TAMPA, Fla.—Any small business owner knows just how important social media can be—and ECPs are no exception. Across the board, independent ODs use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and sometimes YouTube to get in touch with patients, potentially find new patients and spread important information about eyecare. But there’s a new social media superstar in town, and Nathan Bonilla-Warford, OD, is all over it. A graduate of Illinois College of Optometry, Dr. Bonilla-Warford, or Dr. Nate, as he’s known to many of his patients, specializes in pediatric and binocular vision at Bright Eyes Vision, in Tampa, Florida. There is no question that working with children requires a special skill set and a special approach—something Dr. Nate has achieved by delving into the world of TikTok.

TikTok’s stats are shocking—with 800 million monthly active users, it is the sixth largest social network in the world, as well as the most downloaded app of 2020. Crucially, more than half of TikTok’s users are under 24 years old. For an OD who works with kids, this makes understanding TikTok vital.

Sometimes, Dr. Nick cross posts his TikTok videos to other social media platforms. Image via brighteyestampa on Instagram.

Dr. Nate told VM that he first considered using TikTok in 2019, since he likes to stay on top of the latest technology trends. However, he didn’t see many professionals using the app—and it wasn’t until March of this year that a friend, Carly Rose, OD, who is active on the app, convinced Dr. Nate to give it a try. Now, just four months into his TikTok journey, Dr. Nate has 11,000 followers on the app, where he continues to upload a variety of fun, educational eye health videos. Dr. Nate is part of a larger trend, as other ECPs and brands alike begin to see the benefits of this new platform. 

When it came to getting his TikTok bearings, Dr. Nate told VM that he first spent a few weeks posting a variety of styles of videos, mostly with the aim of learning how the app works. Once he had the hang of it, things really picked up: he began to create vision-related videos, and started interacting with others to “learn the app culture and gain followers,” he said. “I try to balance education and fun. [It’s] trial and error to see what gets the most reaction, and learn from that.”

Then, Dr. Nate established his niche—which is, of course, children’s vision care, myopia control and vision therapy. Occasionally, he said, he cross posts his TikTok videos to Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and the practice website—but the real beauty of TikTok is the growing community of doctors on the app, who Dr. Nate has built a network with.

Dr. Nate uses TikTok to connect with his pediatric patients. Image via brighteyestampa on TikTok.

Dr. Nate took TikTok to the real world, too. He said, “I have placed some TikTok-related things around the office to try and start a conversation. If I see a patient on TikTok, I will just mention one of my videos and usually they will be surprised, look me up and then follow me. I have had one patient ask me to make a video with her (which we did, three times).” Plus, he’s had “several mothers reach out to me through the app asking about appointments for their kids.”

For Dr. Nate, TikTok has given way to a new method of connecting—with patients, with peers and with the world around, especially when so many of us are still staying inside. It’s helping grow his business, keep him updated with the world his young patients live in, and, of course, provided hours of entertainment. For other independents, his experience shows not just the importance of jumping on new technology, but the beauty of taking chances on something you haven’t tried before. 

TikTok is also a great tool for educating followers on eye health. Because of the TikTok algorithm, Dr. Nate’s videos can reach thousands of people, even if they don’t follow him. Image via brighteyestampa on TikTok.

Parents also use TikTok, so Dr. Nate can help them understand their children’s vision better. Image via brighteyestampa on TikTok.