Once upon a time, specifically 1997, there was SixDegrees. This website, which allowed visitors to create a profile and connect with other users, was the world’s introduction to social media as we know it.
Today, more than a billion people use social networks, blogs and media-sharing sites to publish, broadcast, share and discuss content, and network via web-based platforms. As of January 2017, Facebook, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, QQ and WeChat are the social media leaders, but there are many other popular platforms — including Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat.
From clinical dietetics to non-traditional nutrition jobs, social media can play a significant role in career success. After all, these platforms allow practitioners to amplify messages and reach consumers directly wherever they are in the world. Social media also is an essential part of the marketing strategy for entrepreneurs. But the ubiquitous nature of social media brings certain risks for health care professionals, most notably how the information shared could negatively reflect upon them and their affiliations. For example, the 2016 Academy practice paper “Social Media and the Dietetics Practitioner: Opportunities, Challenges and Best Practices” notes that social media professionalism includes a firm understanding and abidance of appropriate conduct, disclosure, confidentiality and intellectual property.
How the Pros Do It
Social media is on 24/7. But who are you at any given moment? Just as you interact differently with family than you would with coworkers, what you share online may need to shift from time to time. Among most communications experts, the prevailing best practice is to compartmentalize.
In new media, a “personal persona” refers to a profile used to share updates that would be most interesting to friends and family, such as vacation photos, personal opinions or announcements of life events. Many individuals choose to make their personal personas public, but most communications experts recommend keeping personal personas private; in addition to increasing cybersecurity concerns, there are career considerations. According to “A Social Media Primer for Professionals: Do’s and Don’ts” in the March 2014 Health Promotion Practice, what is shared online reveals one’s personality, priorities and values. People make decisions about who you are based on your photos, screen name, friends list, organizations and the profiles you follow, which can impact your career. And while hiring managers use sites like LinkedIn to recruit job candidates, a 2016 CareerBuilder survey showed that 60 percent of employers also use social media to screen candidates. What you (or others) post online could be a potential employer’s first — and last — impression.
A “professional persona” is where you share messaging that demonstrates your expertise, but it certainly doesn’t mean you should sound like a robot. This persona should include personable content, which can build trust and likability. The key is striking a balance between providing value and being relatable.
A “business persona” is for profiles from which you are officially representing a company or organization that has entrusted its message with you. You must stay on brand, and in most cases, there is little room for personal bias.
Points to Ponder
Career communicators may advocate persona management, but for many users, maintaining multiple profiles may be a challenge (or worse, if those personas are not kept separate, they become ineffective and amateurish).
The Academy practice paper cites the perspective piece “Social Media and Physicians’ Online Identity Crisis” from the August 14, 2013, JAMA, whose authors argue that “health professionals should not be spending time deciding whether potential social media content is personal or professional, but whether it is appropriate for a public space.”
So What Is Appropriate?
Lorrie Thomas Ross, CEO of Web Marketing Therapy, says she encourages individuals to evaluate their values, business needs and goals to drive decisions. “Weaving in a little personal can humanize the persona, but it must align with the brand,” Ross says.
Contrary to popular advice to avoid political posts, Rodney Mason, CEO of Nurture Ranch, says there is a place for politics in professional social media when it’s relevant and appropriate. “If there’s a bill that impacts your industry, you might share it to raise awareness,” Mason says. “Encourage people to take action in their way, such as contacting a member of Congress.”
And regardless of what you think may make you relatable to followers, be safe. Darren Guccione, co-founder of Keeper Security, Inc., says, “Certain details, like the names of children, your home address and your real-time physical location, should be kept private.”
Strategies for Success
Social media is an ideal space for sharing food and health messages, and nutrition professionals can lead the conversation. Whether you choose to manage multiple personas or just focus on single profiles across platforms, some rules don’t change.
Be intentional. Think about why you’re participating in an online conversation. Focus on the unique value you can deliver and share it with your target audience.
Be respectful. You may not (and probably won’t) agree with some viewpoints you see, but take care not to be condescending or polarizing.
Be responsible. Social media may feel like the Wild West of communications, but dietetics professionals are still bound by the Code of Ethics.