Although many traditionalist physicians and surgeons — including myself — have at some point been reluctant to embrace the internet as a professional tool, it's impossible to deny that the digital era has arrived. According to the Pew Research Center, 87% of American adults use the internet, 58% own a smartphone, and 72% of internet users say they looked online for health information within the past year.
Most healthcare professionals are familiar with websites, blogs, Facebook, and Twitter as professional development tools, but the latest and greatest social media app is Instagram.
With over 300 million users sharing 70 million photos and videos a day, Instagram has grown since 2010 into a large, loyal online community dedicated to sharing visual images. Many studies have analyzed Instagram demographics, and they suggest that Instagram has the most engaged user community of any social media app. It also tends to attract a younger, more affluent, and more city-centric group.
So how can you integrate a potentially frivolous application like Instagram into a serious medical practice, without losing your gravitas? Here are 5 tips.
1. Determine if Instagram is right for you.
Social media outreach may not be appropriate or necessary for all types of medical professionals. If you have a University-based practice, a built-in referral base, or a patient population that accrues to you in a more behind-the-scenes way (such as in radiology or pathology, for instance), Instagram may not necessarily add value to your practice. Instagram is best for those who would like to build direct community and patient awareness of what they do.
2. Acquaint yourself with the basics of Instagram.
Choose an account name that relates to your business, pick a relevant profile photo, and browse Instagram to become familiar with some of its quirks. The term "Instagram" is a portmanteau of "instant" and "telegram," and its platform reflects this. It is filled with visually beautiful images like sunsets, beaches, kids, flowers, and people.
Images can be posted with comments ("Gorgeous results after a facelift") and hashtags (#beforeandafter) to give them more meaning and allow them to be searched by other users. They can also be edited with a variety of filters and image tools that are built into the app. While Instagram is very simple, it is worth exploring the site a bit to get your bearings.
3. Think about your message and how to best communicate it.
As a plastic surgeon, I have designed my own Instagram account to reflect the things that are most important to me: surgery, beauty, art, before and after pictures, and some behind the scenes images of my day to day life.
Instagram is a tool to both draw attention to aspects of your medical practice and to humanize you as a real person behind your white coat. If you are a dentist, your feed may contain a lot of smiles. If you are an orthopedic surgeon, perhaps you will highlight athletes, dancers, and sporting events. If you are a nutritionist, you may want to post about meals.
Although we as health care professionals have quite a stomach for blood and guts, it is also worth remembering that many Instagram users find graphic medical images to be upsetting. Try to look at Instagram from the perspective of a patient who might be interested in your services.
4. Follow successful brands to understand what is well-received.
When I first started on Instagram, it was helpful for me to look at the Starbucks account for inspiration. Although my practice has little to do with coffee (besides the large cup that powers me through a long day in the OR), Starbucks has managed to accrue 5.2 million followers with simple, beautiful images of lattes and frappuccinos.
Similarly, it is helpful to follow other medical professionals (in and outside your field) to get a sense of the unique social mores of Instagram. Like and comment on posts. Develop a sense of community. Think of it as a digital version of developing a referral base.
5. Understand what works and what doesn't.
The most popular posts on Instagram are visually appealing above all else. Families and children are popular topics, though many of us prefer to keep our kids out of the public eye. Quotations or meaningful expressions are also well-received, particularly when they are presented in a beautiful way. Your patients want to see something special that is not highly curated, so share photos of yourself doing the things you like to do, as far as you deem appropriate.
Conversely, there are several things that can alienate your followers. Incessant self-promotion can be unappealing, and many web experts suggest that only 1 in 3 posts be promotional in nature. Excessively filtered or manipulated photos can be visually jarring. Using too many hashtags can seem desperate. Failing to participate in the Instagram community by not liking and following others can come across as mean. Posting too frequently (more than twice a day) can read as solipsistic.
Instagram is not only an engaging application, but it is also a valuable tool for visually representing your work to your colleagues, patients, and community members.
For questions about this article, I can be reached via www.LaraDevganMD.com or followed on Instagram @nyplasticsurgeon.