in the consultation room, on the website and social media. If we can bond with them by sharing business and industry content, and involve them in the stories, then that’s what we will do. We believe that is great for business.”

Shifting marketing budgets

While social media is now the primary focus of Vets4Pets’ marketing strategy and budget, it wasn’t always this way.

“Ten years ago, 80 per cent of the budget went to advertising and five years ago it was more than 50 per cent,” says Benassy. “Now we don’t do any advertising. We used to spend money on Yellow Pages and newspaper ads. We completely revamped the budget, looking at what was – and what wasn’t – working and changed things to reflect that. The dollar amount is still the same, but now it’s allocated differently with the entire budget now spent online and in the community with locally based opportunities, such as appointment cards in Medical Centres.”

To help bolster this growth Vets4Pets welcomed advice from Helena Athans, NAB Manager Social Media & Adoption, who advised the team to streamline their website, adopt social media measurement tools and introduce 30-second video content.

“When it came to Facebook, she said: ‘don’t change a thing!’”, laughs Benassy. “Helena thought our content was fantastic and told us just to keep doing what we’re doing.”

Vets4Pets tips for building an engaged community

1. Turn negative to positive. If you load more positive content into your feed, the negative will disappear.

2. Work on it and be professional. Don’t ignore it; it’s not going to go away.

3. Keep the content simple. Don’t overthink it. Often it’s the simple messages that connect with people.

4. Follow practical advice from social media experts about times and days of the week to post.

5. Seek advice and feedback from people outside your business and industry. NAB offered us invaluable impartial advice and guidance to the business.

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