Read This Before You Post: 6 Social Media Rules for Veterinary Professionals

TikTok. Instagram. Twitter. Snapchat. Facebook. BeReal. Reddit. With more places to post than ever before, Americans are doing just thatand the data1 proves it. Instagram alone boasts 2 billion users and sees over 100 million photos uploaded daily. 1.9 billion users log onto Facebook every day, and the average American spends 500 minutes per month on TikTok.

Regardless of whether you’re for or against social media, the undeniable reality is that sharing our daily highs and lows, likes and dislikes, memes and criticisms, has become an intrinsic part of the American social fabric. And where exactly does all this hearting, posting, and commenting take place? According to Zippia,2 over 77% of Americans use social media apps on the job, and the average working American spends 12% of their workday scrolling through TikTok, Instagram, and other platforms.

Because so much of Americans’ daily social media use occurs during the workday, learning that work features heavily in social sharing shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Snaps and stories feature the physical workplace in the background; desks, notebooks, and computer screens (which might contain sensitive information) sneak their way into on-the-job selfies; complaints about bosses, clients, and company procedures get tweeted out into the universe; and in the end, workplaces lose a considerable amount of privacy.

Social Media & Medical Professions

It’s easy to dismiss social media as thoughtless, harmless fun, but when apps overlap with the workplace, employeesparticularly those in medical professionscan get themselves into hot water. Consider these two social-media-in-the-workplace stories that made headlines in 2022:

Though these incidents occurred in the human medical industry instead of at a veterinary practice, veterinarians can still learn a lot from these cautionary tales. Two videos that didn’t feel noteworthy at the moment of posting quickly spiraled into national-scale embarrassments for the medical professionals featured in the videos, their employers, and any patients who might have crossed their paths.

The takeaway? Think before you post. This golden rule of social media should guide you regardless of whether your posts are focused on your personal or professional life and abiding by this rule is the key to avoiding the social media danger zone. Read on for a list of social media tips that all veterinarians should follow.

Social Media Guidelines for Veterinarians

  1. Think before you post. Before you hit send on a post or story that takes place at the practice or mentions work in any capacity, ask yourself: Is this a post that you would be comfortable with your practice owner or colleagues seeing? Would you show it to the patient’s owner? If the answer is no, refrain from sharing.
  2. Familiarize yourself with your practice’s social media policy.* While your social media accounts are irrefutably your own, posting work-related content (or even content that isn’t related to work but occurs in the clinic) allows your employer to have a say in what you share. Many practice owners create practice-wide social media policies that employees must sign, and violations of these policies can lead to censure or even firing. Carefully reading through your clinic’s policy is a must; if your clinic doesn’t have a policy, consider asking the owner for their recommendations.
  3. Secure owner permission before sharing information about patients, including photos. Photos of clients in the clinic setting, diagnoses, and visit information all constitute PII (personally identifiable information). Sharing PII without express owner consent is a breach of privacy laws and posting on social media is no exception. Even if the post or tweet gets deleted, sharing this data is still considered a violation. The same holds true for 24-hour Instagram or Snapchat stories. Posting without owner consent is a lapse in judgment that can result in scathing reviews, legal trouble, and other ramifications that have the potential to harm your clinic.
  4. Be aware of your audience and privacy setting. A private Instagram with 100 friend and family followers is significantly different from a TikTok with hundreds of thousands of unknown followers. If a veterinarian posts a video of themselves in clinic-branded scrubs saying that they’re frustrated with the clinic’s practice manager for XYZ reasons, the potential for negative fallout is drastically increased on the public TikTok versus the private Instagram. Consider your followers and privacy settings before posting anything work-related.
  5. Engage with respectful content. Many social media apps (mainly Facebook and Twitter) actively show your friends and mutual followers the content that you interact with. If you keep your posts and stories clean and professional but like, retweet, or comment on inappropriate content, there’s a good chance your followers will see it. If your account is public, remember that you are a reflection of your practice. If clients of the clinic (or even fellow employees) catch you interacting with harmful or disparaging content and are made to feel uncomfortable, they have every right to bring this to the attention of the clinic owner.
  6. Consider the legal ramifications of sharing information about malpractice incidents. In the event you find yourself embroiled in a malpractice allegation, do not under any circumstances share details of the claim proceedings. Professional liability claims and license defense complaints can be frustrating and upsetting, and the need to vent is only human. However, if your malpractice claim escalates into a trial, any social media posts you’ve made about the claim can be used in court. To ensure the best possible outcome for yourself and your practice, keep the details of malpractice incidents private and off the internet.

Just like Instagram Explore, this list of social media guidelines could easily go on forever. However, the six tips outlined above are the most important to keep in mind while practicing veterinary medicine. By adhering to these rules and using a bit of common sense, you can keep your clinic content, your clients happy, and your social media stress-free.

Posting at the Clinic Gone Wrong: Two Hypothetical Cautionary Tales

Viral TikTok Leads to Termination of Employment

Dr. A is an associate veterinarian in good standing at Clinic B. Dr. A also is a highly active TikTok user who shares veterinary-related content with over with 500,000 followers. Clients from Clinic B feature prominently in many of Dr. A’s posts without any issue. One day, Dr. A posts a tiktok in an exam room at Clinic B with a small canine patient. In the video, the dog growls and snaps at Dr. A while Dr. A laughs, calls the dog an inappropriate name, and jokingly threatens the dog about what will happen if it keeps up the bad behavior. Dr. A refers to the dog by its name multiple times. The video quickly goes viral on TikTok and, as it grows in popularity, the dog’s owner, who is also a TikTok user, eventually stumbles across it. The client is horrified to see Dr. A disparaging their dog and contacts Clinic B demanding that Dr. A be fired. The owner alleges that not only did Dr. A act unprofessionally in front of hundreds of thousands of people, Dr. A also called the dog a disparaging name and baited the dog into aggressive behavior. Clinic B’s owner censures Dr. A on the grounds that (1) they posted a video on social media that clearly shows them in an exam room and on Clinic B’s property, (2) they revealed a patient’s name without getting permission from the patient’s owner, and (3) they acted unprofessionally and unsafely towards a patient. As result of the unsafe and unprofessional conduct, Dr. A is fired.

Facebook Flub Damages Clinic’s Reputation

Dr. C is the owner of Clinic D. Dr. C is a highly active Facebook user. Because Dr. C is also the moderator of Clinic D’s Facebook page and frequently interacts with clients, Dr. C is very careful to post only professionally appropriate statuses and photos. Back in college, Dr. C and some friends created a private Facebook group in which they continue to share raunchy memes. Unbeknownst to Dr. C, the moderator of the meme group accidentally changes the group from private to public. Before the moderator can correct the error, Dr. C shares an inappropriate meme to the group and likes several other questionable post. Because the group is no longer private, clients who frequent Clinic D see Dr. C’s shared and liked memes in their feed and are deeply offended. Dr. C posts an apology, explaining that the memes were just a joke and not meant for anyone except that small group of friends. But one particularly irate client begins posting on Clinic D’s Facebook page that Dr. C is disparaging toward certain social groups and that “no one with a conscience should bring their pet to Clinic D.” Dr. C does their best to combat the offended client’s social media attacks, but Clinic D loses several long-term clients. At the end of the year, it’s revealed that new patient intake is down for the first time in several years.

*Note to veterinary practice owners: 45% of businesses do not have an official, company-wide social media policy.2 In order to avoid negative social media incidents and appropriately inform practice employees about your social media expectations, consider implementing a policy for your practice. This policy should address social media use in the clinic, rules regarding sharing patient information, and social media use outside of the workplace if employees’ accounts aren’t set to private. While this article is a good starting point, your practice’s social media policy should reflect your unique setting.