Understanding social media in veterinary practice

01 August 2016, at 1:00am

Sandeep Said details the risks and benefits of using social media to connect with clients and suggests a number of policy recommendations for practices.

SOCIAL MEDIA IS THE FUTURE of communication, is changing the face of the veterinary sector rapidly and is impacting the way this sector interacts. 

It is a collective of online communications channels, dedicated to community-based input, interaction, content-sharing and collaboration. The different types of social media channels used in the veterinary sector attract specific audiences for different purposes.

Veterinary professionals need to understand that social media presents itself with great opportunities and benefits to embrace, such as reaching and communicating with the public, engaging in health-related discussions and networks, and increasing awareness of the various veterinary services available.

However, social media also has potential risks involved and can be detrimental to the overall practice’s reputation as well as the public’s trust and confidence.

It is important to remember that anything that a practice posts on social media is immediately in the public domain and can be easily copied and redistributed without the practice’s knowledge or consent. You should presume that everything you share online will be there permanently and widely available.

With regards to posting content, you will need to ensure that all content has a connection with or is referenced to your practice, and is reviewed and finalised prior to being posted on the relevant social media platforms.

A professional approach

When communicating and advertising your veterinary services publicly, all professionals must:

  1. maintain and protect client confidentiality
  2. treat colleagues fairly and with respect
  3. maintain a professional boundary between your practice and your client
  4. ensure the practice’s conduct justifies the public’s trust in the overall profession and what you stand for
  5. ensure the information published is factual and accurate
  6. be aware of conflict of interest which may arise from published posts
  7. not exploit clients’ vulnerability or lack of veterinary knowledge.

Below are some recommendations for you to consider: 

  • Set up a clear and structured social media policy and guidelines, which are updated frequently and enforced.
  • Differentiate between personal v. professional, as posts made in employees’ own time can still impact the practice and its reputation.
  • Adequate training around social media for staff and managers is required, so they are aware of the standards and processes in place.
  • Promptly respond to any issues of harassment, discrimination, etc., which arise from social media platforms.
  • Staff must make it clear in personal posts that they are speaking on their own and not the practice’s behalf.

It may not be necessary for smaller practices to have a written social media policy in place. However, please do note the points outlined above. It is also good practice to consider electing one individual to be responsible for overseeing and managing the overall social media activity within your practice, so everything is streamlined.