By : Kerri Schumacher

Love it or hate it, you have to admit social media is a widely used tool for marketing, influencing, branding, and grabbing attention. While much in social media goes unchecked, my internship experiences have taught me that dietitians have a responsibility to uphold. Some individuals and companies share an overwhelming amount of misinformation related to diet and health via social media every day. Open any social media platform and you will find erroneous information on diets, false interpretations of nutrition guidelines, and supplementation schemes. There are even some people who call themselves “nutritionists” who have no credible training and put out misinformation to the public. Unfortunately, many of these posts are not tagged “unreliable,” or “not true.” It is not always easy for those using these social media platforms to know what is credible. 

An emphasis on informatics at the UMD’s dietetic internship has allowed me the opportunity to complete various projects using technology, internet, and social media platforms. As I researched for credible information during these projects, I became aware of the issue of misinformation presented in social media. Many of my internship projects, such as constructing a website, compiling nutritional infographics with researched information, creating a professional LinkedIn account and posting for the internship’s social media accounts, are helping me hone my professional communication skills.  I am grateful that I will be a voice the public can turn to. I also appreciate the technology day lectures, which are given by dietitians who are skilled communicators. They are teaching me so many useful and interesting ways to connect with a variety of audiences. Perhaps the one that surprised me the most was a talk about connecting to certain audiences about nutrition via TikTok..

I have come to the conclusion that social media platforms can be more than what some call a “waste of time,” or a “mental break;” they can be “marketing tools on the go.” Some key tips and tools I have learned so far help me correctly use social media to foster my brand. I have mentioned some below because they are way too valuable not to share with you. Many dietitians share recipes, nutrition education and memes on social media. They even use social media to promote their private practices. If you are new to using social media professionally, or if you want to take your posts to the next level, here are a few tips that I learned. 

First, you must consider your audience and  gear your post to target them specifically. Answering, “Who is my audience?” will help you tailor your message to your desired audience. For example, if my post is about spin classes and the benefits of doing vigorous cardio/weight lifting, an older adult might not be as engaged considering they may or may not be able to perform that type of intense exercise anymore. Next, you will want to identify what you want your posts to accomplish– Are you trying to …inform, entertain, solve a problem, empower or relate to your audience? Each one of these sets a direct intention on your purpose of sharing, which you can then use to create what your post will look like and how the content is made. This encourages the thought process of keeping their engagement along with promoting your account.

Creating an engaging social media post is a good first step, but I have learned there is more to consider before posting. Each social media platform has ways to increase engagement. Knowing about a platform’s algorithm can help you boost your messages. Algorithms tend to look at views, comments, likes, and re-shares when internally ranking posts. There are so many strategic things you can do to influence if a platform promotes your posts that I can’t cover them all here. I will mention a couple important ones. Timing is definitely something to consider. If you post at a time when your followers are online and most active, you give yourself a better chance of getting more likes. Another common way to increase engagement is by using hashtags. For some platforms, you can add relevant hashtags to your post to reach people who are interested in your topic; how many hashtags you might use varies with each platform.

To get the most out of my social media accounts, I learned to gather analytic information. I use that analytical data to assess how well my targeting worked and make adjustments for future posts. Below is a picture to show what this looks like. This example shows the age range and gender that this specific account has reached. I can use this, and other analytical data, to see if I am reaching my target audience.

 Last but not least, you must consider research. Dietitians have a strong science background and are trained to discern between credible and questionable nutrition information. We must make our voices heard by providing quality nutrition information that counters false nutrition claims. The easiest way to make sure you are using credible recommendations is to go back to the source. Is the website a .gov, .org., or .edu? Does it correlate with the US. Dietary Guidelines for Americans or the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics? Paying attention to where the information is coming from should be the top priority.

Each month, I have put these keys to social media success into practice by posting through the UMD Dietetic Intern Instagram and Twitter. I have included one of my previous posts along with the captions so you can see these tools in direct use. The first one refers to an infographic I made during my bariatric surgery rotation at INOVA. I was explaining “Tips for Healthy Grocery Shopping,” so that bariatric surgery patients could incorporate healthy eating habits at home. I was hearing how the changes they had to make to their diet in order to prep for surgery and become ready for post-op was becoming stressful for them. I thought grocery shopping tips would be a great starting point to gear their focus for preparing meals at home. My goal was to provide tips to keep them from becoming overwhelmed at the store. You can notice the use of the hashtags along the bottom as well. 

Right now, my content definitely varies on topics depending on my rotation or what I learn during a specific experience,  but it has come a long way since I started. In my opinion, it is important to mention and spike conversations on topics like these in order to make improvements for the future. It is crucial to not assume everything on the internet is true. I will now leave you with this:  I challenge you to find one post on Instagram and see if you can determine where the information came from. Ask yourself the right questions, dig deeper into the details, and keep your eyes open for next time.

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