One of the Keys to Success on Social Media? Entertain and Educate the Public

Doug Brunk

October 29, 2021

Social media isn't everyone's cup of tea, but for those who want to become a significant influencer on Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, or other platforms, "you have to enjoy it," Sandra Lee, MD, said during a virtual course on laser and aesthetic skin therapy.

Dr Sandra Lee

"I admit that I'm somewhat obsessed with it. I kind of blame it on my work as a dermatologist, that I'm trying to grow my social media as well. It's interesting to me, fascinating, and I want to understand it more. I think that's the mindset you need to approach it with."

Perhaps no other public figure in dermatology has enjoyed success in social media more than Lee, a board-certified dermatologist who practices in Upland, Calif. In the fall of 2014, she started 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. From this she formed her alter ego, "Pimple Popper," and became a YouTube sensation, building 7.1 million subscribers over the course of a few years, amounting to 4.5 billion lifetime views. She also grew 12 million followers on TikTok, 4.4 million followers on Instagram, 3 million on Facebook, and more than 139,000 on Twitter. About 80% of her followers are women who range between 18 and 40 years of age.

During the meeting she offered five social media marketing tips for busy clinicians:

You have to 'play' to 'win.' Active participation in social media is required to develop followers. "You cannot delegate this content," Lee said. "You can hire people to help you or leave the task to a social media-savvy medical assistant in your office, but the content should be your responsibility ultimately, because you are the physician," she added. Not everyone chooses to participate in social media, but it's also something not to shy away from out of intimidation. "There is some talent associated with it, but it takes a lot of persistence as well," she said.

Patients come first. Protect them at all costs. Lee rarely posts the faces of patients she cares for unless they grant consent in advance. "I try to show the work that I do and the beauty of dermatology," she said during the meeting, which was named "Laser & Aesthetic Skin Therapy: What's the Truth?" and was sponsored by Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital, and the Wellman Center for Photomedicine. She added that taking part in social media can help you improve communication skills by engaging with followers who like, share, or respond to the material posted. "When you look back at your posts objectively, you learn about yourself and how you relate to your patients," she said. "It helps to hone my bedside manner and my skills as a dermatologist."

Show that you are human. Many dermatologists and other "skin influencers" have established their presence on the Internet and may be direct competitors for patients, but that doesn't mean you can't establish your own identity. One way to stand out is by posting content related to your authentic self, such as a photo or video that shows you engaged in a hobby, dining at a favorite restaurant, or visiting a beloved vacation spot. "Your followers don't want a robot, someone who thinks they're amazing and can do everything," said Lee, who stars in her own TV reality show on TLC. "Show that you have a funny side. You want them to fall in love with you and see a little bit of your world, whatever it might be. Charm the socks off of them."

Entertain first, educate a close second. The main way you're going to get people to follow and watch you is to provide some entertainment, "not at the expense of a patient or your practice, though," she said. "Then you're going to educate people. We dermatologists have something to teach the world because we are experts on skin, hair, and nails. You want to impart this knowledge in a way that captivates people." It's like the sense of accomplishment that comes from learning something new after reading a book or watching a movie, she explained. "You feel good about it, and you can take that knowledge with you somewhere else. I love it when kids come up to me and tell me they know what a lipoma is, what a cyst is, and what psoriasis is because they've seen my show, or because they follow me on social media. It's wonderful because I can see that I've educated them."

Be kind and don't activate the trolls. Lee allows positivity and kindness to rule the day on her social media content. "This is what I try to relay to followers, but I also do not engage with the negativity," she said. "Every now and then, there will be someone who tries to insult what you do or who insults you personally. If you engage with them, it almost invites them to do it more. It almost gives them the ability to fight with you. Try to stay above that; just put out goodness and kindness."

Several years ago, YouTube and Instagram temporarily shut down Lee's accounts because she posted graphic images of skin lesions and procedures – a practice that wasn't so commonplace at the time. "Don't just post a graphic image just to be graphic," she advised. "Make sure it has an educational message associated with it. That will help to validate your content. Posting a warning sign that some images may be graphic could help, too."

Lee reported having no relevant financial disclosures.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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