The amount of time we spend on social media increases every year. In 2021 alone, people spent, on average, nearly two and a half hours on social media. And in some ways, that’s a good thing. Social media gives us the ability to connect and share information on a global scale. But on the other hand, anyone with internet access and a smart device can publish content—regardless of how qualified they are to do so. As a result, we all scroll for hours each day, consuming all kinds of information that’s produced by people we often know little about.
As users of social media, we usually choose to follow accounts because they’re interesting to us. Maybe they’re just entertaining, or maybe they provide information and resources that we want to learn from. Social media can be an effective education tool—but we have to pay attention to the credibility of the source of that information. The spread of health and wellness social media misinformation is especially concerning, as it can cause direct harm to the consumer, and indirect harm by creating mistrust in evidence-based science.
How to Combat Social Media Misinformation
As health and wellness providers, we have an extra responsibility to make sure the content we’re producing is credible for our audience. The reality is we can’t control other people’s bogus content. What we can do is contribute to a larger pool of ethical and scientifically-sound information and advice. In doing so, we can build authority and trust in our communities.
As health and wellness practitioners, we’re equipped with the skills and experience necessary to make a meaningful impact on the well-being of a large group of people—including those on social media. Here’s how we can maintain our professional integrity and establish authority in today’s online space.
Root Your Content in Research
No matter the medium, it’s important to get your facts right straight from the start. One way to increase your own credibility online is to look to other credible sources, including evidence-based and peer-reviewed literature in your space.
1. Demonstrate in-depth knowledge about the topic. The difference between a professional and someone who has an interest is the depth of knowledge—and the competence—you have on a particular topic. As practitioners, we develop that competence through our schooling, as well as post-graduate training and professional development opportunities throughout our careers. It’s critical for us to continuously study and stay up-to-date on new research, so we provide the most relevant, safe, and reliable information to the clients we serve.
All that research and information distinguishes us online as well. In addition to staying relevant and informed in our field of expertise, it’s just as important that we understand the beliefs, values, and circumstances of our communities, so we can connect on a deeper level and effectively communicate our message.
2. Reference evidence-based literature. Part of demonstrating in-depth knowledge is bringing in facts to support whatever argument you’re making. As the authority on a given topic, it’s up to us to gather the evidence-based literature and package it in a way that’s accessible to our audiences. Evidence-based practice assesses the validity and accessibility of scientific research without personal bias, which is helpful when you’re trying to combat social media misinformation.
3. Reference national guidelines and professional society recommendations. In addition to scientific research, healthcare professionals can source information from national guidelines and policies. Professional societies recommendations, consensus statements, and position papers can all be helpful to reference to ensure scientific quality, and to help bolster your credibility as you create content online.
Use Your Ethical Judgement
To successfully combat social media misinformation, It’s always important to reference data and have evidence for your claims. As health and wellness providers, you may have also spent more time than the average social media user thinking about ethical communication and the impact our words have on others. That experience relates directly to how we communicate online as well.
4. Exercise ethical communication. Healthcare providers pride ourselves on our professional integrity. Whether we’re speaking one-on-one with a single client or creating a social media post for a large audience, we need to be mindful of who that audience is, and how they might receive that message.
For instance, it’s common for companies to seek partnerships with practitioners, especially those who are influencers in the online space, for different marketing initiatives. Our professional integrity relies on our transparency, so if and when we enter into any partnerships like that, we have to make sure we’re maintaining that transparency.
We have to explicitly disclose any conflicts of interest, including any financial gain or gifts of monetary value, that might appear to influence our professional judgement. Not only does this protect ourselves, but it also helps our authority. When our audience has clarity about the intent of a post or another piece of content, they’ll feel less like we’re trying to sneak something by them.
5. Remember that you’re part of a larger community. Anytime we have an audience, small or large, we have assumed the responsibility to represent not just ourselves, but our profession. It’s expected that we provide accurate and truthful information to the best of our knowledge. A trained professional understands the limits of their scope of practice and when to refer out to their inter-professional team members.
Unfortunately, social media misinformation can spread if another healthcare practitioner dispenses advice beyond their scope and professional qualifications. This situation can confuse the audience, and propagates mistrust of and between healthcare practitioners. Healthcare is a team effort, so it’s important to remember that our communities are looking to all of us for answers when we collaborate with each other.
6. Practice honesty and objectivity. As trained healthcare practitioners, we’re expected to give honest advice and demonstrate objectivity in our assessments and recommendations—for individuals and larger audiences alike. There’s a big push for health-related messages in the online space to promote and sell.
Brands and companies that partner with influencers on marketing campaigns often provide approved sample messaging for influencers to use for the content they produce and share.
If you enter into any partnerships like this, carefully review those statements, and offer revisions to any that don’t meet your personal or professional ethical standards. Collaborate with the brands prior to publication. The more influential healthcare practitioners host these conversations with brands, the more brands learn from and build trust with the experts, thereby improving the quality of health information circulating in the media.
7. Maintain professionalism. As frustrating as it is to see and hear social media misinformation spread, healthcare practitioners must maintain poise and professionalism and demonstrate respect in all forms of dialogue. It’s expected to encounter peers and colleagues with opposing views. Our response to conflicting ideas should be communicated with competence, objectivity, and respect to promote constructive dialogue with peers, clients and audience. By demonstrating professionalism through communication and service for our community, we not only claim our own authority and integrity, but the authority and integrity of our profession as a whole.
Every practitioner has a different marketing strategy that works best for them and their practice. If an active social media presence is the one that works for you, that means creating content that helps stop the spread of social media misinformation. Use these tips to guide your creation process, and don’t forget to let your authentic personality shine through.
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Pollen Magazine examines the health and wellness industry through the lens of the professionals that are redefining private practice. Find inspiration, learn from others, and discover insights on how to build the best version of your practice.
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