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Should your practice be on Instagram?

Now that many dentists have their practices established on Facebook, it’s time to talk Instagram. Another important social media tool in your online toolbox, Facebook-owned Instagram can help your practice be discovered and attract new patients.

Instagram’s popularity has skyrocketed in the last few years. In 2017 CNBC reported that Instagram added 100 million new users in just four months, its fastest ever growth rate. In fact, Instagram has been so popular that some Instagram lovers might say Instagram is THE most important tool. That’s right, you may find some practices putting all their social media resources into Instagram — which makes sense if all your ideal patients are only using Instagram.

According to Pew Research Center’s February 2018 Social Media Fact Sheet, the percentage of US adults who currently use Instagram breaks down like this: 64 percent age 18-29, 40 percent of age 30-49, 21 percent age 50-64 and 10 percent age 65 and older.

You can open an Instagram account free of charge. Just download the Instagram app from the app store on your device of choice. Although you can view Instagram accounts from a desktop browser, your options are currently limited. To easily use all the bells and whistles Instagram offers, you will need to use the tool from a smart phone or tablet.

If you want to explore Instagram incognito, you can set your profile to private and simply follow other people and businesses and get familiar or inspired. One of the first things you will likely notice is that the platform is heavily focused on photos and video — no reviews, no services tabs, and users are limited to one online or website link in their bios.

Instagram is a visual economy, where words won’t get noticed unless you have a great visual to capture someone’s attention. If you love taking photos, congratulations. Instagram content generation will be easy for you. In some cases, practices might decide to hire a photographer to visit their practice and snap a variety of photos and video to share in the future. By using any of the multitude of apps available you can make almost any image look fabulous with cropping, lighting, filters or other tools. Or for brands that support fun, add text, doodles or stickers to your images.

Once your practice is set up on Instagram, there are a variety of tactics you can use to help expand your visibility, grow followers and attract patients. Here are a few tips.

Invite patients to join you

You can let your patients know your practice is on Instagram in a variety of ways:

Invite your Facebook followers to join you on Instagram.

Include the Instagram logo and link on your practice website and other online profiles.
Print the Instagram logo on reception signage, business cards and other marketing materials.
Announce your Instagram presence in your patient e-newsletters.
Offer patients a goody like a personalized lip balm when they check-in or tag your practice on Instagram. (Remember: If using them, keep gifts nominal in value to comply with any antikickback statutes. The Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General defines “nominal” to mean a retail value of no more than $15 per item or $75 per patient annually for Medicare or Medicaid beneficiaries.)

Network business-to-business

Instagram is a great place to network business-to-business. You can follow local businesses, like the posts they share and comment on their activities. To your patients or other business owners, these actions would show up as a notification like, “Dr. Smith’s Dental Practice liked or commented on so-and-so’s Instagram post.” This is virtual door knocking and handshaking that only costs a little time, effort and energy, but it’s extremely effective in getting the word out about your practice and helping you to get found.

Share your practice’s ‘stories’

According to Instagram’s blog, Instagram Stories is feature that lets users “share all the moments of your day, not just the ones you want to keep on your profile. As you share multiple photos and videos, they appear together in a slideshow format: your story.”

The Stories feature allows users to share as much as they want throughout the day — with the option to embellish with text and drawing tools. The photos and videos will disappear after 24 hours and won’t appear on your profile grid or in feed. A colorful ring will appear around your profile picture to let your followers know you have added to your story. Keep in mind that Instagram is not encrypted nor is it secure. Never share protected health information here! And when using patient photos or videos, be sure to have a signed release. Despite the temporary nature of Instagram, things still “live on” in cyberspace, and permission is a must. The ADA Center for Professional Success has a sample image release and a sample patient authorization form online.

Include location hashtags

Remember to frequently use your location hashtags in Instagram Stories and posts. While there currently aren’t data available to support people specifically searching for a new dentist on Instagram, it makes sense to use hashtags or stickers that refer to your practice location. In the event that someone does search something like “Denver Dentist” on Instagram you want to make sure your practice shows up. Try it for yourself. While using the Instagram app:

Enter “your town” and “dentist” in the Instagram search (for instance, “Denver Dentist”) and see what pops up.
Enter your local or neighborhood hashtag, (for instance, #Denver) in the Instagram search and explore. This is where you want to be sure your practice shows up for your area.

Leverage sponsored posts or ads

Like Facebook, Instagram offers options to pay for sponsored posts or ads that will help your practice expand visibility within specific ZIP codes and among the demographic of your choice. In fact, Facebook’s software offers ads that can automatically populate your Facebook ads on Instagram, but you can also place ads specifically for Instagram. You can explore opportunities for as little as a few dollars per day.

A new development is that Instagram recently approved pre-scheduling. This is an exciting option because it can both save time and allow you to be more effective. The first scheduling tool available is Hootsuite, a social media management platform; however over time there will likely be other tools that will also accommodate scheduling. Most importantly, planning and prescheduling allow you to consider what content will best support your practice goals.

Now that you know more about Instagram, will your practice get started or do more with what you’ve already established? If you are already using Instagram, what have you found to be most challenging or effective? We’d love to hear your feedback, questions or successes at

This blog post, republished with permission, originally appeared in the spring 2018 issue of the ADA’s Dental Practice Success. It was written by Rita Zamora. Ms. Zamora and her team provide customized social media marketing services for general dentists and specialists. Since 2008, they’ve worked with hundreds of dental professionals worldwide to train them in authentic and valuable online interactions. Learn more at

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