Social Media in Healthcare: Why Instagram Is its Best Kept Secret

Instagram, with over one billion monthly active users, is an important communications tool for any kind of brand. The applications of this platform are endless, but it’s proving to be a fruitful podium for the healthcare industry.

Whether providing future medical students the opportunity to follow physicians who share images of their practice to get a glimpse into the profession, helping hospitals and health systems reach a larger patient population or foster a sense of community through the promotion of a cause, Instagram is a key channel for the healthcare sector.

Hospitals tap into Instagram

Tennessee hospitals gained a lot of attention on Instagram a few years back when the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville received a star-studded welcome with singer Taylor Swift joining Ryan Seacrest for his studio opening at the hospital. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis has an ongoing partnership with Lancome’s Hand Heart campaign to raise awareness and funds for the leading treatment center of childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases. By supporting the fundraising efforts digitally, the campaign was able to reach a larger audience to celebrate “moments of happiness.” Lancome asked its 145K followers to Instagram “hand hearts” with a dedicated hashtag #LancomeLovesStJude and the brand would make a $1 donation to St. Jude in their honor.

Tackling self-harm and suicide

A bit back, Instagram unveiled a reporting and support tool to help users at-risk for self-harm and suicide. The tool lets followers anonymously flag posts and the user is sent a support message offering help. Instagram worked with mental health experts and groups like the National Eating Disorders Association, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline,, and patients who are experienced with this type of behavior to ensure the prompt language was accurate, yet not intimidating. In addition to the launch of this tool, Instagram also partnered with Seventeen Magazine on a campaign focused on increasing positive body image and self-confidence, to honor National Body Confidence Day. The hashtag #PerfectlyMe was promoted to encourage people to accept and embrace their bodies – and each other –  while building self-confidence.

Affordable Care Act marketing

More than 48 million users on Instagram are millennials. Insurers have their eyes on this technology-savvy group of young adults because even though they have a relatively low use of health benefits, they still opt to pay for more expensive, higher coverage health plans. In an effort to reach this audience, The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) extended marketing of the Affordable Care Act insurance plans to Instagram (also YouTube and Facebook) as a way to increase enrollment among the young invincibles without insurance. CMS said that the team planned to run image and video ads on Instagram as a vehicle to reach the 60 percent of all millennial smartphone users monthly that are on Instagram.

Pharma companies on social media

Even though the pharmaceutical industry was reluctant to establish a social media presence given the lack of guidance from the FDA, Boehringer Ingelheim was the first pharmaceutical company to join Instagram in 2013. Since then we saw other major players like Genentech, Eli Lilly, Pfizer and Novartis build their Instagram presence with visual narratives. Also, with the introduction of Instagram Stories that disappear after 24 hours and not allowing public comments, the need for private messages serve as a better patient support tool by pharma to take things out of the public eye. Now more than ever is the time for the pharmaceutical industry to embrace Instagram into their social media in healthcare marketing strategy.

Whether it’s providing continuing education on fundraising efforts, awareness campaigns, support tools or crowdsourcing an image, these are only a handful of ways social media in healthcare, Instagram specifically, is being used to connect with patients and the community.

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