What Were We Thinking?

What Were We Thinking?

1024 576 Maureen Ezekwugo

I’ve been asked by some doctors if the RealSelf Network was simply a ploy to make more money. Some have also asked whether our elite new RealSelf Verified status is pay-for-play—something doctors can simply buy their way into.

The answer to both of those questions is “no.”

So what did we set out to accomplish, and what exactly is the distinction between the RealSelf Network and RealSelf Verified? Allow me to explain.

Two Lofty Goals Aligning Doctor & Consumer Success With Our Own

In 2018, a cross-functional team of decision makers at RealSelf decided that we wanted to take on two big challenges: bring higher standards of trust and transparency to RealSelf, and help make aesthetic decisions less confusing for consumers.

The RealSelf Network membership program, which gives doctors who meet our trust and transparency standards access to an upgraded profile, was our answer to the trust and transparency challenge.

And the RealSelf Verified badge was our answer to helping consumers decide. It’s available exclusively to doctors in the RealSelf Network that meet an even higher eligibility standard, and cannot be bought by Network members.

Since launching the Network and debuting the RealSelf Verified badge to consumers, I’ve fielded my fair share of phone calls from angry doctors who felt the RealSelf Verified requirements were unfavorable to them, including our decision to not let doctors hide what they’re board certified in. We expected that some doctors would not be happy that they’re not yet eligible for RealSelf Verified, so we were not surprised to hear of doctors’ disapproval of the higher standards of trust and transparency.

The RealSelf Network isn’t about extracting money from doctors, it’s aligning doctors’ success with what’s best for consumers, and creating a paradigm that aligns our achievement as a company with positive outcomes for both. Consider the factors that shaped the Network and RealSelf Verified:

Doctors Are the Focus, But the RealSelf Network Started With the Consumer

Consumer confusion is a sticky market issue. The aesthetic space has historically been a difficult one to navigate for them, plagued by a confusing morass of information, cognitive overload and decision fatigue.

Our great achievement at RealSelf had been to bring the content that informs confident decision making about aesthetic doctors into a single place. But what we realized in formulating the RealSelf Network is that consumers wanted us to hold their hand through the entire decision making process: “Just help me pick the right doctor,” was a top expectation.

The RealSelf Verified badge earned by RealSelf Network Doctors tells consumers, “RealSelf is putting their stamp on this doctor—proceed with confidence.”

We started with trust, building out the basic standards for RealSelf Network membership with trust and transparency in mind.

To solve for consumer confusion, we turned to our user data. It showed that consumers were gravitating towards just a few common profile features when searching for an aesthetic doctor, digging through RealSelf to find the doctors with these common profile traits. We used that insight to make sure these very same profile features were front-and-center on the enhanced profiles for RealSelf Verified Doctors in the Network.

When consumers see the RealSelf Verified badge, they know that standards have been met (including regular credential checks) and that an optimized experience presenting the info they care about most awaits on that doctor’s profile. The badge tells them, “RealSelf is putting their stamp on this doctor—proceed with confidence.”

Non-Negotiable: Doctor Perspectives Had to be Embedded in the RealSelf Network

One of the complaints I’ve heard from doctors in the past is that some of our prior decisions, however well meaning, may have fallen flat because doctors were not embedded in our decision making from the very start.

So while consumer expectations and behaviors taught us a lot, it was crucial for us to bring our aesthetic doctor community in early when creating RealSelf Network requirements.

The ROI-favorable results we’ve seen for RealSelf Verified Doctors in the Network owe a huge debt to our Ad Board’s insistence that we solve for ROI.

We workshopped the Network with our Advisory Board over the course of six months—including several trips back to the drawing board—to settle on the experience we debuted this summer. We also incorporated a lot of the feedback we’ve received from our broader doctor community, including that the RealSelf doctor community has grown too large, and that it was difficult for doctors to differentiate themselves and their expertise.

We made sure the RealSelf Network accounted for all of this feedback. The profile and features that doctors get with their membership—including a custom URL and links to their website—delivered the differentiation doctors wanted. If you think this experience sounds similar to Profile Plus, you’re right to make that connection. The difference: we tightened up eligibility, barred anyone with an overall rating of 1 or 2 stars from participating, and now require full transparency of board certifications on every profile.

On top of that, RealSelf Network Doctors who’ve earned the RealSelf Verified badge have already seen ROI-favorable results, including many more profile views and contacts going to them. For that we owe a huge debt to our Ad Board’s insistence that we solve for doctor ROI even as we made trust and transparency the centerpiece of the Network.

Doubling Down on Our Commitment to Trust & Transparency

In thinking about the consumer experience, we couldn’t only consider their behaviors and expectations of RealSelf: we also had to zoom out to consider their expectations as consumers in the general marketplace.

RealSelf Network standards give doctors an easy way to opt into a paradigm of trustworthiness.

When our CEO, Tom Seery, refers to the “Uberized” consumer, he’s talking about how the frictionless convenience of calling an Uber has informed consumers’ expectations for this type of ease and control in all of their other transactions.

But just as consumers bring their expectations, they also bring their misgivings.

Consumers crave more transparency from the businesses they buy from. That’s why developing a consumer-facing shorthand to help them quickly know who to trust (and narrow their choices in the process) was so important. The RealSelf Verified badge earned by RealSelf Network Doctors makes it easy for consumers to make trust a buying criteria as they search for an aesthetic doctor, and gives doctors an easy way to opt into this paradigm of trustworthiness while competing on a different playing field than their less-trustworthy peers. Again, the RealSelf Verified badge earned by RealSelf Network Doctors cannot be bought or purchased.

We Had to Solve for Doctor Confusion, Too

We’ve formulated a series of great products, distinctions, and experiences for doctors over the years. The problem was that, over time, this resulted in a confusing patchwork of offerings that didn’t always work well together—and they weren’t actively promoted to consumers.

The RealSelf Network collapses previous, disparate RealSelf products and programs into a single, cohesive experience.

In building the RealSelf Network, we set out to make the experience for aesthetic doctors super simple by collapsing previous RealSelf products and programs into a single, cohesive experience.

The Top Doctor badge, RealCare, Top Contributor, RS 100, the aforementioned Profile Plus—elements of these programs all show up in the RealSelf Network, with the added benefit of aggressive consumer promotion so they understand what the RealSelf Verified badge stands for and proactively seek out RealSelf Network doctors who have earned it.

We Saw a Chance to Make Marketing Excellence Easier

For doctors, we also set out to make it crystal clear what work is required to get the most value from RealSelf and put their best foot forward with consumers.

RealSelf Network standards are based, in large part, on the information consumers most prize as they decide on which aesthetic doctor to pick.

As I previously mentioned, RealSelf Network requirements are based on input from both our Advisory Board and the profile information our data tells us consumers most prize as they decide which aesthetic doctor to pick.

RealSelf Network profiles take the mystery out of what consumers need to know from trustworthy doctors in order to select them. And RealSelf Network Doctors who earn the RealSelf Verified badge have the added benefit of instant trust from a majority of RealSelf consumers (and growing).

We’re a business, and as the RealSelf Network delivers positive results for both doctors and consumers, we should do well. That’s by design. We’re taking a stand by aligning our success with both our users and paying customers in this way, and we understand that this realignment will result in a shaking out—some doctors simply won’t be a fit for RealSelf any more, and we’re fine with that.

We set this up so that doctors who meet the standards for the RealSelf Network, and particularly those Network doctors who earn RealSelf Verified status, get better results for their business, creating an elevated experience for consumers on RealSelf along the way.

Maureen Ezekwugo

As Chief Customer Officer for RealSelf, Maureen Ezekwugo works to enhance the quality of doctors’ experience with RealSelf’s community of aesthetic consumers.

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