The role of the veterinary professional on social media

The role of the veterinary professional on social media

The opportunities for businesses to engage with their current and potential clients online have never been greater, with more users than ever before using social media channels. 

Let’s look at the facts. By the end of Q3 2021, Facebook had roughly 2.91 billion monthly active users1, 1.22 billion people use Instagram each month with the site being the 7th most visited website in the world2, and in 2019 Twitter boasted 290.5m monthly active users worldwide3. In a 2021 article, social media management platform Hootsuite reported that 1 billion messages are exchanged between people and businesses every month on Facebook Messenger and that 64% of people would rather message than call a business4.

So, it’s unsurprising that, along with many businesses and brands, many veterinary practices and professionals are harnessing the power and potential of social media for business promotion, gathering client insights, brand reputation and customer service. But with increased opportunities often comes increased risk and that is no different when it comes to social media. 

Many of us are used to social media as part of our everyday lives and that familiarity can mean that we’re tempted to lower our guard when it comes to using it in the professional setting. When social media interactions turn adverse, it’s important to remember that they are being played out in the public eye and that the impact can cause a great deal of distress for everyone involved and pose a threat to the reputation of the practice as well as the individual. 

Anxiety about receiving negative posts and complaints on social media is a topic that regularly rears its head in focus groups that the VDS conducts with our members and in advice calls with our claims team. 

Read this blog to learn…

  • What ‘good practice’ looks like when using social media
  • How to protect yourself online
  • Key things to consider when posting online
  • How to protect your clients and patients online
  • Of further support, including veterinary training and veterinary resources from the VDS

What is ‘good practice’ when using social media?

Let’s start by looking at what the RCVS says.

In section 28.6 of the Professional Code of Conduct it says that when using social media veterinary surgeons should:

  • a. be respectful of and protect the privacy of others, and comply with the data protection laws and their own practice's privacy policy.
  • b. consider whether they would make the comments in public or other traditional forms of media. If not, veterinary surgeons should refrain from doing so.
  • c. be proactive in removing content which could be viewed as unprofessional.
  • d. remember that innocent references to social activities that might be construed as taking place on duty / on call could be misinterpreted or used as the basis for a complaint.
  • e. maintain and protect client confidentiality by not disclosing information about a client or a client’s animal which could identify them on social media unless the client gives explicit consent.
  • f. comply with employer’s or organisation’s internet or social media policy (practices are encouraged to develop and implement a social media policy applicable to all staff).

Protecting yourself

Social media can be an important tool both professionally and personally, but it is also a spectator sport. As such veterinary professionals need to be mindful about what they post and how this might be viewed by others. 

Here are some things you might want to consider to protect yourself online and on social media:

  • Familiarise yourself with the RCVS’s Code of Conduct on the subject.
  • Don’t post when you are tired, angry, upset or otherwise compromised.
  • Check and consider amending the privacy settings across all platforms.
  • Switch your profanity filter to high and upload a list of blocked words to make it harder for people who wish to be abusive to post on your page.
  • Always assume that anything you post can and will be seen by anyone regardless of your privacy settings.
  • Remember that you are representing the profession so always remain professional.
  • Make sure that your online communications meet the same standards of your more private communications such as face to face, email and telephone.
  • Avoid posting about or commenting on posts about patients, clients, employers, colleagues and suppliers.
  • Don’t express personal views.
  • Refrain from posting content that might be taken as case-specific veterinary advice and make sure that you can defend the validity of any information or opinion given.
  • Remember your duty of confidentiality to your patients and clients.
  • Maintain separate personal and professional profiles. Remember that what you say on your personal profiles is not exempt from scrutiny of the regulator

What are the key things to consider when posting online?

Comments made online and on social media can be hard, if not impossible, to erase and can quickly spread further than intended. So before posting online, in addition to the above considerations, you might want to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I protecting patient confidentiality?
  • Am I making it clear that I am not providing case-specific veterinary advice?
  • Am I being upfront about my credentials?
  • Am I in the right frame of mind to post this?
  • Are my comments professional?
  • Are my comments discriminatory or derogatory?
  • And lastly, have I considered how my post might reflect on the veterinary profession as a whole?

Protecting your clients and patients

You’ll know that you have a legal and ethical responsibility to maintain client confidentiality and that you shouldn’t disclose information about clients or their animals unless clients have given you permission to do so.. 

So, if you do want to use images or stories about your client or patient, you will need to seek the client’s explicit permission to do so. 

Online forums and closed social media groups can be a great source of peer advice, support and veterinary resources. If you do post about a case, make sure that patients and clients cannot be identified and that subsequent comments to the original post do not make them identifiable. Regardless of whether a patient or client is, or is not, identifiable, you should never post views or comments that would be seen as being inappropriate or that might bring the veterinary profession into disrepute.

Similarly, you should also be cautious about sharing pictures or clinical details as once these have been shared, you no longer have control over what happens to them and where they might end up.

How can the VDS help?

  • Read our Social media, malicious posts and defamation advice note. VDS members have exclusive access to a range of advice notes. These valuable veterinary resources are accessible on our website and written by our expert claims team.
  • Take a look at our Complaints Handling course. Delivered by VDS Training, this online veterinary training course aims to take the fear out of complaints and give you tips to deal with them in confidence - and what’s more, VDS members get a discount.
  • If in doubt, speak to us. We’re not just here to deal with complaints and formal investigations, but as part of your VDS membership we can provide advice and guidance to help prevent things even getting to that stage. VDS members can speak to one of our experienced veterinary claims advisors either via our advice line or by email

References

  1. https://www.statista.com/statistics/264810/number-of-monthly-active-facebook-users-worldwide/#:~:text=How%20many%20users%20does%20Facebook,the%20biggest%20social%20network%20worldwide 
  2. https://blog.hootsuite.com/instagram-statistics/ 
  3. https://www.statista.com/statistics/303681/twitter-users-worldwide/#:~:text=In%202019%2C%20Twitter's%20audience%20counted,and%20a%20popular%20marketing%20channel
  4. https://blog.hootsuite.com/social-media-customer-service/

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