Posted: August 29, 2017

How many times a day does this happen? You’re scrolling through Facebook, and something catches your eye. What is it? Do you stop scrolling? Do you take a second look? Why did you stop?

Chances are, an image is what caught your eye. The copy might make you pause a minute longer or encourage you to click, but the image is usually what catches our attention.

Plus, Facebook is a highly visual media: we love to share and browse each other’s photos. To break through the feeds of baby pictures, artistically arranged dinners, and breathtaking vacations, marketers need to be choosy about the images we use in our Facebook ads. In healthcare marketing this is even more important, as the regulations regarding many service lines can produce challenging scenarios.

So what do you base your decisions on? How do you make sure you’re selecting the best, most engaging images for your campaigns to help you deliver downstream ROI? There are two main criteria to help you choose the most effective images for your healthcare marketing campaigns: demographics and service line.

Choosing Images by Demographics
It is a widely acknowledged fact in both psychology and marketing that we’re drawn to images that look like us or remind us of ourselves. So, it’s incredibly important to create and use a library of images that mirrors your targeted audience.

Do your research to document the demographics of your targeted area. For Atlanta, 54% of the population is African-American and 35% is Caucasian, according to the U.S. Census data updated in 2015. There are few sources more respected than census data, and so using it to determine your image library helps you reflect your audience more accurately.

If you create an image library with 10 images for the Atlanta example, then you want to include 3 or 4 images of Caucasians, 5 to 6 African-Americans, and 1 or 2 Hispanic or Latino. Don’t get too wrapped up in making the percentage exactly match – if you find great images, use them.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, don’t create diversity where it doesn’t exist. In Hialeah, Florida, 94% of the population is Caucasian. It would be tempting to include multiple diverse images, but because it doesn’t accurately reflect that audience, using those images could cost you effort, time, and money.

Choosing Images by Service Line
Once you have your demographics down, you can refine your images for each campaign by service line.

Let’s say you want to run advertising for a highly-effective bariatric surgery. How are you going to appeal to your audience? If you are looking for people who might be considering weight-loss surgery, and people click on images of people that look like them, then you might think you want to find images of people who are overweight or look like they’re struggling with their weight.


What about this one? Categorically, no. But, why?

Here, there are two problems. The first? This image is not allowed by Facebook. With weight-loss, Facebook is extremely vigilant and doesn’t allow images of people measuring themselves, weighing themselves, or before-and-after images. The second issue is that these kinds of images are associated with unsubstantiated weight-loss claims, late-night infomercials, and bad daytime television – not anything you want your top-notch health system associated with.

So, what should you look for?


This image is a much better fit because the woman is smiling, and she appears to be happy. Additionally, she is slightly overweight without looking upset about it or indicating that she is unhealthy. In fact, she is eating a healthy meal. This woman is actively making smart decisions. She’s not looking for an easy way to lose weight. All these factors combine to create an image similar to a potential bariatric surgery candidate that’s inspiring.

You want to show an image of people actively trying to improve their lives long-term, to illustrate that these are the people that seek weight-loss surgery, not some sad, overweight person eating a whole pizza on the couch alone. You want to show your audience a mirror that reflects back a happy, healthy image of the person on the other side of the screen.

Let’s try another example: say you’re creating an orthopedics campaign for joint replacement. So, what are you looking for? Well, general joint replacement occurs later in life, in a population over 50, with people who want to be able to continue their day-to-day life without pain.


Would you use this image?


Or this one?

The first image seems like a good idea, we’re showing an older man who’s clearly in pain. The problem is that Facebook has implemented rules for advertising that includes a ban on images of people in pain. So there’s one reason we can’t use it. But what about why we shouldn’t? Remember that you’re holding up a mirror, but a mirror in which people see the person they think they should be. No one wants picture themselves as the pain-ridden man. Most Facebook users are just going to scroll right past.

The second image is a much better choice. The man could be in his 30s, or he could be fit and in his 60s; we don’t really know. The man is clearly in good physical shape and doesn’t appear to be in pain. Could it be because he had a hip replacement last year and now feels better than he has in years? Very possibly. This image is aspirational. Men can insert themselves into this image, imagining themselves enjoying the outdoors on a beautiful day, playing a relaxing round of golf.

Putting It All Together
The basic rule of thumb is that you need to think about what your demographic and service-line-specific audience would want to see. 

  • Demographics are important; users like pictures of people that look like them
  • Aspiration can be more powerful than reality

You can apply these broad principles to images for any type of campaign, but Facebook has some hard and fast rules you also have to consider. Remember:

  • Don’t use images of people in pain
  • Don’t use photos with scales or measuring tape
  • Don’t use before/after images

When you have a good library of images that fits these guidelines, you can start having fun with what makes an image more engaging or better at “stopping the scroll.”

  • Play with color: bright, bold, monochromatic, B&W – see what works
  • Play with aspect: find interesting angles
  • Keep it playful when possible: people respond to positivity
  • Avoid stock photo stiffness; try to find lively images that aren’t posed or wooden
  • Videos and GIFs can be a great visual: movement attracts attention.

Want more insight into creating compelling campaigns that deliver results on social media? Request a free Healthcare Marketing Assessment to help you get started.