While old school marketing approaches, such as billboards and radio ads, are passive experiences, social media actively engages users with realtime messaging in an immersive, interactive environment. The top social media platforms – Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, etc. – can be expertly utilized for communicating online with existing patients and for attracting new ones.
Practitioners that employ social media to attract and retain patients can be nicely rewarded by this digital landscape, if they know what they’re doing.
Social media outreach can be a patient magnet. According to Leif Rogers, M.D., a plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills, Calif.,
“Social media has substantially increased our revenue growth. I think many practices that have not adopted social media have felt the impact of decreased patient visits due to the marketing influence of their competition.”
The value of social media in medical aesthetics has grown quickly, especially when targeting millennials and younger patients, noted Cheryl Whitman, owner of Beautiful Forever Aesthetic Consulting (Miami, Fla.).
“This is a major shift in the aesthetic space, and millennials are driving the trends right now,” she said. “A lot of practitioners are absolutely getting business from being active in social media, whether they post videos, before and after images, live streaming of procedures, etc. Social media and the Internet are turning the industry into a buyer’s market.”
Many plastic and cosmetic surgeons approach social media with the mindset that they are competing against other plastic surgeons.
“They are mistaken,” said Rich Castellano, M.D., a cosmetic surgeon and CEO of Image Lift (Tampa, Fla.). “They are really competing against the distractions of life, such as the family vacation, buying a new home or buying a new car. When physicians are able to successfully put a message together that can get through all the clutter, they are not competing with colleagues. They are dominating their niche.”
Some online platforms offer better response than others, noted Jonathan Kaplan, M.D., M.P.H., a plastic surgeon in San Francisco, Calif. “I post blog entries to Facebook and Twitter. In reality we have never gotten any use out of those platforms, so we post just to maintain a presence there,” he said.
“The main drivers are Snapchat and Instagram Stories, and then finally Instagram itself where you post photos,” Dr. Kaplan added. “This is where we post most of our content, and it drives most of the traffic that converts into patients. In addition, many people follow us on Google search.”
Regardless of the platform, making videos is a physician’s best bet to attract online users, noted Dr. Castellano.
“We are video storytellers. If you create a lot of video content, then you calm patients’ fears enough for them to engage with you. That’s the power of video and effective marketing.” You want people to respond to your social media posts using the magic phrase, ‘I’ve been watching all your videos.’ When patients say that, then you know you’ve developed a rapport with someone that could be a new customer,” Dr. Castellano continued.
Ms. Whitman agreed, adding, “Video is definitely the number one type of content to put on social media, without a doubt. Practitioners should take advantage of YouTube channels. Also, Snapchat and Instagram appeal greatly to the younger generations, even teenagers that are interested in learning more about procedures.”
“Facebook is an interesting case,” she continued. “Currently, the average age of a Facebook user is 50 years old. The younger people that used to dominate Facebook have moved on to other platforms.”
In addition, ethnic and societal barriers are not too much of an issue online, Ms. Whitman added.
“Any visual content you can generate – from procedure videos to before and afters, to patient experience narratives where you follow a patient from the beginning of their treatment to the outcome – is good for all of these platforms,” Ms. Whitman expressed.
Assuming a practitioner wants to develop a social media presence, where should they begin?
Don’t be afraid of social media, expressed Candace Crowe, owner of Candace Crowe Design, a marketing firm in Orlando, Fla.
“If you love social media, then you can be a winner at it. If you don’t love it, you may not win at it without third-party help. Pick your platforms wisely and own it or don’t do it,” she said.
“There are many companies that will help manage a practice’s social media marketing,” stated Dr. Rogers, “but some outside services are not in touch with your practice and often will not accurately represent you or your practice. They may be too far removed.”
On the other hand, engaging an experienced third-party web developer, SEO manager or creative director that is specific to the industry and understands the technology can be a good choice.
“These experts would be able to hit the ground running with the various algorithms and search results rankings,” said Ms. Whitman. “Inside many practices, I see staff people that wear too many hats and do so much, and now they are expected to do social media marketing, as well?”
It may not be in a practice’s best interest to run its social media outreach in-house, agreed Jay Shorr, managing partner of Shorr Solutions (Boca Raton, Fla.).
“Very small practices will likely do a very ineffective job of handling social media on their own. There aren’t enough hands on deck to make that work,” he explained. “In that case, you may just have to make the investment in hiring professionals who can guide your social media strategy on a minimized budget. At least that way you’ll have a social media presence.”
Third-party providers can deliver the infrastructure and additional roles to promote the practice online, but they must also be able to characterize the physician’s attitudes, personality and bedside manner.
“The companies that say they can manage your social media charge a lot of money but may not really replace the physician’s involvement,” noted Dr. Kaplan. “In order to be consistent on Snapchat and Instagram, the physician has to be there, on camera, recording everything. A third party marketer cannot be in the office all day, waiting around to document things that happen.”
However, in general, digital marketing firms are tasked to explore new ways of exploiting social media and online marketing for practices. For instance, eRelevance Corp. (Austin, Texas) offers a service that targets people across a range of social media and online platforms, including an app that mimics a physician texting back and forth with a potential customer, in order to deliver more information on a practice’s aesthetic procedures.
As reported by Bob Fabbio, founder and CEO of eRelevance, “When practices start using social media for advertising purposes, the results can be hit or miss. It becomes a rather expensive way to grow the business, and often there is some disappointment as a consequence.”
It is important for practices to move away from straight online advertising approaches to systems that provide multiple engagements across many platforms, Mr. Fabbio added.
“The social media ads that practices generate should also show up on peoples’ newsfeeds,” he specified. “The target consumer receives an email or text from their aesthetic provider, and when they log onto Facebook and Instagram they see the ad. It’s also important to hit all the relevant digital channels, including discussion forums and chat rooms.”
“If you hire someone to perform social media duties for your practice, then remember they’re doing it as a job,” said Ms. Crowe. “If you have a really good relationship with the owner of that thirdparty company, have coffee with them once a week and feed them really good content, and then let them develop a strategy for you.”
In Dr. Castellano’s opinion, if a practice needs third-party aid, they should seek it out.
“But the problem is everyone disguises themselves as experts,” he said. “So, write this down: Do not seek expert help. Seek help from colleagues or people who are successfully doing social media and making money from it.”
Whether one goes it alone or not, certain legal protections should be put in place.
“Developing a written social media policy is important,” Mr. Shorr expressed. “There should be policies in place for external social media influencers that contribute content, as well as internal policies with your staff, spelling out what they are and are not allowed to do. Make sure you get express written consent from anyone that is shown in your own procedure videos, as well as videos recommended or shot by social media influencers.”
Dr. Rogers found that while developing his own in-house social media team was the best approach for his practice, “It does take time and effort to build and run an effective social media campaign. Nevertheless, for most practices it is highly worthwhile and comes with a high return on investment,” he said.