Carolyn Hsu joined RealSelf from New Beauty in the summer of 2019 to build a new, creative, consumer-facing product. This product would help consumers make smart and safe beauty decisions, drive awareness for the RealSelf brand, and articulate our authority and point of view.
The product? Great content.
The content Carolyn and her team create for RealSelf blogs and social media helps stoke consumers’ curiosity to visit RealSelf so that we can ultimately introduce them to doctors and providers like you. “It’s an exciting time to lead content efforts at RealSelf as we continue to scale our SEO and push the brand into new creative territory,” she told me.
I sat down with Carolyn to learn why this is such an exciting time for aesthetic content, and also to get some insight to help you create content that attracts more of the patients you want to your practice. Here’s what she wants you to know.
Kelcy Heringer: Let’s kick off with a philosophical question: Why should a business—whether a company like RealSelf or an aesthetic practice—also become a content publisher?
Carolyn Hsu: We know that for aesthetics consumers especially, there is a tremendous amount of research and due diligence that goes into making such a big decision. Content is one of the best tools you have to connect directly with that audience. But how do you do that?
First, a consistent publishing schedule of engaging content that answers consumer questions and provides a utility helps to establish trust and build a relationship with your audience.
Second, you should think of content as an educational vehicle, not just a marketing tool. Readers are savvy, though, and know when they are being sold to. Your content efforts should focus on providing value to your audience and give readers the no-BS, truthful answer—not downplaying safety concerns, pain, risks and complications is crucial to earning their trust. Once consumers develop a positive opinion of your content, they will likely feel the same way about your brand and, eventually, that makes its way to lead generation.
Third, content is also the vehicle that can drive your brand awareness and articulate thought leadership. At RealSelf, we don’t shy away from tackling controversial and hot topics, and we have a point of view on all the components that go into modern beauty, from feminism to identity. While it might feel safer to not share an opinion, we live in a world where consumers expect brands to have a point of view and take a stance on culturally relevant topics.
Readers are savvy and know when they are being sold to. Think of content as an educational vehicle, not just a marketing tool. Your content efforts should focus on providing value to your audience.
Kelcy: We’ve heard from practices that want to publish content more often, but are intimidated because they think they’re too far behind. Is it too late to start? If not, how do you create a breakout voice when there are so many voices already in the mix?
Carolyn: It’s never too late to begin publishing content, and starting now will enable you see the positive effects later, whether that’s SEO, new audience, or better traction on your other marketing channels.
Creating a breakout voice can feel intimidating, but one of the big advantages for doctors is that you already have a voice—your own personality. Write like how you speak. Keep things conversational, straightforward, and simple. Distill complex information in layman’s terms—the moment the writing becomes too jargony or confusing is the moment the reader stops reading. Patients want to know if their personality will jibe with yours, and letting your authentic voice shine through your content will allow patients to see if they relate to you before they ever meet you in person.
Some of the doctors that see the best traction on social media—an important content channel for many doctors—consistently message out in a voice that is native to them, and talk about topics that they are passionate about.
[T]he moment the writing becomes too jargony or confusing is the moment the reader stops reading.
Kelcy: We’ve also heard that having something to say, or the time to say it, can be one of the most daunting aspects of creating a standout online presence. I know you have a team of professional writers and reporters at your disposal—any advice to doctors and providers who might be short on both ideas and time to get them down?
Carolyn: Generating ideas can be the hardest part. As a professional editor, I’m constantly exercising that muscle—and it can still be challenging to constantly come up with fresh takes.
My best advice is to start with the topics that you care about—whether that’s issues related to patient safety, new trends in the industry, or going deep into the procedures you’re really known for.
Don’t pressure yourself to sit there and brainstorm. Think about it: has forcing yourself to come up with ideas on the spot ever worked? Instead, jot down ideas that spark from patient interactions, conversations with your staff and other activities during your day. You can also read what content others have written, and in the process you’ll probably feel like you could do it better, or have a different angle or opinion on the topic.
Not all content has to be squarely about what your business does. You are qualified to talk about adjacent topics, brand values, and the lifestyle your business enables. The aesthetics consumer and the general beauty consumer are one and the same—taking a holistic approach into what your patient might care about in addition to procedure-specific information can help expand your content range.
Publishing content on a consistent schedule is key, so you might want to look into hiring a ghostwriter if you don’t have time to dedicate to writing it yourself.
The aesthetics consumer and the general beauty consumer are one and the same—taking a holistic approach into what your patient might care about in addition to procedure-specific information can help expand your content range.
Kelcy: Is there anything you think “brand publishers”—a community that aesthetic practices that publish content online are a part of—consistently miss or overlook when it comes to creating content that connects with the audiences they prize?
Carolyn: The biggest mistake brands make when creating content is that they are focused on themselves instead of the audience.
In the media world, publishers relentlessly focus on the reader—the information they should know, the topics that matter. The New York Times doesn’t dedicate print space to talking about how great the New York Times is. Businesses can sometimes forget this because in traditional advertising, they’re just used to hammering home talking points about their own business.
In content, that comes off as self serving and transactional and turns off the readers. If you are not writing something that is of value or interest to the consumer, they will not read it. You’ll do more for your brand by writing great consumer-centric content that becomes positively associated with your practice than you will by just writing about your practice.
Kelcy: You’re committed to readers, but you also want to drive value to RealSelf as a business. How would you suggest a practice embed their identity as a business into content without coming off fake or opportunistic?
Carolyn: We highlight our doctor community by leveraging their topic-specific expertise through quotes and interviews, elevating them as subject-matter experts and opinion leaders in our content, and surfacing them to our audience in a way that readers find useful.
I suggest that practices do the same thing. While you will definitely have pages on your website that highlight your credentials, qualifications, and happy patient testimonials, let the rest of your content show off your expertise, instead of just saying that you are an expert.
Kelcy: There are studies that reveal that what people share online is very different from what they actually read. As a publisher, you have access to data about the topics that actually capture consumers’ attention. What has surprised you about this audience?
Carolyn: I’m always surprised by what celebrities get the most traction. You would think it’s the A-listers, the Angelina Jolies of the world, but I have seen repeatedly that it’s the celebrities that are on TV or have a big social media presence, not the super polished movie stars, that our readers relate to most.
I’ve also found that celebs that used to be big but aren’t in the public eye as much now, like Susan Lucci or Jessica Simpson, still get a lot of traction. My hypothesis is because our audience is older Millennials, Gen X and up, that our readers still remember the celebrities they grew up with. Each consumer also has different celebrity preferences and often the performance data around celebrity content surprises me.
Another topic that consumers are interested in: cost information. You don’t need to release your price list per se, but at least providing info on cost range and being transparent about what goes into the cost will be immensely useful to patients.
Also any money-related common questions. Consumers may be googling that because they might not ask right off the bat. One of our top-performing articles was about the tipping rules around aesthetics procedures.
[I]t’s the celebrities that are on TV or have a big social media presence, not the super polished movie stars, that our readers relate to most.
Kelcy: Are there any smart, interesting, or novel ways you’ve seen practices use RealSelf content?
Carolyn: We write content for beauty consumers—prospective and current patients—so we are generally messaging out to the same audience as our doctors.
One of my favorite examples of how practices were able to use our content was during the Allergan textured breast implant recall. Because consumers with breast implants had seen that news all over the Internet, they were concerned, confused and reaching out to their providers in large numbers.
Practices were able to share our article that reported on the news, synthesized learnings, provided key insights, and put the whole thing into perspective and context. We heard that both doctors and patients were appreciative of the unbiased content that was able to address many of their key questions.
Kelcy: You’re a pro—building a content strategy and getting great content produced is your primary job here at RealSelf. Any tips for how doctors and providers can elevate their content presence? How do they “get good?”
Carolyn: Develop and hone your voice based on your own personality, set and stick to a publishing schedule, and hire a professional if needed. And never forget that you’re creating content for a consumer who may be making a high-stakes decision based on reading what you wrote.
[N]ever forget that you’re creating content for a consumer who may be making a high-stakes decision based on reading what you wrote.
Kelcy: What content trends do you think are over the hill, and what are some fresh ideas you admire or want to try?
Carolyn: Writing about how to prep your skin for winter or summer is about as groundbreaking as saying florals are in for spring! I am also tired of tropes like “new year, new you” and “how to get your body ready for summer.” The greater beauty industry has moved on from only messaging around these generic topics.
I’m excited about “beauty on your own terms and on demand”—you do what you want when you’re ready. I also think it’s time we talk about aesthetics in the context of everything else in our readers’ lives—whether that is personal finance, parenthood, or psychology.
Carolyn leads the content team at RealSelf and oversees the editorial vision, pushing the brand into new creative territory and creating a world-class content experience for our consumers. She has over a decade of experience as a beauty editor, writer, on-air spokesperson and content strategist for both global and niche brands.