Social Media

Market On the Go–Visually–with Instagram

By Nathan Bonilla-Warford, OD

Editor’s Note:

Instagram recently updated–and then amended–its Privacy Policy. It’s important to read it, and then review it, as Instagram notes that its policy changes from time to time.

Here is a joke for you:

Q: How much does a hipster weigh?

A: An Instagram

My staff member in charge of our Instagram account spotted this on George Takei’s Facebook page. I think it’s hilarious because it points to the photo-sharing application’s artsy roots, while maintaining a geeky metric tone.

Don’t get the joke? Well, for starters Instagram is a free photo-sharing app you use with your iPhone or Android phone. At its core, you take a photo, apply a digital filter to it (often making it look “retro”), and then share it with other Instagrammers. But don’t let the geekiness or the artsiness of Takei’s quote give you the idea that mainstream people and brands are not using Instagram. They are. And with much more frequency than ever before because it makes it easy and fun to take photos, then manipulate and share them. When I opened my account in April 2011, Instagram had 3 million users. Now that it has been acquired by Facebook for $1 billion, Instagram has over 100 million users. And on Thanksgiving Day alone, users posted over 10 million photos.

There are basically two trends that are driving this massive increase in usage. The first has been the continued growth of mobile social networking. Almost anything that people traditionally have done with computers is being done easily and on-the-go with phones and tablets. The second is the rise of image-based communication. In all areas of social media, pictures are more engaging than text. Both these trends together explain why Instagram is popular–with even more active daily users than Twitter.

One of the ongoing challenges of modern practice marketing is to determine if it is worth the time and effort of adopting a new social channel. Generally, unless it is overwhelmingly obvious that the new network or app will provide unique benefit, it is best to avoid the newest and hottest things out there and focus on what works for you and your practice. If you are not already social media savvy, then Instagram is probably not worth your time right now.

There are some reasons that optometric practices may want to consider Instagram. Optometrists work in a very visual field (no pun intended) and we can use visual marketing to separate ourselves from others. If you are already taking pictures of staff, frames and events, this is an easy, free way to reach more people. If patients are already taking pictures of themselves with new frames, you can bet some of these are landing on Instagram.

*Keep in mind that any photo of a patient taken by your practice for marketing use via Instagram or other means should have a signed waiver from the patient granting permission for use of the photo for marketing purposes.* Editor’s Note: See Market Effectively–and Legally–to Your Patients.

If you do choose to use Instagram, here are some ways to get the most out of it:

Make it Fun and Emotional

People use Instagram for the emotional and creative imagery, not to get specific information. Do not upload ad flyers or coupons. Instead use pictures of people and visually interesting images around your community. Use the filters!


Behind the scenes or candid shots are great because they provide a human contrast to the clinical nature of practice. “Instagram is our go-to app for nearly all of our event and party coverage of late,“ explains James Spina, editor-in-chief of 20/20 magazine. “We’ve also started using it extensively to show what’s going on ‘behind-the-seens’ (correct spelling on that since it is actually what we call the feature at at our monthly eyewear photo features.”

New Products & Service

With simple images, Instagram is a great way to introduce new offerings. Brett Ball of Wing EyeCare told me that his main strategy is to get out fresh fun, images of new frames before they hit the stores. Over time this is evolving to include diagnostic equipment as well.

Community Outreach

Interaction with the community makes for engaging photos. This is one important reason to involve staff. VSP Vision Care does an excellent job with this. As Julie Berge, senior public relations specialist told me, “The photos we share on Instagram range from employees participating in causes they care about to images of our mobile clinics and volunteer doctors providing eyecare to underserved communities or those recovering from natural disasters, like Superstorm Sandy.”


Instagram can be a way to “leak” information to patients who are active in spreading word-of-mouth news. For example, Craig Miller, OD, of Eye Columbus, says, “Instagram followers were the first to hear (or see) about our additional new downtown location. And then again as we announced our new name and web site.”

Use Hashtags

Like on Twitter, hashtags can be helpful for increasing visibility to your target audience. However, general ones like #glasses are too broad to attract attention. Consider hashtags such as key brands and your city. You can use multiple hashtags, but don’t over do it.


It is very easy to connect Instagram to networks that you may already be using such as Twitter and Facebook. Do this.


With Instagram 3.0, the service added the ability to tag your photos with a specific location on the Photo Map (in partnership with Foursquare). Take advantage of this by making sure your Foursquare venue is up to date.


Time is money, so don’t waste it. You can get a gut reaction to what is working, but analytics from and can provide more insight.

In a nutshell, if you do a lot of marketing with photos, and your staff or marketing person is good with a smartphone, you may want to jump on the Instagram bandwagon. It won’t drive sales directly, but it can help with visual branding of the practice. Check out Instagram for Business if you want more information.

QUESTION FOR READERS: Have you given Instagram a try yet? How are you painting a picture for patients when marketing?

Nathan Bonilla-Warford, OD,of Bright Eyes Family Vision Care in Tampa, Fla., is a graduate of Illinois College of Optometry. He is a member of the American Optometric Association, and is past president of the Hillsborough Society of Optometry, as well as chair of the Children’s Vision Committee of the Florida Optometric Association. To contact him:

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