You can spend hours watching dermatologists pop pimples, furniture restorers fix aging cabinets or crane operators move heavy materials from hundreds of feet in the air — all from the comfort of your own home.
Many types of professionals have chosen to spotlight their careers on social media, whether it’s to garner interest in their work, correct misconceptions, attract clients, earn supplemental income or just have fun. And audiences are loving it.
Are you thinking about making the leap to becoming an online expert? Do you want to connect with other professionals in your field and share resources with the masses?
The Times talked to Morgan McSweeney, known on TikTok as Dr. Noc; music producer Chris Ju, or “Kato On The Track” on Instagram; Anthony Barbuto who is “The Lawyer” on TikTok; and plastic surgeon Anthony Youn, otherwise know as “Doctor Youn” on TikTok. Here are their tips on how to create your personal brand using the expertise you’re already building at your job.
McSweeney, who holds a doctorate in pharmaceutical sciences and immunology, said he started posting online because there was a lot of misinformation proliferating during the COVID-19 pandemic. Social media struck him as an opportunity to spread knowledge from a reliable source.
Now, his goal with his account is “to increase public awareness of important health and scientific information,” adding that ideally he can “make people feel like they can do something, like they can take their health into their own hands.”
But you don’t have to be completely civic-minded. There are many reasons that becoming an online expert can be useful to your career.
For example, consider Barbuto, the self-proclaimed “first lawyer on TikTok.” Licensed to practice in California, Florida and New Jersey, Barbuto says that, like McSweeney, he started posting because he wanted to correct misconceptions.
“People think of the practice of law as just this kind of cold and serious profession — and not a profession [made up] of actual human beings with emotions and a sense of humor,” said Barbuto.
But showing passion for his job brought him lots of new clientele, Barbuto said. And being popular on social media opened up new ways to make money.
Once you’ve amassed enough of a following, you could get brand deals — this is when a company asks an influencer to make a video with its product. You could also make money directly from the platform. Ju works on campaigns with brands like Wingstop and Capital One, while McSweeney’s popularity on social media led to work with the White House, the World Health Organization and more.
You can also build your own community of like-minded people through social media.
Youn started his social media account as a way to market his practice. As a plastic surgeon based in Michigan, he faced an empty office during the pandemic.
“There was no practice to promote,” he said. “I didn’t have patients to show ‘before and afters’ because everything is closed. So I just started creating stuff that I thought was fun to watch, and everything exploded from there.”
He has since evolved from the goal of promoting his practice into something more altruistic.
“I’m in a situation now where I feel like I can just be that best friend, that counselor, that person that can help people feel better about themselves,” he said.
His new mission is to help people understand that a lot of the perfection shown on social media is not real. What many viewers don’t realize, he said, is that “these celebrities, these social media influencers have teams behind them to perform plastic surgery, to get Botox, get injections, to get facials. They’ve got personal trainers, they’ve got nutritionists, they’ve got dieticians, they have professional makeup artists.”
Whether or not his viewers decide to have plastic surgery is their choice, but “if they do, then hopefully they do it in a way that is beneficial for them.”
McSweeney said he wasn’t sure at first that he had anything to offer. “I was like, who wants to follow an immunologist for pharmaceutical science on social media?” he said. “And then it turned out a lot of people did.”
Check your employer’s social media regulations. Before you begin your journey as a professional influencer, it’s important to note that there may be rules surrounding social media at your place of employment. Make sure you understand them and ask questions.
Start by figuring out what you like. Just be a consumer first, Ju said. Once you find people who inspire you or content you find interesting, “you start to get ideas of, ‘Oh, this is a dope video. This could work for what I’m doing,’” he said. “And then you just find creative ways to apply it to what you’re doing.”
Chase your passion. “Doing things that you love — to me, there’s sustainability in that,” Ju said, adding, “I think if you’re chasing money, then you’ll eventually get burnt out, especially if you’re in a creative field like music.”
Choose one app to begin with. Youn recommends focusing your energy first on one app where you’re most likely to find an audience that will like your content. Rather than spreading yourself thin trying to keep up with a bunch of apps, learn the ins and outs a single one. If you try to be a jack of all trades (or apps), you’ll be a master of none, he said.
He made some suggestions about how to navigate your options: If you like to create short videos, go for TikTok. If you like creating long-form educational content, go for YouTube. If you love getting into the nitty gritty of your profession and talking about a subject for two hours, make a podcast. If you love writing but don’t want to be on video, go to a platform like Medium or Substack.
Know your audience. Barbuto said his audience differs depending on the app. He started on Facebook, where his audience was mainly older people. When he went to Instagram, his audience skewed younger, and on TikTok, the viewers were even younger.
You should also think about whether you want to aim your content at other professionals in your field or a more general following. “I used to just super-serve my niche, which is like other music creators,” Ju said. But now his goal is to reach as many people as possible.
He asks himself a question to avoid playing just to a niche audience: “How do I make this message appealing to [the masses] and not just [end up] nerding out on the technical aspects of the music production?”
Think about how to be engaging online. Simply showing what you can do is not enough to get popular, Barbuto said. He emphasized the importance of having an engaging personality. Imagine someone scrolling through lots of similarly themed TikTok videos. Even if the professional they’re watching is qualified, “if she’s boring, I don’t wanna contact that person. I don’t wanna work with that person,” Barbuto said.
Be authentic. Don’t underestimate the intelligence of your viewers, said Youn. “They know if you’ve hired a company to create your social media stuff,” he said. Even if you have a team, you’ll want to make sure you’re involved in the final product.
Youn believes that if you don’t have passion for social media, there is no way you can replicate the success of someone who does. Think of social media as a hobby and do it because you love it.
More helpful advice
If your content gets stale, change directions. McSweeney urged people not to be afraid to evolve. Once he started to notice that people were less interested in his COVID-19 content, he switched to other topics, putting out videos such as “This is how your diet affects your microbiome” or “This is how physical activity affects your risk for various diseases.” These usually offered “pretty actionable tips, like maybe three things you can do to improve your sleep,” he said.
Think hard about how to sustain your viewer’s attention. Social media algorithms favor people who can get users to stay on their video for the entire duration, McSweeney said. He thinks a lot about how to “design a video to make people want to watch the whole thing.”
Having a good hook is important, he said. He also recommends paying close attention to visual elements of your story and the editing to cut out dead space.
Use the right titles. McSweeney suggested phrasing your video titles in an engaging way. For instance, he said, compare “Three ways that vegetables are good for your health” with “This is what the food industry doesn’t want you to know about XYZ.” He said the second one will always perform better because it draws attention and gives users a reason to click. Just make sure your content supports that clickable headline.
Be confident. People need to get out of their own way, Ju said. His biggest advice to creators is to relieve themselves of the pressure of going viral. “There are some days where I just don’t feel like creating or posting or doing a video and, to me, that’s OK … as long as you show up most of the time and create when it counts, right?” he said.
Don’t let the fear of embarrassment stop you from starting a social media account, Barbuto said. “Take baby steps, start off with private posts and show your friends and see how that’s received,” he said. “And then maybe make one public and see how that goes.”
Scale your efforts. Contrary to conventional wisdom, Ju said, it doesn’t necessarily take an incredible amount of time and energy to be successful on social media “If you’re someone that is just looking to get started, I’m a very big believer in just keeping things practical and manageable for your lifestyle and for the things that you want to achieve,” he said.
Consistency is key, Barbuto said, though he acknowledges the extra effort professionals have to put in because they already have full-time jobs.
McSweeney had a tip on how he has made his schedule more manageable. He said he spends a day or half a day writing scripts and filming multiple videos, so he can polish and edit them throughout the week.
“It’s not necessarily about the quantity of your output, but it’s more about the consistency of your output,” Ju said. “So even if you’re just creating one video a day, I feel like that’s pretty manageable for most people. And the hard part is not getting too caught up in the number side. Like paying attention to the metrics and letting that kind of dictate your content flow because most people will be like, ‘Oh, well, my last video only got 100 views. So now I’m kind of hesitant to create new videos moving forward.’”
Have realistic expectations. McSweeney warns not to put all your eggs in the social media basket, because the income is not consistent, especially as you start out.
Depending on your salary at work, he said, you could wind up making even more on social media than you make at your job. “However, there’s a very long ramp-up period,” he added. “It’s sort of like either you’re going to be super successful in terms of income as a content creator, or you’re probably gonna make basically nothing …. [But] you’re in the basically nothing category for a really long time when making content.”
Youn agrees with the “don’t quit your day job” sentiment. He’s held on to a piece of advice that he got years ago from a peer, who told him it can all go away very quickly. “You can have a platform like TikTok that gets shut down by the government,” he said, “and all of a sudden those 8.3 million followers you’ve lost in the span of like an instant.”