What Is Online Reputation Management?

Online reputation management is the art of scanning across the internet’s digital landscape for information about you and your practice, encouraging pet owners to share their feelings about your veterinary practice online, and knowing how to respond to situations whereby negative (often inaccurate) reviews are made online. When combined with the realization that there’s an overlap between the content used to review a vet practice online and the words used to seek information about those same practices, veterinary professionals start to realize the need for an active online reputation management plan.

Why Is Everyone So Scared?

Over the years, the communications community has seen a tremendous rise in the electronic customer review market. Yelp is a household name, and consumers post both positive and negative comments on this site and at many other places around the internet. Many of these sites don’t require validation of the consumer’s identity and have made the process of creating an account quite simple. These sites reference freedom of speech as the right that they protect, and many have elaborate (often impossible…seriously…impossible) steps that a person must go through to remove comments.

To this day, I have yet to meet a veterinarian who practices poor medicine, offers awful customer service, and scams clients…but is worried about these reviews. It’s always the squared-away practices that fear the unreasonable, seemingly “un-defendable” comments like “DO NOT GO TO XYZ VET…THEY KILLED MY DOG…THEN WANTED TO CHARGE ME!” This poster failed to mention that the owner brought the dog to the practice for the very first time, the dog was a late-staging cancer patient with internal bleeding, and the vet counseled the owner on the rates and likelihood of a successful outcome. If you haven’t had this happen to you, I’m certain that you’ve heard it from a colleague. The question is: Can it be avoided?

The Story of the Rock.

A few years back, in response to a horrible graffiti issue, our local high school was faced with a problem. Every week they would spend hours removing the things that troubled teens paint on the back of high school buildings. Something had to be done.

During a very heated PTO meeting, a lady stood up in the rear of the room and suggested that they buy a “big rock.”  She further explained that the rock could/would be set in the front yard of the school where it would be available for all students to paint at any time as long as the messaging was appropriate. What happened was amazing. The graffiti went away, and “painting the rock” has become a bit of a rite of passage for many local students. The point here is that the students were given a place to express themselves. This appropriate space offered the outlet they needed.  The act of claiming and monitoring known review sites for the practice can have a similar effect.

Get Involved.

The very first step in combating and/or preventing undesirable reviews is to become involved in social media.  Create relevant content that demonstrates the genius and compassion that is veterinary medicine. Interact with your client base on a regular basis, and allow them to tell the stories of why they continue to choose your practice to care for their family’s pets. When that “YOU KILLED MY DOG…” review comes in and is compared by the savvy consumers of today, it will have much less weight.

Put yourself in the shoes of the consumer. Suppose you’re checking out a new restaurant online, and you come upon a review which basically says that they serve poison on a platter, the wait staff was rude, and they think the bus boy stole their wallet. If it’s surrounded by comments which sing the establishment’s praises, you’d find it hard to believe. But…if that was the only impression, and you were counting on the all-knowing internet to help you form your opinion, what else would you have to go on?

What If I Get a Review?

Did you notice that I didn’t say a “negative review”? I did so because both positive and negative reviews should be handled with the same level of attention. I recommend that your practice develop a policy for responding to positive and negative reviews that should consider at least the following questions:

  • What was said in the review?
  • Can you identify the client and/or incident that prompted the review?
  • Can you contact the person “offline”?
  • Who will respond to the review?
  • What will be said in your response?
  • How many times will you respond publicly?
  • Is the review accurate?

Recently a client of ours received a “less-than-positive” comment on their Facebook page. The manager in our office who monitors their reputation quickly called the practice and alerted the practice that “Apparently…your lobby smells like urine.” Mortified, the practice manager demanded that the post be removed. When we advised against such an act, she frantically explained that we didn’t understand. She said that the dog in question was a senior patient, and she was seated under the seats in a crowded lobby. The lobby was crowded because they had a serious HBC come in, and all efforts were focused on saving that dog’s life. By the time the dust settled, and the HBC patient’s life was saved, the lobby sure did smell.

Our employee suggested we tell the story in response to the post. Reluctantly, the practice agreed and was surprised at how the conversation took off—mostly about the welfare of the HBC patient, but also about the normal pleasant smell in the practice. Then, the ultimate comment came through: The person who initially made the post commented again and said a simple “Thank you. It normally smells so nice. I thought I would let you know.”

What would have happened if we simply deleted the post? The client who took the time to help you improve your practice would feel silenced. She would feel that her opinion only counts when things are positive. Instead, she feels like part of your team. She spoke; you listened and responded.

Reviews Will Happen. Farm Them. Embrace Them.

Businessman hand giving five star rating, Feedback concept

A key element that should be mentioned here is that your clients need to understand how important review content is to your strategy. In a future blog, we will discuss some “do’s and don’ts” when it comes to speaking with your clients about the review process, but the point here is that if your clients are not “aware” that reviews are important, it’s almost unreasonable for you to expect them to post a review online. Some will, but most won’t.

Very frequently, we work with a client who has a large number of reviews. Certainly, most of these reviews are positive, and they do a good job of providing the most accurate picture of the practice while burying the less-than-accurate negative review. But this is where it ends for most practices. Very few take advantage of the opportunity that is repurposing the content so that the key words and phrases are used in other digital formats. While there are some review sites that do not allow the repurposing of content, some do allow this practice. Why is this important?  Well, the VERY SAME words that are often used in reviews VERY OFTEN show up as common search terms that pet owners use to find practices like yours. For instance, if a review read “Dr. Schroeder is the best veterinarian in Schererville, Indiana, this would be very valuable because many people search for veterinarians online by using the phrase “Who is the best veterinarian in Schererville.” Got it?

In another blog, we will discuss the process of key word and key phrase mining, how to repurpose content, which sites allow this and which don’t, and further explain the benefits of repurposing your review content in many other aspects of your practice.

Sites You Should Know.

Currently, the following review sites have proven to be most popular. These sites allow for you to establish a business profile, link the profile to your existing electronic media, and have a known place where you can monitor the results.

  • Yelp!
  • Google Places
  • Angie’s List
  • Facebook

In Summary.

Customer opinions are going to happen. By creating an appropriate forum for your customers to be heard, and promoting their involvement by responding to the requests and comments, your practice will experience an overall positive review experience. If not, I suggest that you listen closely to the comments that are being made, check the accuracy of the comments, and make adjustments to your practice or corrections to the comments where needed.