Rick O’Neill argues why Instagram may prompt challenges for your clinic and how to broaden your approach to gain potential patients
In medical aesthetics – and the wider beauty industry – there is something of an obsession with Instagram. This is no surprise: Instagram is above all a visual medium, and aesthetics literally means ‘visual appeal’. Therefore, it makes perfect sense to show what our aesthetic practices can achieve in a visual way. Modern Aesthetics magazine, for example, reported that 83% of consumers researching cosmetic surgery would not consider a practice which did not feature before and after photos.1
Instagram deserves its place in the aesthetic marketer’s toolkit – in a recent survey of 4,500 active Instagram users, almost two thirds of people said that the network helped them foster meaningful interactions with brands. However, it does have challenges, too.2 In an industry described as ‘fragmented’ with many small practices and self-employed health professionals, marketing budgets are not endless.3
Challenges of Instagram
Instagram has increasing competition and throughput. Even more practitioners are entering the aesthetics field, and they are all tuned in to the value of publishing content on social media as an essential, low-cost route to promoting their individual clinics. But the consumer’s feed hasn’t grown in size, and neither has their attention span. According to Meta (the owner of Instagram), the average user spends around 1.7 seconds on any one piece of content.4 Instagram’s business is simply predicated on maximising the value of the advertisements they squeeze into that feed and their ability to keep their audience scrolling.
Practitioners therefore have two choices: pay for advertising, or hope that Instagram’s algorithm favours you against other aesthetic clinics, products and offerings clamouring for space. There are no points for guessing which of these Instagram would prefer. This has created a spiral where practitioners end up posting more content, and ultimately putting off followers that do see the content due to saturation. In addition, if the business has increasingly been prioritising advertising, it further reduces the opportunity for organic (i.e. unpaid) reach. Instagram’s organic reach currently hovers at below 1%- meaning that even among consumers who have interacted with your brand, fewer than one in 100 will see an unpaid post or story.5
There is a second challenge. As we saw above, Instagram deserves its place in the aesthetic marketer’s toolkit, but that doesn’t mean it should be 100% of that toolkit. There are plenty o f experts and agencies who will sell you the dream that it’s possible to build a multi-million-pound clinic on Instagram alone. That’s a seductive thought, especially when you’re looking from the perspective of a start-up at the glamour of heavily retouched pictures of elegant white consulting rooms. It’s my moral duty to tell you that you can’t build an empire on one social channel. If you could, everyone would be doing it.
You might have heard that you can build your social following relatively quickly. This is also not true. In the early days on any social platform, it is possible for early adopters to establish a reputation. But on mature social channels, it’s not the case. Those who succeed have done so through hard work over a long period of time as well as other factors.
If all this sounds negative, let me recommend a solution. Firstly, don’t ditch Instagram completely. Recognise that it is part of a rounded approach to marketing with many ingredients. Secondly, note that all social media operates the same way: highly tuned algorithms optimised for the profit of the platform, which decide what gets shown and to whom. To some extent, everything I said about Instagram also applies to Facebook, TikTok and others. Therefore, thirdly, you should balance your social media activity with other online marketing resources such as Google optimisation, content marketing and email marketing.
In my experience – and this is advice I give every day to my aesthetic clients – an excellent balancing activity is to commit to Google Local.6 This is the map with results at the top of Google when anyone searches for physical businesses. Aesthetic practitioners are just that – and they target a locality, too. Google Local is ideal in that it brings you potential patients who are in your local area and at their highest point of intent – rather than just scrolling on their Instagram feed, they are proactively looking for the sorts of services you provide. In order to capitalise on the new traffic you achieve from Google Local, you need to put focus and investment into a website that gives a great first impression, works well on a mobile and provides a seamless on-boarding experience for new patients.
While Instagram needs the constant fuel of new content, Google Local only requires you to invest regular effort into writing, editing and optimising your Google business profile. There are plenty of ways to do this, but most obviously you should include keywords such as particular treatments you offer or skin conditions which you can remediate. To get started, ensure you claim your Google Business Profile, have your location and profile ‘verified’ by Google, then optimise its content, keywords and posts on a weekly basis.
Broadening your approach
If you put effort into all your social media channels as well as Google Local – supported by a first-class website – you will gain an increasing share of localised, qualified, high-intent search traffic. In fact, some of those people will also check you out on Instagram, follow you on social media and therefore increase your social credibility, too. Instagram isn’t bad in itself, it’s just a highly competitive environment. You can choose to run harder in an ever-bigger pack, or you can conserve your energy by broadening your approach.
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