Should Medical Marketers Embrace Snapchat?

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Snapchat offers limitless creative possibilities for medical practices to connect with younger audiences.

It’s safe to say that many medical marketers have come to embrace and master social media, especially Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. But those platforms offer a certain amount of “safety” – that is, marketers know what kind of content works well and how to track success.

However, social media is rapidly changing, and newer, millennial- and Gen-Z-friendly platforms like Snapchat are coming to the fore. Not only do medical practices and other healthcare organizations have to contend with new form factors, they also have to shift their thinking around content creation. But popular Snapchat-using doctors have shown that the app opens up creative potential, providing the kind of behind-the-scenes stories that can get people excited about a medical practice.  

Snapchat isn’t always the easiest platform for marketers, but medical practices that hope to build engagement with a younger demographic can’t afford to ignore this major new trend.

Snapchat’s Success Story

Launched in 2011, Snapchat initially allowed users to send their friends images that disappeared seconds after viewing. The features have since expanded; users can now create a “Story” of photos and videos, send text-based messages to friends, follow celebrities and brands, and keep up with current events through a location-based content generation feature.

The ever-evolving features of Snapchat, along with its deliberately opaque interface, has ensured that the app remains popular with millennials and less legible to older users who aren’t digital natives. This disparity shows in the numbers: 70% of users are under 34, and studies suggest that 77% of college students use the app daily. You may hear a lot about Twitter these days, but Snapchat just surpassed Twitter’s number of daily active users. Users open the app 18 times a day on average, and 65% post an image every day. Daily video views are at 10 billion globally, with 191 million daily active users worldwide. The U.S. alone has about 26 million users, 70% female. This is a huge market, and one which many types of businesses are eager to explore.

Trailblazing Doctors Using Snapchat

Given the newness and relative novelty of this social network, medical practices may be unsure of how to leverage this channel into increased brand awareness and patient intake appointments. However, by getting a little creative, medical organizations can leap into this new digital frontier.

Thus far, Snapchat has worked best for specialities that can offer strong visual stories, as well as those with a younger, female-skewing target demographic. Plastic surgeons, dermatologists, sports doctors, OB/GYN practitioners, and orthodontists have been some of the first to explore the possibility of Snapchat as a way to both educate and advertise.

Snapchat works well when one person (or a few people) at a practice are willing to dedicate a substantive amount of time to creating and posting new content. Consider Dr. Michael Salzhauer, better known as Dr. Miami. He uses Snapchat to document his work day as a plastic surgeon, with an account that includes before-and-after photos of patients and raw surgery footage. For a generation raised on reality T.V., this isn’t shocking material; in fact, he has a loyal base of followers. He finds that patients under 30 are generally excited about Snapchat integration during their procedures.

The social media standout in dermatology is Dr. Sandra Lee, better known as “Dr. Pimple Popper,” who has long been famous for videos of extracting cysts and zits. Her consistent popularity suggests that there is a market for even seemingly “gross” medical content. She also takes advantage of her platform to educate patients on proper skin care.

Snapchat is gaining popularity in some unexpected corners. In 2016 UK surgeon Dr. Shafi Ahmed used Snapchat “spectacles” to live-stream part of an operation, while 150-200 medical students watched. He thinks this kind of footage can be invaluable for training purposes. And unlike Facebook or Instagram, Snapchat doesn’t block graphic content.

There can be some drawbacks to Snapchat. The fun, often goofy nature of the platform may feel flippant in certain medical settings. And despite the temporary nature of Snapchat images, you still need to comply with HIPAA laws and obtain a signed release to use patient images on the platform.

The platform also doesn’t have a clear analytics component, so it may be hard to track engagement. You can see how many people viewed your Stories, but if you want to prove a more tangible business impact, you may need to consider incorporating a call-to-action, coupon, or survey as part of the Snapchat strategy.

How to Use Snapchat in Your Practice

If you do decide to make the leap into Snapchat, there are few limits on the kinds of fun and educational content that your followers might enjoy. Stories, which promise to stay a major trend in 2019, let you share heartfelt moments with patients. Turn an ordinary Monday into a creative opportunity with a Day-in-the-Life spotlight for doctors, nurses, or staff. Walk followers through an interesting procedure, or provide reminders for upcoming events and fundraisers.

Although Snapchat can feel like a last-minute medium, you should check out the calendar to plan opportunities for great stories. You could offer seasonally-appropriate advice, like how to deal with springtime allergies or how to protect skin from sun damage. You can help raise awareness of conditions, from National Blood Donor Month in January to National Handwashing Awareness Week in December. Certain holidays may be relevant to your practice, like Mother’s Day or Giving Tuesday.

If your company chooses to invest more extensively in Snapchat, you can create specific marketing campaigns using Snap ads, sponsored geofilters, or unique sponsored lenses. Imagine a “Future Doctor” filter that projects a doctor’s scrubs, with your logo, onto a person’s selfie. Or you could encourage college students to get their flu shot with a goofy cartoon bandage that projects onto a flexed arm. Users become instant brand ambassadors, while having a good time.

Jumping into a channel as “unorthodox” as Snapchat may feel risky to some healthcare organizations, but so long as you stay within the bounds of compliance, the platform can offer you a rare chance at creativity and direct connection with potential patients.

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