Analyzing New Social Media Guidelines

for Plastic and Cosmetic Surgeons

While they aren’t necessarily official, researchers have published new social media guidelines for plastic surgeons who were getting a little Snapchat-happy. Following these guidelines will mean keeping the patient the center of attention at all times!

Plastic surgeons are on Snapchat and it’s all over the news. But there are a few reasons why plastic surgeons need to be careful on social media these days. Once the wild west of marketing, social media app such as Snapchat and Instagram are now finding themselves the target of new guidelines and recommendations.

Having to navigate ethical tension in marketing is really nothing new for plastic and cosmetic surgeons. Because these procedures are usually elective, there’s a definite drive on the part of surgeons to get the word out—to advertise. That’s balanced by a drive to educate, in most cases.

And while there are no official guidelines for plastic surgeons engaging in social media marketing, a new report published in the Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Journal makes some significant recommendations.

Specific Recommendations from the Report

The report, co-authored by a group of medical students and surgeons at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, makes several specific recommendations about how surgeons should behave on social media especially when patients are involved in any of the posts or content.

These recommendations include the following:

  • Protect the confidentiality of the patient: Whenever videos are posted to social media, take care to obscure or blur out any identifying marks such as tattoos or birthmarks
  • Get agreement in writing from the patient: Most surgeons already get some kind of consent form, but it’s very important that this consent be as crystal clear, specific, and transparent as possible
  • Avoid manipulation: It might not be intentional, but many times patients can feel pressured or manipulated into agreeing to consent. Take a considerable amount of time to make clear to the patient that there is no obligation to agree to consent
  • Be transparent about the risks of social media: Many patients tend to think that, because something like Snapchat is “deleted” in twenty-four hours, there is no risk in that content being shared or copied. However, nothing is truly ever deleted on the internet—and it’s important that patients be aware of that.
  • Maintain a focus on education: It’s important that surgeons always maintain focus on their patients and use videos as a tool to educate. This also means that surgeons should avoid any possible increases to operative time.

Why These Suggested Rules

The development of these rules come as a response to what one researcher calls “the Dr. Miami effect.” Perhaps the most famous surgeon to use Snapchat, Dr. Michael “Miami” Salzhauer began posting surgical procedures on the social media platform.

This success of these Snaps led to a series of copycat surgeons and, unfortunately, a series of “circus”-like antics on the part of some of those surgeons. There were some surgeons who would record dance routines with patients visible in the background or cradle fat and tissue removed from a tummy tuck as though it were a baby.

While representing a very small minority of surgeon social media posts, these behaviors, the co-authors of the paper argue, did not reflect well on plastic and cosmetic surgeons as a whole.


Rules of Social Media Platforms

And it’s not as though following rules on social media is somehow something new. Even on Facebook, often the “default” social media platform for content sharing, boosted posts have to follow certain rules:

  • Before and after images are not allowed
  • Images used in boosted posts must follow certain (sometimes subjective) guidelines about taste)
  • Boosted posts cannot contain the Facebook logo itself

On top of that, there are ethical considerations that surgeons must be aware of. There are simply some things that surgeons cannot do (offer discounts or services in exchange for reviews, for example). Likewise, surgeons must be careful with posting images and showing patients—or promising results. Social media for plastic surgeons is important to do right!

Helping Surgeons Navigate a Tricky Social Media Landscape

Social media is obviously one of the most lucrative marketing opportunities available to plastic surgeons today. It’s impossible to ignore. But sometimes it can also be quite the minefield. It’s all too easy to let one mistake go viral and diminish your reputation.

There’s no way to be absolutely sure that you can avoid social media mistakes, but having someone in your corner that’s familiar with all of the social media rules and regulations of the day can be exceptionally helpful. Plastic and cosmetic surgeons need to be especially careful because they operate in a fairly unique niche.

That’s because cosmetic and plastic surgeons offer elective procedures—they have to advertise in order to be successful, and that means they can’t ignore the potential that social media offers.

New Guidelines Help Establish Good Behavior

That’s why these new guidelines—while not strictly enforceable—do offer surgeons a great set of rules to follow. They act as a kind of barometer, not only for the sharing of material but also for the gathering of content.

These new guidelines also enable surgeons to differentiate themselves—to hold themselves to the kind of higher standard that is expected from a board-certified plastic surgeon. And that’s the kind of thing patients see, respond to, and like.

Plastic surgeons need to be careful on social media, it’s true. But when they have help from an excellent social media marketing company and follow the best available guidelines, surgeons can amplify their success!

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