More and more people are seeking health information on the Internet. In fact, 72 percent of adult Internet users in the United States have searched online for information related to some health issue; 35 percent have searched online specifically to diagnose themselves. If you’re anything like me, you see this as an opportunity for a conversation – you want to jump in to help correct misinformation, provide credible, science-based counsel and be a resource to people hungry for information to improve their health.
My foray into the social media space began about five years ago when I joined Twitter. Since taking a social media certification course about two years ago, I’ve been even more engaged on LinkedIn and Twitter, and recently launched my own personal blog to help connect people with agriculture – as well as blogging here. The more I engage, the more benefits I see. My non-social days are over.
If you are poised to engage in social media, recognize that health professionals and scientists who become involved in social media benefit themselves and the public they serve. Here are three reasons why you should consider taking the leap:
- Help educate the public. More than 40 percent of people say that information they find on social media affects the way they view their health, as this infographic from Allied Health World illustrates. By sharing your professional viewpoint and resources (fact sheets, videos, infographics) on blogs, Twitter and LinkedIn, you can help cut through the clutter of health misinformation that abounds on the Internet.
- Increase your reach. If you do individual nutrition counseling or work in a hospital or for a food company, how many people does your work touch in a day – five, 10, or maybe 20? Social media engagement can increase your reach exponentially as you engage with a wider, even global audience.
- Help you better understand complex information. “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough,” is often attributed to Albert Einstein and definitely applies to health communication. Communicating through social media requires the mental discipline to synthesize complex information down to its essential core (think 140 characters for a tweet) – to know what point you want to make and make it quickly and concisely. As you write, you learn.
If there is any other advice I would offer, it’s “don’t be afraid to engage.” Getting into a conversation, especially with someone who has a different approach than you, may seem challenging. But if you dig deep to find a point of common ground, and express your expert opinion with clarity, backed up by science, you may gain a hearing. By doing so, you contribute to a responsible dialogue about nutrition and health that many will appreciate.
And as an article in the May 2013 issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds us, the fundamental principle of honesty, integrity, and fairness outlined in the Academy Code of Ethics for the Profession of Dietetics apply to all forms of marketing and communication, including blogging and social media. Particularly important are the best practices for disclosure on social media and guidance for different situations.
Follow me on LinkedIn, Twitter, and in my personal journey to connect people with agriculture through my blog and of course here. If you have questions about using social media as a professional, post them here and I will do my best to answer them.