Social media marketing for aesthetic practitioners - Hamilton Fraser


In the rapidly-evolving world of aesthetics, practitioners are constantly developing new and creative ways to promote their services, increasingly by participating on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.

But with pressure from social media blamed as a significant factor in the rising popularity of cosmetic procedures and enhancements, how can aesthetic practitioners ensure that they market their services, especially on social media and particularly when it comes to young people, in a way that is socially responsible, ethical and above all legal?

Social media in aesthetics

With the ‘selfie era’ still going strong, social media’s impact on patients is showing no signs of slowing. An American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS) survey revealed that in 2017, 55 per cent of facial plastic surgeons consulted patients that wanted to look better in selfies. This was a 13 per cent increase from 2016.

The rapid rise in the use of filters, photo editing programmes and airbrushed stock photography can depict unrealistic images which are simply not attainable for most people. This could lead to dissatisfaction, complaints and even claims if expectations are not managed correctly, and therefore pose a significant risk to both the practitioner and the patient.

The phenomenon of people requesting procedures to resemble their digital image has been referred to as “Snapchat dysmorphia”. A recent report in the US medical journal JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery suggested that filtered images are “blurring the line of reality and fantasy” and could be triggering body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). BDD is a mental health condition where people become fixated on imagined defects in their appearance. Find out more about BDD and the role of the aesthetic practitioner here.

Another issue to be aware of when it comes to ethical marketing and social media is that, with social media platforms open to children as young as 13 (sometimes younger since there is no formal age verification process), it is wise to ensure that your messaging would not be deemed inappropriate for younger audiences. There are no formal restrictions in marketing to younger users of, for example, Instagram, so it is important that practitioners are ethical in their conduct and do not actively enlist teenage followers to market their services.

Using social media to promote your services can be very effective. But it is also important to consider the impact that your social media activity can have on your patients, not to mention your reputation – failure to do so could result in intervention from regulatory authorities.

The role of regulation in marketing and advertising cosmetic procedures

When advertising and promoting your services, it is vital that you put people before profit. While you might simply be looking to increase your customer base, your marketing activities could inadvertently encourage vulnerable people to seek treatment for the wrong reasons. The aesthetics industry and the marketing of it are increasingly heavily regulated to help address this risk and to safeguard the psychological wellbeing of patients.

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The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has a strict advertising code of practice, with guidance for marketing and advertising surgical and non-surgical cosmetic treatments.

For example, aesthetic marketing must not be misleading, practitioners should encourage patients to seek medical advice before going ahead with more invasive treatments, practitioners must have documentary evidence to back up their claims, and promotions offering credit for procedures must not encourage consumers to have interventions that aren’t necessary.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) recently banned three Instagram ads for cosmetic fillers. The ASA argued that the Instagram ads misled consumers, suggesting that celebrities had used the promoted treatments, one by featuring a photo of Kim Kardashian and the other two offering the ‘Kylie Jenner’ package. Banning the ads, the ASA told the beauty salons concerned not to suggest celebrities had used their products if they had not, warned them not to trivialise non-cosmetic procedures and not to advertise Botox, a prescription only medicine.

These cases illustrate how important it is for practitioners to have a full understanding of the ethical standards and regulations they must adhere to when advertising their services on social media platforms. Ethical marketing when it comes to advertising is about ensuring the protection of clients and their emotional and physical safety above profit.

ASA guidance on social responsibility in the marketing of cosmetic procedures

Marketing on social media can be particularly problematic from an ethical point of view. In 2013, the ASA released specific guidance on the marketing of surgical and non-surgical cosmetic procedures. This advice was updated in 2016.

The ASA comment that “marketing communications must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society”. In their latest advice, Cosmetic interventions: Social responsibility they tackle a number of ethical issues surrounding advertising, marketing and social responsibility, covering topics such as;

  • Time-limited offers and promotions
  • Cosmetic surgery as prizes
  • Trivialising surgery
  • Children and vulnerable groups
  • Nudity and body image

According to the ASA, more than 3,000 ads relating to cosmetic and aesthetic treatments have received complaints, with over 400 resulting in a ban. The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code covers many different types of advertising, including social media, marketing. So, even if you are not advertising on television or in publications, but focusing more on social media, you still need to be aware of the guidelines.

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The General Medical Council (GMC) guidelines on the marketing of cosmetic procedures

The General Medical Council (GMC) (2016) rules state that the marketing of cosmetic procedures must be factual, clear and not misleading. Promotional activity must not target children or young people and it must not try to pressure potential patients into making rushed decisions, for example by using time-limited special offers. Ethical marketing involves taking care to educate patients, informing them of the risks associated with all treatments, and offering a period of time for patients to consider their decision after the initial consultation. It is also advisable to avoid making guarantees about the results of treatment, and to inform patients that outcomes may vary from person to person.

The JCCP guidance on ethical use of social media

The Joint Council for Cosmetic Procedures (JCCP) recently issued specific guidance on the ethical use of social media, stating that it has become aware of the rapidly increasing number of social media sites and platforms that are used by aesthetic practitioners as the aesthetic industry grows exponentially. The JCCP encourages practitioners to use social media to engage with their market and elicit feedback on their services, but advises practitioners to do so in a ‘courteous’ and ‘professional’ way, and to ensure that they adhere to all social networks’ ‘terms of service’. Read the JCCP’s full press release on social media guidelines.

The responsibility of practitioners to be ethical in marketing their services

With the monitoring and regulation of aesthetic marketing promotions spread across a number of bodies, knowing what is or is not acceptable can be confusing for cosmetic practitioners. However, the industry is increasingly aligned and agree that promotions should be clear, factual, accurate and free from the use of tactics such as two for one offers.

Ultimately, it is up to individual practitioners to ensure they are well informed and to always put patient safety first. While digital marketing and particularly social media can substantially increase customer reach, it is vital to ensure that you are complying with officially recognised guidelines. By doing this, you are actively helping to improve standards within the aesthetic industry as well as separating yourself from less scrupulous practitioners.

You can find out more about the ‘Key considerations for a successful digital marketing strategy’ here.

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