It’s safe to say we’re sick of sifting through post after post advertising the too-good-to-be-true benefits of products like flat tummy tea, trendy hair vitamins and dietary supplements. The last year saw a spike in celebrities and wellness influencers pushing holistic health products, like Gwyneth Paltrow’s recent rebrand of her lifestyle site, Goop, that sells all sorts of bizarre and trendy crap like five-day fasting kits, a headphone set that claims to use “transcranial electrical stimulation” to speed up athletic training and, of course, a $22 bottle of salt. Luckily, there’s no need to compromise your health for guilty-pleasure relatable content about wellness with the help of a group of influencers who are experts on both.
You may only see them in person for an annual birth control refill or pap smear, but OBGYNs are precisely the kind of Instagram influencer you’ll likely be seeing on your feed this year. The Instagram OBGYN community is niche but heavily engaged, with accounts interacting as colleagues as well as influencers. Their expertise is transparent and their content is backed by years of medical school, but their online personas are relatable and inviting in the way only a social media native — with an understanding of top-notch bedside manner — can accomplish.
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Since her Instagram (@nataliecrawfordmd) debut in 2016, Dr. Natalie Crawford has launched an entire brand spanning her As a Woman podcast, newly released MasterClass and role as a co-founder of the Pinnacle conference for women in medicine (just to name a few).
Each of Crawford’s Instagram posts is expertly curated, aesthetically gorgeous and reflect the perfect middle-ground of professional and personal. In between pictures of networking events paired with the perfect empowering caption and posts discussing gynecological concerns in her long coat, you see Crawford’s own family as she opens up about her own journey with infertility. Crawford is a physician, but online, followers know her as a friend.
Crawford’s goal isn’t to criticize wellness influencers using their marketability to make a living, but to educate women on how to safely interact with these trends to supplement, not replace, their medical care.
“We want to empower women to stand up for themselves and to understand what’s all out there. The narrative is so mixed because so many wellness influencers benefit financially from recommending things,” Crawford tells SheKnows. “For example, they might tell you that birth control pills are bad and you need to buy a supplement that is a birth control pill cleanse, and that person directly benefits from it. Those platforms gain a lot of traction because they tell people what they want to hear.”
Users turn to influencers because of their relatable appeal. They make us feel heard, leaving us especially vulnerable when they promote products that claim to help with intimate health concerns like breast cancer, infertility and sexual performance. Talking to a physician about these issues is the obvious course of action, but the analytical and sterile environment of a doctor’s office can make a patient feel vulnerable and timid. By using Instagram to connect with patients, OBGYNs are restoring the personal, physician-patient relationship that was cherished by our grandparents and fostering the trust and connection that users seek from a traditional influencer.
Beloved on the internet as Mama Doctor Jones, Dr. Danielle Jones has amassed a following of over 250k Youtube subscribers and nearly 80k Instagram (@mamadoctorjones) followers by creating a space where women feel seen and the information feels compassionate and personal.
“It’s as if your friend also happens to be an OBGYN,” says Jones of her brand philosophy. “I look at this as not the new age of medicine, but helping to take us back to when you knew your doctor. You knew his house, you knew his kids, and that helped you trust that he was really doing the best he could for you.”
Jones feels the effects of her social media presence at her in-person practice, with new patients seeking out her care after interacting with her content and old patients accessing baseline information to assert their specific concerns at their appointment. By reaching patients before they walk into their appointment, OBGYNs are able to make better use of their time together by starting the long and sometimes tedious process of debunking misinformation (something we often run into on social media) and developing the necessary trust to practice in such an intimate field.
However, not all OBGYNs are off-limits to advertisers and it’s not uncommon to see physicians using their social media accounts to promote branded content. Popular menstrual product brands know the audience OBGYNs pull (and how engaged they are) and they know to follow the promise of a lucrative campaign. But our doctors say that you won’t be seeing your gyno promote products that they wouldn’t already be suggesting to their patients.
Dr. Jessica Geida, a gynecology resident working her Internet magic at @smilesandscrubs on Instagram, contrasts the relationship of physician influencers with brands to outdated marketing practices that were once common in the pharmaceutical business.
“I think, if we look back at how like Big Pharma and physicians used to be: Drug reps would come to offices and they would give physicians like crazy vacations or gift cards. Now, if a drug rep wants to come in and bring lunch, it’s for the whole office. The doctor is not getting special treatment. That’s honestly kind of how I feel about the relationships between brands and influencers,” Geida tells SheKnows. “I think that when you’re putting your name out there with a brand, you have to be really careful and make sure that you definitely support that and as a doctor, the first rule of thumb is to do no harm.”
The Association for Healthcare Social Media (AHSM) was founded by physician influencer, Dr. Austin Chiang, to provide resources for healthcare professionals to navigate the influencer marketing world tactfully without compromising their role as a physician. OBGYN influencers Dr. Natalie Crawford and Dr. Danielle Jones currently sit on the Board of Directors. AHSM doesn’t promote or ban social media marketing, but are intent on guiding healthcare influencers as they use their platform as a public health tool.
For Dr. Charis Chambers, better known as @thePeriodDoctor, what started as a fellowship for pediatric and adolescent gynecology has turned into her mission to educate young patients before they enter her practice for the first time.
“At the start of my fellowship, I was really shocked by the number of conversations that I would have with these young girls with their guardian or parent, where I would just explain basic physiology and they would be like, ‘I’ve never heard this’,” Chambers tells SheKnows. “I just felt like there was a gap in education. If I stay here in the four walls of a clinical setting, I will never reach enough people. I will have the same conversation day in and day out and not be able to make a meaningful difference.”
Chambers is meeting teens right where they’re at (on the Internet) to facilitate accurate and inclusive conversations on topics like racism in medicine, how chemical hair straighteners can affect the chances of a woman developing breast cancer and endometriosis in adolescents.
In a field dominated by white physicians, Chambers is focused on creating a space for Black patients to learn about their options and discuss demographic-specific gynecological concerns — going far beyond the constraints of the influencer business model.
“I’m just a physician that’s passionate and trying to get my message out,” Chambers says.
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