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The world of veterinary social media influencers

INSTAGRAM @veterinarytechnicians   
Nicole LaForest has been a Licensed Veterinary Technician in Washington State for five years and carries her Registered Veterinary Technician license in California. She currently serves as the immediate past-president of the Washington State Association of Veterinary Technicians. She is an accomplished international speaker, researcher, and product endorser. Prior to her life on the West Coast, Nicole grew up in New York State where she graduated with her Bachelor’s degree in Cognitive Psychology and her Associates degree in Music from two SUNY colleges. Nicole is a 2015 graduate of Penn Foster College and is an avid advocate for distance-learning, mental health awareness, and technician utilization and title protection. Nicole currently resides in the Puget Sound Area with her husband, a veterinarian and specialist, and her two Persians; Wilma and Flintstone.

Social media has quietly crept into becoming a big part of today’s veterinary culture and community, so much so that it’s almost impossible to remember how we navigated our daily grind without it. From influencers found on platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, to veterinary professionals who have gained cult-like followings around the world; our industry has seen a dynamic shift in how we interact with our clients and colleagues and approach medicine. But, how? Why?

Instagram allows anyone to become famous virtually overnight. This can be a double-edged sword. Being thrust into the eyes of thousands of individuals opens your skills and techniques to severe criticism. We know by recent news, that at any given time a follower or viewer can report us to our governing body to be reprimanded. It’s not all doom and gloom though, we often can attract more clients and even veterinary professionals who want to work in our practice because they know that we are capable of providing the gold standard of care.

For any platform, a captivating post with a colorful or abstract image that evokes emotion will help you shape your brand. Hashtags are a great way to plug potential followers from every walk of life and something as simple as tagging another page may even get you a repost onto an even larger page. Facebook boasts a more interactive platform. Groups can be formed to honor a single individual and communities can be attached to your page so that fellow fans can continue to fawn over your work from thousands of miles apart. In most recent years, consumers have been able to connect these two platforms so that sharing and communicating with fans is simplified.

For those of us that have grown mass followings on social media, we can manipulate our engagement, likes, and follows just as quickly as we can calculate up your CRI cocktail of choice. A single post, comment, or tweet can quite literally launch you into success or turmoil.

I joined Instagram roughly four years ago. I initially started my profile to track our surgical patients and odd cases without utilizing a patient management system. My practices’ niche (ambulatory, not mobile, surgery practice) doesn’t legally allow for transporting records away from the hospitals premises and we needed a simplified solution, fast. So, my Instagram account @veterinarytechnicians was born. As time slowly progressed over a year’s time, followers began trickling in. Some of my followers were friends from high school that wanted to reconnect from other social media platforms and many others were veterinary professionals or clients wanting to follow a patients’ journey. Now, I have almost 28,000 followers and an intangible brand that I am honored to be a small part of. I learn from my followers as much as they learn from me and the page is truly shaped by the daily interactions. At times the following and pressure can be daunting. I am often recognized at conferences or events by my followers. It’s extremely intimidating as I am an open book through my posts. It can be very taxing to connect with individuals who know everything about you, and you know nothing in return about them.

That said, my surgery practice has seen a significant upwards swing in how many general practices we partner with. These hospitals may follow my page and know that we are capable of extending services to their patients that they may not otherwise receive. Social media is a great way to spread the word on how you operate with little to no marketing. In recent times, we have lost two contracts because a practice was not willing to raise their standards to meet ours and I refused to post cases from their hospitals. As for gaining likes and followers, it is most definitely a difficult task. But just know that you won’t connect with every follower, and that’s okay. What you may find fascinating, a majority of your followers may find a post positively boring. For me, I try to post once daily and with that type of schedule, not every procedure is going to make you “insta-famous.” Life just isn’t that perfect.

Now, my story is hardly unique. There are many other veterinary influencers out there. Veterinary influencers are considered our industries “celebrities.” Would I consider myself an influencer? I, personally, would not. But, many people, companies and platforms have called me that. The majority of veterinary influencers may be your co-worker, employer, or industry member. Literally thousands of influencers are available to inspire you to become the best version of yourself. You’ll find many inspirational vet and tech students eager to give you the mental boost you need to get through the day. Closely behind those amazing, bright-eyed individuals, you’ll find the latest and greatest scrub or sock companies dressing them to the nines to gain new consumers. Oftentimes, this leads to a page that focuses on primarily giveaways and product placement. I recommend following these pages cautiously as many facets of a post will be manipulated to fit the agenda of the sponsoring company. Yes, I’ve been paid for certain posts; less than a dozen over the past few years. I have received free merchandise and conference registrations. But, I would say that a majority of my posts are organic. Meaning; I placed products for free because I wanted to. I believe in the products and equipment we use daily and as much as they make my job easier; it’s the least I can do in return.

Quickly, you’ll learn so many various avenues of veterinary medicine from seasoned veterinary bloggers with their fundamental, thoroughly tested ideology and your run of the mill specialist, who is obviously only on social media because a staff member felt sorry for their lack of online knowledge; like I do with my husband, who also serves as my employer and surgeon.

All jokes aside, social media has proven time and time again that anyone can become famous in and off of paper or away from a lecture hall. Success in veterinary medicine is no longer how many publications you have under your belt, or how many conferences you’re speaking at—because trust me, conferences have become more about who you know than what you know. Success is now defined as promoting positivity, enabling, and instilling positive behaviors, while promoting a healthy work-life balance, which can all be done from the comfort of your computer of cell phone.

Social media was developed in 1997 with the earliest bloggers taking shape in 1999. With 23 years under our belt on this crazy ride, is there a stop to the potential of social media? That is an answer that only time will tell.

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