Your Dermatologist Knows
One year since launch, where do things stand with the AAD’s new consumer positioning strategy?
By Matthew Walsh, Member Communications Specialist, November 1, 2023
With social media’s ever-growing prevalence in day-to-day life, an all-too-common occurrence is a patient learning some new “trick” from a viral video and then putting their health at risk by trying to implement it in their own lives. Whether it’s incomplete information provided by a non-physician presenting themselves as an expert, incorrect information shared by someone who doesn’t realize they don’t know any better, or overhyped promises from a new miracle product, in this day and age, it’s not easy for the average consumer to know whether the information they’re getting comes from a trustworthy, knowledgeable source.
As the largest dermatologic society in the world, the American Academy of Dermatology is in a unique position to serve as that source. The Academy is constantly producing innovative, up-to-date information regarding health care of skin, hair, and nails, thanks to contributions from its members, who have the knowledge and expertise that only a board-certified dermatologist can have. The only thing left to do is develop a process to ensure the public learns that information.
Just over one year ago, that process came to fruition with the launch of Your Dermatologist Knows. Launched in October 2022, the AAD’s Your Dermatologist Knows consumer positioning strategy is a large-scale, multi-faceted effort to educate the public about their skin health while communicating a constant message: that a board-certified dermatologist is the go-to expert for conditions affecting skin, hair, and nails.
What is Your Dermatologist Knows?
While there are many different reasons why a strategy such as this one is necessary, the main catalyst for the development of Your Dermatologist Knows was to directly address a growing concern among AAD members that providers without their skills, training, and experience are increasingly purporting to be experts. At the same time, non-physician clinicians are increasingly seeking the right to practice independently, putting patient safety at risk.
“We created Your Dermatologist Knows in response to hearing from members that they want to see more emphasis in the Academy’s public outreach on positioning the specialty,” said Katie Domanowski, director of communications for the AAD. “In our member satisfaction data, and through anecdotal feedback from the membership, we heard that they were looking for the Academy to make a more obvious shift toward positioning them as the experts, above non-physician clinicians and others who might also be attempting to position themselves as experts in skin health.”
Developing a strategy blindly is never advisable, so before the Your Dermatologist Knows strategy could be developed, the Academy consulted research to establish a baseline and see if the road ahead would be smooth and free of traffic or rough and full of potholes.
“We wanted this strategy to have a strong foundation in research and data about public attitudes so that we could meet people where they lived and connect the concerns of the members with the concerns of the public in order to find that spot in between where real connection could be made,” Domanowski said. “We took a look at our public perception data. This is a large-scale research study survey that we do every three years to assess the public perception of the specialty.”
The results of the survey provided extremely important insight that was crucial to the development of the strategy. Since this data was so key, Domanowski said it was critical that the right questions be asked.
“We created Your Dermatologist Knows in response to hearing from members that they want to see more emphasis in the Academy’s public outreach on positioning the specialty.”
“In particular, in the study that preceded developing our strategy, we made sure to look also at public attitudes toward physician assistants, nurse practitioners, aestheticians, as well as other medical doctor specialties like primary care physicians, plastic surgeons, etc., in order to make sure that we understood how public perceptions compared between those groups and dermatologists,” she said.
The results showed that the public already held them in high regard. The research showed that more than six of out 10 people think of dermatologists first when considering options for treating skin, hair, and nail conditions, and more than eight out of 10 who have seen a dermatologist report having had a positive experience. The public also appears to understand the full scope, importance, and severity of the dermatologic specialty, with less than one out of four thinking that dermatologists only care about addressing their patients’ superficial cosmetic issues.
What stood out from the data were responses from Millennials, aged 25-39, which held areas for concern. While they still had strongly positive attitudes toward dermatologists, they lagged older generations and were more likely than older age groups to seek alternate forms of care. Perhaps most alarming, among both the 18-24 and 25-39 demographics, about one in three mistakenly held the belief that physician assistants and nurse practitioners are medical doctors.
Armed with these results, the Academy’s goal became clear: maintain the already-strong public perception of dermatologists as the leading experts in skin, hair, and nails.
The Your Dermatologist Knows consumer positioning strategy takes advantage of consumers’ strong interest in health and wellness for their skin, hair, and nails to drive home the message that board-certified dermatologists are the go-to experts for conditions affecting skin, hair, and nails. The Academy is acting as a convener by providing a platform for dermatologists to share their expertise and tips, as well as sharing consistent messaging about dermatology. The AAD is taking special care to ensure that the full scope of the specialty is included and emphasized throughout the course of the messaging.
A targeted strategy
As a result of data uncovered by the public perception survey, the Academy decided to primarily target women ages 25-35. According to Domanowski, “It has long been understood in medicine and in communications around medicine that women tend to be the health care decision makers for households, and so we wanted to target women. Then, we looked at the 25- to 35-year-old demographic because in the research that we had, while there was clear strength across the board in people’s perceptions that dermatologists are the experts well above any other specialty, that margin was somewhat narrower among that younger demographic,” she continued. “Since there was that softening there, it made sense to focus mostly on that group to shore that up.”
A delicate balance would be necessary to ensure that the right information was shared in a way that was effective. Your Dermatologist Knows could not be considered a success if the public learned the wrong information, nor if the right information was presented but no one learned anything new. As such, great care was taken to develop a messaging strategy that captured the main ideas dermatologists wanted shared in a way that resonated well with the public.
“We did some listening sessions with some of our members to get a sense of their major concerns, to understand how they want to be portrayed, and to learn what kinds of messages dermatologists want to see out there about the specialty,” Domanowski added. “We fashioned those messages into some potential directions we could go, and then we tested those with the public.”
Messaging with a friendlier, more conversational tone that avoided direct comparisons was received more favorably by the public than messaging that contrasted dermatologists’ level of knowledge with non-dermatologists.
“We heard from members that we should really lean into the years of extra training that we have compared to a PA, but we tested that kind of message with focus groups, and it fell flat,” said Roopal Kundu, MD, FAAD, chair of the Academy’s Council on Communications. “That’s why you do the research — to understand what will connect with the audience. It was clear from that research that a friendly and positive tone would be more effective.”
“It’s very important for us to ensure that when a news outlet wants to cover a story about skin health, they’re getting the correct information from a board-certified dermatologist.”
“I know it might come as a disappointment to members who we’re not touting that additional experience we have over non-dermatologists,” Dr. Kundu continued. “I understand. We spent a long time training to become the doctors we are today. But it’s important to understand that the ultimate goal is to increase the public favorability of our specialty and that type of messaging was consistently having the opposite effect in our trials.”
Once the Council on Communications and Academy staff determined the type of messaging to use for Your Dermatologist Knows, the next step was to figure out just how exactly to get the important information out there. For that, the strategy has two main branches: social media and traditional media.
The traditional media element involves the Academy’s communications staff working with members of the AAD Council on Communications to develop relevant material and then pitch that content to media outlets across the country. While the specifics of each piece vary depending on the topic at hand, all of them have the same basic core message: No one understands your skin better than a board-certified dermatologist.
“It’s very important for us to ensure that when a news outlet wants to cover a story about skin health, they’re getting the correct information from a board-certified dermatologist,” Dr. Kundu said. “Since news stories tend to be repurposed across multiple outlets and types of media, providing accurate information from the onset helps prevent the spread of misinformation right from the jump.”
This has proven to be an incredible success, with Your Dermatologist Knows-related content earning hundreds of placements online, in print, and broadcast on TV, which has resulted in hundreds of millions of views since launch. The Academy keeps an archive of some of the biggest media wins.
A new approach to social media
While traditional media remains a critical way to share the message, the cornerstone of the strategy has been a revitalized, fresher, and less corporate approach to social media.
The most dramatic shift was a move from leaning heavily on static content and infographics to featuring the voices and faces of AAD members more prominently, allowing them to embody the expertise of dermatologists. This involved hiring three new Social Media Correspondents to help connect with our audience online. An open call for candidates, followed by a round of interviews, led the Academy to choose three AAD fellows as Social Media Correspondents: Ronda Farah, MD, FAAD; Sara Moghaddam, MD, FAAD; and Oyetewa Oyerinde, MD, FAAD.
Additionally, the Academy collaborates with a team of Social Media Ambassadors, who have their own successful independent feeds and have agreed to share AAD messages with their audiences. Further, the AAD has taken the opportunity to collaborate with some of dermatology’s biggest influencers, like Sandra Lee, MD, FAAD, aka Dr. Pimple Popper, to further propel the message of dermatologists’ expertise.
For content created by the Social Media Correspondents and shared directly on the AAD’s social media accounts, the Academy’s social media staff works with the Correspondents to develop a strategy for what topics should be covered each month and how the information should be shared.
“Every month, there’s a topic that we focus on as a team,” said Dr. Oyerinde, one of the Social Media Correspondents who is also an assistant professor of dermatology and the director of the Skin of Color Clinic at Baylor College of Medicine. “The month before that, we brainstorm different ways that we can address that topic, and then we divide it up among the three of us as to who will cover which topic. The AAD social media team makes an agenda for us for those meetings, but since they’re not dermatologists, they usually ask the three [Social Media Correspondents] our thoughts as dermatologists on which ways we can present the information.”
Since the Social Media Correspondents have a strong understanding of social media and how to best create content for it, the dermatologists themselves are free to create the agreed-upon content in whatever way they feel works best for the given topic or theme.
“The ‘Your Dermatologist Knows’ tagline resonates because it is true and allows our AAD members to feel aligned with their in-depth knowledge of skin, hair, and nails.”
“The AAD team is really great. They give us ideas and talking points, but then give us free rein,” Dr. Oyerinde said. “It’s the Academy’s ideas and talking points, but then we can do anything we want. For me personally, I’m always trying to think of as many visuals to include as possible, because I’m a visual person. I like to do green screen and add on visuals because that’s what helps me. I like to be succinct and practical. If there are ever tips that people can use at home, I like to prepare or share.”
Because the information is coming from the AAD, it is critical that it be strongly evidence-based and vetted by dermatologists. The vast majority of AAD social media content is rooted in information that already exists on the AAD website and has been approved by AAD members reporting to the Public Education Committee. The Social Media Correspondents help present it in a fun, easy-to-consume way that increases the likelihood of grabbing the attention of the general public.
“Most of the information is already on the public-facing AAD website and is easily Googleable by patients, but we’re sharing it with music in minute-long videos, instead of a seven-minute read,” Dr. Oyerinde added.
The process is similar for the Social Media Ambassadors, although the content created is posted on their individual accounts and reshared by the Academy, rather than posted directly by the Academy itself.
“Once a month, we work with the Senior Public Social Media Specialist from the AAD to create content. Each month, we receive materials and suggestions for public social media posts,” said Lindsey Zubritsky, MD, FAAD, a dermfluencer whose @dermguru TikTok and Instagram accounts have a combined total of over 1.5 million followers. “There is typically a focus for the month. For example, one month we may tackle skin cancer awareness while another is focused on hair loss. Every member on the team creates at least one — if not several — posts around the monthly topic. With every post, we highlight the importance of seeking treatment with a board-certified dermatologist. Typically, the AAD’s social media account will repost the team’s content. As social media members, we also participate in Instagram live events, gather at the AAD Annual Meeting, and attend virtual meetings to discuss strategy.”
“The AAD has a great team spearheading the Your Dermatologist Knows strategy, including many fellow well-respected board-certified dermatologists,” said Zain Husain, MD, FAAD, a dermfluencer with over 20,000 followers on Instagram. “They have an organized strategy to advocate relevant skin health topics with monthly themes and coordinating posts among the members across several platforms, such as Instagram and TikTok. In addition, there are interactive live sessions with Q&As, which are always fun and informative. To help spread our message, we often tag the AAD as well as the other members of our team to engage with the content and share on each other’s accounts.”
This is a tremendous amount of work put in by the Academy, the correspondents, and the dermfluencers, but it has proven to be well worth the effort. “Your Dermatologist Knows content is doing really well,” Dr. Oyerinde said. “People share our stuff a lot! Each of our posts are getting a ton of shares. It’s fun to directly interact with the dermatologist! We also get to do Instagram Lives that are pretty well watched where we talk about topics live and let people ask questions directly. I definitely think the more video-heavy content has been a huge boost to engagement and shares.”
“All of the posts and Instagram reels get over 10,000 views consistently, which is significantly better than before Your Dermatologist Knows launched,” said Dr. Moghaddam, a Delaware-based private practice dermatologist who serves on AAD councils, committees, and task forces in addition to her role as a correspondent. “One of my posts about treating bug bites at home got over 120,000 views. It’s well received — the proof is in the numbers!”
As of August 2023, content relating to the Your Dermatologist Knows campaign has garnered 51.1 million views and 16.6 million engagements this year, which includes reactions, comments, and shares. Each month, the Academy compiles a showcase of the previous month’s most successful social media content in one convenient place for members to look at. You can view it here.
The success of Your Dermatologist Knows reaches beyond the AAD’s own social media channels, as the dermfluencers report a similar trend: The Your Dermatologist Knows content they release performs strongly.
“My content for this campaign has generally performed well and has consistently prompted questions and direct messages about these topics,” Dr. Husain said. “It shows that my audience is engaged with skin health topics and wants to learn more. I find the content that has humor and relevant practical applications performs the best.”
The Academy considers spreading this message a vital benefit for its members, as there is likely a direct correlation between the depth of the dissemination of information and the public’s positive perception of dermatologists. That’s why the Academy is not just relying on “word-of-mouth,” but making an active and concerted effort to spread Your Dermatologist Knows content far and wide.
“The Academy made the decision to put some advertising dollars behind the social media aspect of the strategy,” Domanowski said. “So not only is there what we can see on our organic channels, but we’re also reaching the target audience through paid posts on Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook. We’re really seeing better than anticipated outreach.”
Since the Your Dermatologist Knows consumer positioning strategy was born out of member concerns, it’s important to gauge how the members themselves are reacting to content they see. That, too, appears to be going well.
“The ‘Your Dermatologist Knows’ tagline resonates because it is true and allows our AAD members to feel aligned with their in-depth knowledge of skin, hair, and nails,” Dr. Kundu said.
“I hear positive feedback from other dermatologists about the quality of content,” Dr. Moghaddam agreed. “And they feel inclined to share what we develop on their own personal social media channels — which increases our reach even further,” she added.
“We also see a lot of member engagement on our posts,” Domanowski added. “We’ve received a lot of anecdotal feedback that members appreciate the direction that we are going in and really appreciate the fact that we’re showcasing them as the experts so much in our content.”
Passion for dermatology
A big reason why the AAD’s content performs so well is that the board-certified dermatologists who create it are passionate about the mission of the strategy and of the message that is being shared through it. Everyone involved, from the Social Media Correspondents to the Ambassadors and collaborating dermfluencers, has a unique reason for why they wanted to be a part of this revolutionary new strategy from the campaign.
Dr. Farah, the third AAD Social Media Correspondent and an associate professor of dermatology at the University of Minnesota, is passionate because she takes the responsibility of representing her fellow members seriously:
“The role of a social media correspondent fits into my academic role as a teacher, a scientist, and a physician, and the AAD correspondent role allows me to indulge my social media interests alongside my academic goals. I’m honored to have the role. I take it seriously. I understand that I’m representing other dermatologists and I work hard to make sure my posts represent the professionalism, education, passion, science, and the goal of providing the best care and experiences for our patients. I understand that’s my role. Whenever I post, even if it’s on my personal account, I’m always thinking about the membership, and that the way we present ourselves on social media should be professional.”
Dr. Moghaddam is passionate because she wants what’s best for her patients:
“I enjoy educating the public and showing people why they should see a board-certified dermatologist for anything involving hair, skin, and nails. Patient advocacy has been the foundation of everything I do with the AAD and my committee involvement, so this is just a continuation of that — advocating for dermatology by using social media as a tool to ensure the public knows who we are and what is best for their skin.”
Dr. Zubritsky is passionate because she strongly believes in public education:
“My purpose in creating social media from the start was to educate the public on what dermatologists do, how to properly care for your skin, and to bust common myths surrounding skin. When the AAD developed their social media team, it was a natural fit for me to join.”
Dr. Husain is passionate because he wants to help dispel common, potentially harmful myths:
“I wanted to promote skin health education and combat misinformation that often dominates social media. As a board-certified dermatologist, I was alarmed by the fake information being spread by non-physician influencers. When I was invited by the AAD to become a social media ambassador for the AAD’s Your Dermatologist Knows strategy, I felt this was a great opportunity to partner with the world’s largest and most well-respected dermatology organization to educate and promote best skin health practices.”
A plan for continued success
The strategy’s first year has been a resounding success, and that is owed to the passion of those involved in creating content. Based on what they have seen so far, it’s likely that the passion — and therefore the success — will continue to grow.
“I’m really happy that there has been a deliberate effort from the AAD to combat the misinformation on the internet, and I think that we’re definitely accomplishing that,” Dr. Oyerinde said. “That’s helpful because the majority of content on the internet that relates to medical information for the skin is by influencers that are not dermatologists, which I think is potentially dangerous.”
“I’m always surprised by how many people are unclear about what dermatologists can treat,” Dr. Zubritsky said. “For example, many followers will comment that they did not realize that dermatologists also treat hair and nails. I believe that the Your Dermatologist Knows strategy is extremely important to creating awareness about the importance of seeking care from a board-certified dermatologist. The content is well-received and almost universally appreciated by my followers as well as by fellow dermatologists.”
“It’s been really, really, really exciting and an honor to represent dermatologists, and I think that this is just the beginning,” Dr. Farah said. “This is just introductory social media, and I think this has the potential to just grow so dynamically over the next decade.”
Heading into 2024, the Academy is gearing up for what is sure to be another successful year of boosting board-certified dermatologists as the go-to experts for skin, hair, and nail conditions. A simple way for you to contribute is to let your patients, friends, and loved ones know that the Academy provides a source of high-quality information regarding their skin health needs.
“I want to put a call to fellow dermatologists to like the content, to share the content, to put the social media handles in their patients’ handouts, and to talk about the accounts with their patients,” said Dr. Farah. “This is how we share our knowledge and share that we are the skin experts. This is our chance. This is us promoting board-certified dermatologists. It’s not specific people or faces. It’s really about promoting dermatology and sharing with the public what we have to offer as experts. The Academy’s social media accounts are places where dermatologists can trust that the messaging is safe for their patient care.”