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Social Media Focus: Finding your own voice (and amplifying it) on social media

Flourishing at social media can be a daunting prospect, particularly for those of us who have been in practice for a while (and who are not Millennials). For plastic surgeons who want to be successful at social media but aren't sure how or where to start, some simple self-reflection can best determine how to find your voice.

What are you naturally good at and enjoy (other than plastic surgery, of course)? Do you love to write? To pontificate on the latest cosmetic trend or hoax? Do you snap pictures on your smartphone wherever you are? Or are you comfortable in front of the camera and able to speak with ease about the surgeries you did that week? Take a look at the following recommendations for each social media platform based on personality, aptitudes and habits.

You love to write: Start a blog! Schedule topics each week or month to correspond with special events, holidays and practice promotions. Write when you're inspired and in the moment. Keep a stash of thoughtful blog posts that can be published at the most opportune time. Whether you post daily, weekly or monthly, stay consistent to avoid losing readership. Ensure your blog posts link to the pertinent internal pages of your website – and give credit to others when that's due.

Blogs are searchable on Google. Not only are you creating new, original content with each post, but blogs also drive valuable traffic to your website. Be sure to include an eye-catching featured image for each post to draw attention to its topic. Avoid using copyrighted images or graphic photos (no nipples, genitalia or graphic surgery). Consider purchasing a license for Shutterstock images that are aesthetically pleasing. Add a closing statement to each blog reminding the reader who you are, what your area of expertise is and where to find you.

You're a talker: Are you comfortable in front of the camera? Then start recording video. Stastically speaking, video consistently gains the most views across social media platforms. You can record videos for free on your mobile device right now. However, before hitting the "record" button, identify the main points of what you're going to say to avoid rambling or appearing disorganized. Don't worry about having a formal script to follow. Speak naturally into the camera and let the words flow as they would during a conversation or consultation.

Patients have expressed the position that by seeing and hearing their surgeon talk about the procedure in which they're interested prior to meeting them in person, they've already gained a level of trust in that surgeon's expertise and an understanding of their philosophy and bedside manner. You can get the message out there about your practice and your style, and you can develop your "brand" – all by talking and sharing your message in the most personal way.

Record video when you are fresh and groomed – not at the end of a long day, when you're drained and just want to go home. Short videos (60 seconds or less) can be shared on platforms with time limits (Instagram, Snapchat), while longer videos can be uploaded to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and your blog or website. Keep the topic educational and current. You are the expert at what you do, and patients want to hear about the interesting procedures you perform or conditions you see, in your words, with your unique perspective.

Ensure your environment is quiet and is well-lit. Natural lighting (in front of a window) is best. Avoid wearing busy patterns, and skip distracting or jingly jewelry. To avoid a shiny face, apply some powder (yes, this is a good tip even for men) and apply a little more makeup than usual to avoid looking washed out. It's fine to wear scrubs if you're outside the O.R. or post-surgery, but try to provide a good mix of backgrounds and outfits so viewers can easily see that each video is a new topic or theme.

Speak directly to the camera, as you would when talking to a prospective patient (which is, in fact, what you're doing). Don't worry about stuttering or messing up your words – it will just make you more human. Video allows prospective patients to get to know you before they meet you and decide whether you're the right surgeon for them, which saves everyone time and energy. Consider using props, since a talking head is boring. It's estimated that 70 percent of social media-users watch video without sound, so entice your viewers to turn the sound on by making the video visually interesting.

Short, sweet and current: If you like to comment in the moment, Twitter may be optimal for you. Tweets can be up to 280 characters, including text, images, videos and GIFs. Twitter users are on the cutting edge of the current conversation, often following trending hashtags and sharing their opinions live during an event (think the #theOscars, #Superbowl and #PSTM19). Twitter users are often witty, humorous and opinionated – be sure to heed the advice below, however, before sending flippant tweets!

Add hashtags no matter which platform you're posting on, to allow others to find your great posts. #PlasticSurgery and #boardcertifiedplasticsurgeon are important, of course, but remember that the procedure or society meeting you're posting about becomes "searchable" when you add a hashtag. Keep hashtags specific to the post (#beauty will get less traction than #tummytuck) – and use no more than 30 hashtags per post.

Third-party applications allow you to schedule posts on any social media platform from your desktop computer, where it's often easier to compose your thoughts and write. Some encourage you to develop sets of hashtags specific to different topics and can recommend related or trending hashtags for inspiration. By scheduling posts, you can ensure your social media "feed" (thread of posts or homepage on a platform) has a consistent and aesthetic appearance to it, staying consistent to your style, theme or color scheme.

You're an avid photographer: Instagram is the most popular social media platform among our patients and an ideal platform for what we do. Plastic surgery is visual, after all, and most of us have artistic talent. This platform allows for photos and videos with accompanying text on your feed and in 15-second-long "stories," developed as an alternative to Snapchat's story-based platform.

You can "tag" up to 20 other Instagram profiles on your post, which are then notified of the tag and can view the post. Consider tagging colleagues, local businesses or places you've visited (don't tag patients). It's courtesy to "like" posts you're tagged in, to comment and occasionally to share via a third-party re-posting app. Instagram recommends only using "around 10 hashtags per post, as anything over that appears desperate."

The "stories" feed features photos and videos that appear through a slideshow of images or videos, located as the small circles on the top of your Instagram home page. Tap to advance to the next post on a story, or swipe from right to left to advance to the next user's story. Stories have become even more popular than scrolling through the regular Instagram feed for many users. Add text, GIFs, hashtags, locations and tag others in your stories, to provide detail, context and depth to the post. When you tag others in your story, they will be alerted that you mentioned them – via the "folded airplane" icon in the upper-right corner of the Instagram home page. They are given the option to also share your story on their own feed, which increases your reach to all their followers (a win-win).

If sharing before-and-after photos, ensure that explicit patient consent has been granted – and block-out nipples, genitalia and buttock creases (a black or white box is straightforward on the "edit" function of your smartphone; emojis covering body parts is another option but can be controversial; image blurring is also possible). Add your practice-name watermark to each of your images (I use PowerPoint for this) to avoid having your hard work and impressive results stolen and used as someone else's results.

Also consider sharing images of what you see during your day – from nature, your office and what you do in your spare time. What you find interesting or beautiful will likely be of interest to others and will enhance your brand and online presence.

You enjoy good conversation: Facebook is an excellent platform through which to start a conversation, share ideas, comment and encourage discussion. Longer videos, images and links to articles and websites are commonly shared here. Together with Instagram, Facebook is where most of our patients spend their time. It's recommended to have a professional Facebook page where your followers must "like" your page. In order to promote your practice, posts about plastic surgery must be via a Facebook Business page and not just through your personal profile.

Facebook actually says that it's a violation of terms "to use your profile to represent something other than yourself (example: your business), and you could permanently lose access to your account if you don't convert it to a page." If you only have a personal Facebook profile with many friends, you can easily convert it into a business page and start fresh with a new personal profile.

It's acceptable as a plastic surgeon to have a personal Facebook page as well, where you can be "friends" with others, including members of the community who might act as your cheerleaders (including select patients on whom you have finished operating and who may be your biggest fans). I have both a personal and professional page, and I often share practice-related common-interest posts to my personal page. Beware of controversial topics – and understand that just like in the comments section of a political blog, "trolls" who may have an agenda of their own lurk and comment profusely (anti-plastic surgery, "breast implant illness," etc.). Stay professional at all times and don't hesitate to block users who post comments that are offensive or negative.

Words of wisdom: Before you post on social media, remember to "THINK":

T – Is it true?
H – Is it hurtful?
I – Is it illegal? Insincere?
N – Is it necessary?
K – Is it kind?

Ensure that your grammar and spelling are immaculate. Speak in conversational English, not medical terminology. Most readers don't have a medical degree. Also avoid using strong, absolute language ("I would never"). Be your best self before sharing your opinions online. If you're feeling particularly passionate or upset about a recent event, jot down your thoughts and prepare a draft, but hold-off posting until you're calmer and have had a chance to reflect on your words and how they may be perceived.

Always follow HIPAA guidelines – even if your practice is purely cosmetic. Have a strong educational slant to your posts. Limit one in five to self-promotion. Be honest, kind, authentic and professional at all times. Allow your unique personality and skill set to shine through. Avoid answering medical questions or providing advice online. Stay consistent to your "brand" and keep posts consistent in their look, feel and tone.

If you do on social media what comes easy to you, you'll quickly learn that it's fun. Understand that we board-certified plastic surgeons have a great responsibility, power and influence in educating the public about who we are and what we do, and in differentiating ourselves from irresponsible med spas and improperly trained, non-board certified "cosmetic doctors." Good luck creating amazing content!

Dr. Horton is a member of the Social Media Subcommittee and in practice in San Francisco. You can find her online at drkarenhorton.com.