Social media is ingrained in modern culture: 72% of adults in the United States use at least one social media site or application.1 We check Yelp for reviews of the latest local service, scroll by a status update from a cousin’s wedding on Facebook, and follow industry leaders and trends on LinkedIn. It’s commonplace now to use social media to advertise a business and attract new clientele.
In health care, social media continues to grow in relevance. Organizations such as the American College of Physicians2 and the American Academy of Dermatology3 have released position statements regarding medical professionalism in the use of social media. In addition, risk management and legal issues are becoming more prevalent as networks continue to grow.4 From the dermatologist’s viewpoint, using social media to grow a practice can seem daunting.
“It’s a little more like the wild west right now,” said Jason Emer, MD, FAAD, a private practice dermatologist based in West Hollywood, CA. “We’re trying to promote expertise and skill. It’s harder for a consumer, because the area is flooded with people saying their own opinions which are not always medical opinions, to truly know what’s right, what’s real, what’s good, and what’s not, unless they have a good and trusting doctor.”
With the distortion of photoshop and the rapid spread of misinformation, it is easy for a dermatologist to want to avoid social media all together. Instead, Dr Emer dove headfirst into digital networking. He shared some of his insights on the role of social media in practice management in an interview with The Dermatologist.
Logging in to Social
The idea of going digital started years before logging into social media was a normal, daily activity. During his residency in New York in the mid-2000s, Dr Emer treated a group of patients who were HIV positive and presented with facial lipoatrophy due to their antiretroviral therapy treatments. After treating these patients with fillers and fat grafting, they would come back with more self-esteem. He found similar praise from patients who received cosmetic procedures to treat scarring from acne or skin cancer surgery. This patient satisfaction led to creating an in-house digital lookbook to highlight successful treatment outcomes. In due time, the lookbook segued online.
“I was in San Francisco in my fellowship when I started to share a lot on Twitter and Facebook and posting on RealSelf.com,” Dr Emer explained. “Consumers weren’t looking for a doctor on Google or by word of mouth. They were actually looking on these commercial sites like RealSelf to be able to see what other people have to say and ask questions. I would stay up and see what people had to say about acne scars or liposuction or fillers and answer their questions because those were the things that I knew well.”
After setting up accounts on the various networks, Dr Emer focused on showcasing what he was performing in his residency and later practice: lasers, liposuction, facial sculpting with fillers, body contouring, cryolipolysis, and all the latest advances in skin and body aesthetics. He found patients really started to come in once they connected with his expertise and saw the high level of care received while undergoing the most advanced and latest treatments.
“The first video that I ever made is on my website right now. All it talks about is my experience with people, my compassion for the job, the learning, the education. There’s no before-and-after result. It’s just showing what I do, because that’s what people want to see.”
Essentially, Dr Emer summarized, social media is a tool to connect with patients and build a reputation as a professional. His practice currently uses YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, RealSelf, and Yelp, with a collective following in the hundreds of thousands.
Gaining Followers and Trust
Content, of course, is the foundation to building a strong presence on social media for a dermatology practice. A major factor in content is the clinician’s or the practice’s philosophy, which will ultimately guide what is shared on the different social networks.
Take for example making patient education a practice focus. While a flash sale, such as buy-one-get-one filler deals, may drive clients into the door, it does not establish lifelong approach to care. Rather, a practice should promote the benefits of fillers and candidly explain that these procedures are temporary and need follow-up care to maintain results. This honesty builds trust among followers and potential patients.
“I think the social part needs to be part-marketing, part-education, part-personal,” said Dr Emer, “so that people can really understand you from all levels. Find out your philosophy and promote it, your brand, and the thing that makes you unique, so people can learn about that.”
Presentation of the content can be just as important as the content itself. Understanding the different features of each social media channel can help with making sure content is well-received and seen. Visual posts, such as videos and infographics, can present information in creative way. These types of posts can increase engagement—likes, follows, shares, comments, and click-throughs.
“People want to see live. People want to see immediate results. They want to follow stories every day, almost like a television show or a commercial,” said Dr Emer. He noted that while Instagram and YouTube are exploding in popularity, Facebook remains a hub for advertising and LinkedIn provides a platform for educational blog-style posts between professionals.
A specific strength of social media is building a campaign around a certain topic. This topic can bridge all of the practice’s platforms, serving as a running theme for a set amount of time, such as a day or week. Note when particular conditions have special times for awareness, such as the month of May for skin cancer or October 29 for World Psoriasis Day, and coordinate content around these occurrences.
Using hashtags can also increase visibility and engagement from new audiences. These tools, which index keywords to collate them for search purposes, should be specific for a post and tailored to the platform. Whereas hashtags on image- and video-sharing sites are more focused on the content of a post, hashtags on Twitter or Facebook often refer to a topic of conversation or group of people.5 Taking a look at the popularity of individual hashtags, such as #acnescars vs #acnescar, can help place content in front of the right viewers.
Lastly, the time of a post can greatly affect its visibility. Sending updates late at night, when a majority of followers are not accessing social media, will do little for increasing post visibility. Knowing when an audience engages most often with content can influence when an individual post is shared. For example, health care practices tend to have the most engagement on Facebook between 9:00 am and 10:00 am on Wednesdays, but Tuesdays at 8:00 am receive high engagement for Instagram.6
All of the above factors, according to Dr Emer, are necessary to achieve success. “You have to be putting pictures on Yelp. You need to be putting your photos and videos on RealSelf. You have to be answering questions, sending out newsletters, educating people, building a YouTube channel,” he advised. All of these facets can increase a practice’s visibility within a local community, establish a reputation for quality, expert care, and build trust among previous and potential patients.