As the residents on the podium ran through case presentations at the Texas Dermatological Society meeting this past fall (September 21-22, 2018; Galveston, Texas), I discretely surveyed the room. To no surprise, perhaps half of the attendees at some point during the hour-long presentation glanced down at their smartphones, and 2018 statistics suggest that approximately 74% of these Internet glances were made by engagers of social media sites.1 My FOMO (fear of missing out) kicked in. What was everyone looking at? I opened Instagram on my smartphone and plastered at the top of my home page were Texas Dermatological Society–related “stories” posted by other dermatology residents from across the state, one story featuring the very presentation I was attending. I peeked 2 rows ahead to find the social media “influencer” I have been following on Instagram for months in real life for the first time.
It is not just the younger population glued to their social media accounts. In fact, Facebook boasted a more than 80% increase in users 55 years and older between 2011 and 2014 and a 41% increase in users aged 35 to 54 years.2 In total, there were 3.2 billion social media users globally in 2018.3 With such a large portion of the population engaged in social media, it is no wonder that it has become a rapidly emerging presence within the field of dermatology.
Social media has become a powerful marketing tool for the practicing dermatologist. In a recent survey, 41% of social media users reported that social media influenced their choice of a particular physician, facility, or medical practice.4 Corresponding to this behavior, dermatology practices also have used social media to educate patients on services offered, acquire new patients, engage existing patients, create brand loyalty, become a trusted source of medical information in a sea of digital misinformation, and facilitate positive word-of-mouth opportunities.5 In fact, 53% of physician practices in the United States operate a Facebook page.6 For these physicians, marketing through social media carries the advantages of low cost and rapid transmission of information to a wide audience.7 Furthermore, the development of business insights and statistics by some social media platforms, such as those available to users on business profiles on Instagram, enables practices and marketers to target their audiences and optimize reach.
The role of social media in dermatology extends far beyond marketing. Lifestyle blogs centered on daily life as a medical provider, even within the field of dermatology, are gaining popularity. Dermatology-centered lifestyle blogs often incorporate the root derm in their handle, enabling other users to identify the account holder and interact in meaningful ways. According to a post from one popular Instagram influencer Dr. Audrey Sue Cruz (@dr.audreyxsue), such profiles may serve to prevent burnout, provide a creative outlet, share life as a resident, develop a supportive community, provide mentorship, and spread inspiration.