If your practice is not leveraging social media for marketing, you could be missing out. The potential audience is huge, especially on mobile (as of 2014, there were some 90 million iPhone users in the US alone). Facebook and Twitter provide excellent, inexpensive, and effective platforms from which to connect with your clientele.

But one of the fastest-growing social media sites, particularly with teenagers is Instagram. But medical professionals seem even more hesitant to venture there.

Part of that is understandable: after all, Instagram is based on sharing photography, and the medical field is not known for its photogenic processes. Dripping blood and rotting teeth are great if you’re selling horror films, but not exactly the most inviting image for your practice.

But Instagram is projected to have an US-based audience of 111.6 million by 2019; by then, that will be 40 percent of internet users. So is there a way to leverage this phenomenon without looking like you’re trolling for zombies? Here are some creative ways you can start reaching out to new patients, engaging with your community, and building a following on Instagram.

  1. Education – You can imagine just how much medical and health information research people do online. You’ve probably done it yourself, and you know patients are doing it. Use that interest to become a trusted authority. Use Instagram to share medical drawings, relevant data graphics, post-op recovery guidelines and the like as a way of establishing your practice as a credible, trustworthy source of information about dental care.
  2. Equipment – Face it: as dentists, we don’t have the most warm and fuzzy reputation. Dental issues are never pleasant, and both current and potential patients can quite reasonably be scared of the unknown. Try posting pictures the equipment you use regularly, along with concise, friendly explanations of how things work and what patients can expect when they visit.
  3. Everyone – Along those same lines, nothing is more reassuring when you’re anxious than the sight of a friendly face. Post pictures of your staff and other co-workers, so newcomers know who they’ll be dealing with. Stay away from the “everyone standing in a group with their hands crossed” sorts of photos; think about the way your patients will actually encounter these people and try to capture that. Take a shot of your receptionist from the lobby, for example, or actually lie back in the chair and snap a pic of your hygienist looking down.
  4. Expectations – Again, this goes back to fear of the unknown. Why not post a series of photos that walk a potential client through a normal first visit? You can cover parking, lobby, x-ray area–the more a patient knows what to expect, the more you can tamp down that anxiety.
  5. Experience – Particularly with cosmetic practices or orthodontia, it helps when people can see that you’ve done this before. Before-and-after photos of success stories can go a long way toward creating confidence in initial visits. Dental work is seldom pleasant, but it can go down a little easier if a patient is thinking of the end result. Just be sure to get signed releases from any patients whose cases you want to share.

Engaging in social media is a must for this day and age, and Instagram offers a prime opportunity for a dental professional to create a positive image. It has a growing and active user base, but because of low penetration by medical practices thus far, you may have few competitors right now. Take a little time to figure out how you can make Instagram a part of your marketing strategy. You won’t be sorry.