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NEW YORK—Social media is always changing. From algorithms to trends to new memes, there’s no shortage of ways the internet grows and changes every single day. And the rise of TikTok is a perfect example. With more than 800 million monthly active users, TikTok is the sixth largest social network in the world, and the most downloaded app in 2020—making it a driving force of internet culture and trends. Plus, more than half of the app’s user base is younger than 24.

These stats might not make TikTok seem like a place the optical community needs to be, but there truly is no underestimating the power and influence that the platform holds. TikTok stars are celebrities in their own rights, with teens like Charli D’Amelio, the app’s most followed user, becoming millionaires seemingly overnight. This makes the platform a valuable marketing tool—and an educational one as well. Now, the platform is increasingly attracting interest from retailers, health care companies and professionals as well, including MDs who use the app to teach teens how to talk to their doctors about birth control, therapists who impart mental health advice, and even lawyers who use the app to fight misinformation.

Nathan Bonilla-Warford, OD, has had parents reach out to him via TikTok to make appointments for their kids. Image via brighteyesontampa on TikTok.

Eyewear companies are beginning to use TikTok as an advertising platform, too. Image via laurieelle on TikTok.

Both eyewear companies and ODs are hopping onto the TikTok trend in full force. For ODs, the app is a place to network and educate. Nathan Bonilla-Warford, OD, aka Dr. Nate, specializes in pediatric and binocular vision at Bright Eyes Vision, in Tampa, Florida, and uses the app to understand the world his young patients live in. In the Community Voices story below, Dr. Nate told VM that he’s had patients ask to appear in his videos, had parents reach out via the app to book appointments for their kids, and garnered over 11,000 followers on top of it all.

It was Carly Rose, OD, who practices at Eyecare on the Square in Cincinnati, Ohio, who convinced Dr. Nate to give the app a try. With over 155,000 followers, Dr. Rose is a TikTok superstar, using the app to explain everything from dry eye care to contact lens use to lash serums, allergies, and everything in between. Relatable and educational, Dr. Rose has been able to use the app to forge an authentic relationship with thousands of patients and strangers alike.

Dr. Nate and Dr. Rose aren’t alone. There is a sizeable community of optometrists, ophthalmologists and opticians on TikTok: Rupa Wong, MD, an ophthalmologist at Honolulu Eye Clinic in Honolulu has over 37,000 followers on her TikTok account, where she creates content about LASIK, contact lenses, her experiences as a person of color, and more. Vicki Chan, MD, an ophthalmologist in Los Angeles, has been using her account, with nearly 65,000 followers to discuss COVID-19 information, while Jennifer Tsai, OD in New York City, uses her account to educate her 40,000+ followers on running a small business, what it’s like to be an optometrist, and other eye health tips.

Carly Rose, OD, uses her account to educate. Image via doctorrose on TikTok.

Eyewear companies are getting on board, too: namely Ray-Ban, which has launched a partnership with the app, making it one of the first brand’s to test TikTok’s new advertising offering. Similar to advertising through Instagram influencers, Ray-Ban is partnering with TikTok creators, who create videos with their products. TikTok then promotes the videos, which link back to the Ray-Ban website. The partnership kicked off with four TikTok creators: Laurieelle, Raino, Isabellafonte and 12mide, who, combined, have more than 5 million followers. For a brand that has long associated itself with youth and pop culture, this new way of influencer advertising may just be the way forward.

TikTok is constantly growing and changing, and it doesn’t seem to be fading from the limelight anytime soon, even amongst security concerns. For the younger generation, the app is a place to have fun and laugh, yes, but also a place to learn, to educate, and to influence and be influenced. For the optical community, the same is true—and it just might be time to get on board.