Changing referral patterns in the age of social media

referral patterns
2019 referral sources for Pacific Heights Plastic Surgery, office of Dr. Jonathan Kaplan (aka @realdrbae on Instagram and Snapchat).

Social media is to blame, or take credit, for everything these days! The effects of social media are evident across a variety of spaces. For example, it’s changing political discourse, feelings of inequality (you always knew the Kardashians had more money than you but now you know how much more!) and how a business goes about generating, well, new business. Specifically, to stay competitive, aesthetic practices are increasingly relying on social media and changing their referral patterns.


Social media’s effect on changing referral patterns for aesthetic practices

When patients go to a particular doctor for a medical problem, it’s typically because they were referred there from the emergency room or another doctor within the patient’s same insurance network. But when it comes to practices in the aesthetic space, it doesn’t work that way. The emergency room isn’t referring patients to doctors for botox treatments or a breast aug! Aesthetic physicians (plastic surgeons, dermatologist, etc) have wholly different referral patterns.


In the old days, aesthetic physicians would advertise in the yellow pages or send out print mailers. Those days are long gone. Over the last 15 years, consumers were relying solely on internet searches to find their doctor. With the rise of social media, referral patterns are changing significantly.


This is good news depending on your perspective. How well prepared are you? How diversified are your marketing channels? If you’re active on social media, then great. If you haven’t taken the plunge, then it’s going to be a long arduous trudge building your social media following after so many years in practice. And if you were a Facebook fan, that is now a pay-to-play game. Organic posts to your business page will be seen by about 6% of your followers, For any traction on Facebook, you’ll have to boost, or pay, for anyone to see your posts.


Engagement through Instagram and Instagram Stories

For now, Instagram is where it’s at. And it doesn’t cost a thing…for now. What I’m learning from my Instagram account is that posts aren’t enough. Sure I can have engaging posts and strive for 1-2% of my followers to engage by liking or viewing my posts. However, based on my experience, views of Instagram Stories (the 10-15 second video clips that tell a story and then disappear after 24 hours) is the new gold standard.


While I often get less than 1% likes on my posts (and my followers are real people, not bots), I get over 1,000 views on my Stories in a 24 hour period each week (I’m not even bragging but 1,000 views in a 24 hour period turns into real patients!). How do I know that likes on posts aren’t the recipe for success in my case? Because as the pie chart below shows, my number one biggest referral source at 28% is social media (Instagram and Snapchat). My social media efforts include the content I’m uploading day in and day out on my social media accounts and also my weekly collaboration with Dr. Michael Salzhauer. Also known as Dr. Miami (@therealdrmiami on Instagram and Snapchat), Dr. Miami posts my content on his affiliate page, @drmiamiland for a monthly fee.


referral patterns
2019 referral sources for Pacific Heights Plastic Surgery, office of Dr. Jonathan Kaplan (aka @realdrbae on Instagram and Snapchat).


He has over 2 million followers collectively on his social media accounts. When he gives you a “shoutout” on one of his accounts, it results in referrals that further emphasizes the new-found importance of social media. Social media as a referral source has become so critical that, as this article explains, even though I had a 62% drop in traffic to my website from April to June of 2019, my social media engagement and revenue increased year over year.


Diversify your marketing channels and building an email database as a backup plan

Thankfully I diversified my marketing channels between internet search (Google) and social media. If I had put all of my eggs in the Google basket, the consequences on my practice could have been devastating. I weathered the Google algorithm updates of March and June 2019 because I had two “arrows” in my quiver. I had my social media presence and a growing email database to protect me.


No matter what technique you use to “make it rain” (Google, Bing, social media or social media influencers like Dr. Miami), you need to make sure you have the right “bucket” to capture as many leads as possible. That way, if your luck changes with Google or social media, you still have a huge email database to show for it and you can reach out to followers directly. Read how I generate leads on my website via price transparency here –


Moving forward

The growth of my social media presence saved me as my web traffic dropped. Unfortunately, I’m not done. I must now build my web traffic again to ensure I remain in a favorable position if my social media presence, specifically Instagram, was to go south.  Cautiously consider each new marketing opportunity in case it’s the next “big one.” Marketing trends will continue to evolve. To remain relevant, providers need to be nimble and able to adapt to the times. Because in 10 years, we’ll be writing about you-know-what that’s changing referral patterns!


Click here for the original blog post written by Dr. Kaplan for BuildMyBod.


“Dr. Kaplan is a true professional. He gave me extremely helpful and direct honest advice…I strongly recommend him.”– David S.

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