Social Media and Nutrition

On Tuesday, the third @AfNutr Twitter chat talked Social Media. It was a great discussion, trying to get to the bottom of the ups and downs of social media in the nutrition world, how to stay professional on a forum that can get a bit nasty from time to time. Most importantly, we were also thinking about how Registered Nutritionists and Dietitians can make an evidence based presence on what can be a hot bed of pseudoscience and myth.

In a world where we are obtaining our world view from self-selected feeds on a variety of digital platforms, it seems that more and more the fact based, well-researched information is being lost under a sea of opinion and influencers making a pound or two from the interest in health and diet culture. With pretty ‘insta’ friendly images and huge followings, myth and misleading presentation of nutrition is everywhere. How do we get the evidence based messages out there? Messages that are sometimes a little boring or a little fuzzy with the uncertainties that go with science. How do we create snappy, catchy and pretty information without losing the nuance that is so important?

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One of the big problems is there are too few nutrition professionals out there on social media. There are lots of good reasons why people are hesitant to embrace the social media technology – not least because it can get a bit nasty. @AfNutr Twitter chats so far have shown that social media can be friendly and professional, that it doesn’t have to be a scary place. There were some really great tips for dealing with the less friendly side of the digital world:

  • You don’t have to reply to everything, if someone is rude and unprofessional you can just leave it there.
  • You can always take disagreements out of the public arena and email or private message someone. Professionals openly criticising other professionals in public in a manner that you would not do face to face, does nothing for the public’s trust in us as professionals or experts.
  • There is an immediacy of social media that encourages an instant response but without thought. It is important to take time to think before responding.
  • Remember that there is always a person at the other side. Social media can sometimes become a little impersonal. Always ask yourself if you would say what you are about to type to someone’s face. Just because someone else hasn’t done so is not a reason to forget yourself.
  • You can report people for particularly bad behaviour and block people if they deserve to be blocked. If social media is affecting your mood and temper, turn off the notifications and switch off from it.

Consistent and clear information that has been well researched takes time. Spouting opinion and myth takes seconds. So many nutrition professionals with day jobs can’t devote the time to preparing information that is suitably short and snappy that they are confident that they have researched well enough. Nor do they spend lots of time building up a diverse range of followers and often a huge number of their followers (and those they follow) are fellow professionals for networking.

Influencers, on the other hand, are often making their living partly through their social media presence devoting lots of time to getting as many followers as possible. They are being paid to quickly turn out content and are not bound by professional codes of ethics that makes us often hesitate with our outputs. It can feel that there is no way that nutrition professionals can shout above the noise. A bit of technophobia or fear of the trolls or sheer lack of time can be overcome to have even a little presence can help to make a difference.

  • Get onto the platform and just read a little of what is shared, follow people you know and respect or organisations that you trust.
  • If you don’t want to post yourself then share and repost the information of people you have chosen to follow, help spread the word.
  • Use consistent #hashtags and have your professional credentials in your biog or handle so the public can see that you have expertise. #nutritionisascience #AfNutr #RNutr are examples.
  • Seeing what influencers and bloggers etc are saying, seeing what fads are trending can help understand some of the issues that people face trying to make healthy choices. You may not want to challenge people directly on social media but it may inspire you to write an article, blog or inform a presentation you give challenging myth and fads.

If you are not a nutrition professional but are interested in eating well and food generally then do look for nutrition professionals to follow, look for credentials and training. There are some great nutrition professionals out there with great content on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and blogs. Don’t be swayed by number of followers, be swayed by qualifications and expertise instead.

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