October 09, 2020
The way Sandra Lee, MD, sees it, establishing a presence on Instagram, Twitter, and other social media channels may not float your boat, but its potential influence deserves your attention.
"We can no longer hide from social media; it is part of our lives now," Lee, a dermatologist who practices in Upland, Calif., said at the virtual annual Masters of Aesthetics Symposium. "You're missing some real opportunities without it."
In October of 2014, Lee began using Instagram to provide followers a glimpse into her life as a dermatologist, everything from Mohs surgery and Botox to keloid removals and ear lobe repair surgeries. "Early on, I happened to post an extraction video," she recalled. "It got a notable increase in attention. I thought it was weird. I did it again, and it happened again. I just started posting extraction videos every day: finding blackheads and whiteheads or milia or whatnot on my patients and just posting them. I watched in amazement as followers' comments and attention grew."
Soon after Lee started posting videos, she discovered Reddit, which has a subreddit for "popping addicts" and the "pop-curious," she said. "It's a group of tens of thousands of people who share popping videos with each other," she explained. "I thought that was really strange. I also thought that maybe I could be their queen, so I decided to share my videos there. This meant that I would have to start a YouTube channel where I could upload my videos."
With this, Lee formed her alter ego, "Pimple Popper," and became a YouTube sensation, building 6.6 million subscribers over the course of a few years. She also grew 4 million followers on Instagram, 2.9 million on Facebook, and more than 138,000 on Twitter. About 80% of her followers are women who range between 18 and 40 years of age. "They are very interested in skin care," she said. "This is the target audience that advertisers want."
Lee's rapid rise to fame caused some soul-searching about her intentions. "What is really important to me is to not embarrass my patients and not embarrass myself or my specialty," she said. "I wanted to show that we as dermatologists are so much more than pimple poppers, that we have an amazing specialty. Could I do this and still grow followers? Could I entertain them and keep their interest and educate them at the same time? Show them why we are experts?"
She added: "How could I reach people who have never seen a dermatologist and maybe teach them how to take care of their skin? And help them to know when the best time is to see a dermatologist. How can we distinguish ourselves from the rest of them: the estheticians, the nurse practitioners, the physician assistants, and the physicians who are board-certified in other specialties but who present themselves on social media as dermatologists? Our specialty is getting taken over by nondermatologists on social media from all angles, so it's become important to me to remind people, in a positive way, that there's a difference between a board-certified dermatologist and others."
She offered the following six pearls of advice for building and maintaining your social media presence:
- Entertain, and secretly educate, without teaching them. "People want to learn about the world, and they want to know more about skin care," said Lee, who also stars in her own TV reality show on TLC. "They want to know more about dermatology."
- Know your audience. "Notice what posts get the most attention and try to figure out why that content resonates," she advised. "Read your comments."
- Show that you're human. "They want to follow you because they like you as a person, not just because you're a dermatologist," she said. "Distinguish yourself amongst us dermatologists."
- Don't bad mouth other specialties or other so-called skin specialists. "Don't invite the conflict," she said. "In my opinion, the best way to fight this is to stay on the positive side and to showcase dermatology and how amazing it is to be a board-certified dermatologist."
- Don't hire someone to post for you, at least not initially. Handle your social media accounts yourself, "because otherwise you really can't understand what is driving it," said Lee, who launched her own skin care line, SLMD Skincare. "I don't think it can grow to a large degree without you being directly involved."
- Use the feedback and responses to make yourself a better dermatologist. "I think that social media has made my bedside manner better, my techniques better," she said. "It has made me a better dermatologist and, I think, a better person, too."