How to make the Instagram algorithm work for you as a dietitian or nutrition professional.
Plus -- three things you can do to leverage your social media presence.
What is the Instagram Algorithm?
The Instagram algorithm is basically a behind-the-scenes formula that the social media platform uses to evaluate what keeps users engaged. The metrics for engagement are always changing, especially with new introductions like Instagram stories or Instagram reels.
Users speculate what means the most in this algorithm, which is why you’ll see influencers asking you to like, share, or save their posts in order to get more exposure.
Why is it important for Dietitians to understand how social media works?
A key aspect of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Social Media Policy is that “members are committed to optimizing the nation’s health by providing scientifically sound nutrition information to the public.”
Media and internet outlets can bait consumers easily since many internet users are willing to try anything in order to maintain health.
As dietitians and nutrition professionals, true experts can establish themselves as “the go-to source for consumers who are hungry for accurate and reliable nutrition information”. A 2016 article by dietitian Sammi Brondo in Food & Nutrition explained four positive connections that nutrition professionals can make:
Inspire healthy living
Spread correct information
Broaden your reach
Connect with Clients
The Ethics of Media Exposure
We live in an age of easy access to knowledge and information. This becomes a problem when misinformation is disseminated without concern for ethical evaluations or content examination. Dietitians can correct this discrepancy by helping support the spread of healthy habits and encouraging ethical practices.
Existing studies propose that clearer guidelines about what can or cannot be shared on social media would be of benefit to dietetics as well as other health-care fields. Managing HIPAA compliance is another important consideration.
Transforming Social Media into a Tool
In this digital age, it is not a question of whether you are one of two dietitians -- the type who uses social media or the type who does not. The modern day dietitian must understand that social media has forever transformed interactions between both professionals and consumers.
Networking, enhanced communication between multidisciplinary teams, and influential health campaigns are just a few revolutionary ways to initiate positive change through social media.
Finding Users in Different Stages of Change
Social media users are inherently looking for up-to-date information. Whether casual viewers or avid engagers, potential clients can be found at all stages of change. Sharing evidence-based resources along with practical implications and ideas can help connect your audience with the help they need to make changes.
Standing Out in a Sea of Social Media
Devoting and investing time to understand how social media fits into your practice is key to understanding your client base. It is important to note that one of the most effective uses of social media is to initiate traffic to your website or blog.
Simply stated, you manage and control your knowledge and expertise. Instagram and internet media can disappear at any moment. The most secure way to connect with clients is still through concrete connections (i.e. in-person or telehealth appointments).
Is social media too saturated for dietitians to make a difference?
Especially with a renewed emphasis on diversity in dietetics, there is absolutely room for each and every dietitian on social media to make a difference. A recent study found that images of dietitians on the internet don’t fully illustrate the profession. The conclusion of the study stated:
“There are opportunities to create and share authentic images online that show the breadth of work roles and diversity of professionals’ age, gender, cultural background and size.”
Use Instagram and other outlets to your advantage by leveraging them for learning opportunities -- both for you and for your clients. Emphasize what makes your practice or business unique and what sets you apart from others.
Remember-- the algorithm and client marketing is all about engagement. You can have hundreds or thousands or even millions of followers. But influence means nothing in the grand scheme of healthcare if it doesn’t lead your potential clients to action.
Three Things You Can Do to Leverage Your Social Media Presence Regardless of Algorithms
Coming from a newer generation of dietetic professionals, practitioners approach me all the time about social media norms. I’ll tell you exactly what I tell them: “I’m basically a grandma when it comes to social media. I still Google what things mean, but I am always willing to learn.”
I have a long way to go when it comes to social media and standards of professionalism. I’m not saying my methods are the best, but from experience I do know that being willing to teach others and be teachable yourself is important.
Algorithms always change to accommodate influence. Here are three ways you can use your social media to encourage truthful practice -- regardless of what is trending.
1. Follow and interact with the Academy’s accounts
A complete list of the Academy’s consumer, member, and professional accounts can be found by clicking here.
The Academy also releases social media toolkits each quarter that align with key initiatives, timely topics, and other social media messages. For example, they usually release in March, June, September, and December, however in 2020 they added an additional release with information about COVID-19.
The social media toolkit for January through March 2021 is already out and can be found by clicking here. With March being National Nutrition Month, these toolkits can be inspiring resources for content creation that aligns with Academy initiatives.
2. Connection over correction.
A trend I see all too often lately is dietitians pointing out what other practitioners are doing wrong. Even with ethical considerations, there is always an option for introducing a new perspective without having to prove which side is correct. Like I always say, it is better to be kind than it is to be right.
You can establish yourself as a legitimate professional without expressing disapproval of other dietitians, doctors, or medical professionals. Keep in mind, everyone comes from diverse experiences, ethnic backgrounds, and educations. What is true for them and their patients may not be correct for you or your clients.
As Bob Goff says,
"Whenever I've messed up, the least helpful thing I've ever received was a lecture."
When you feel the creeping urge to correct someone, try and use it as an opportunity to connect instead. Try using the following tactics:
"I totally thought that at first, too! Once I looked into the topic I discovered the truth about it. I was able to learn the latest research about it from..."
"...has a great resource on this topic! She/he is an expert and I always learn something new from them. You should check it out!"
"Have you looked into...I would love to hear your thoughts on it!"
"How do you feel about...I would be interested to hear your perspective!"
"Have you been invited to join...social media page? It's a great group that stays up to date on this topic!"
3. Create or join a community/group
Many opportunities for creating a community of clients or colleagues are underutilized. Here are five ideas for incorporating growing groups into your network:
Form a Facebook group for clients where they can help answer each other's questions and solve each other's problems.
Serve at a local food charity (i.e. shelter, pantry).
Learn more about an advocacy group and help raise awareness
Set up a referral system or dietitian directory for when you need to refer clients to someone with specific qualifications or certifications (and you can ask them to include you in their system, too).
Pros Who Know
According to Libby Rothschild, MS, RDN and her 3 Steps to Selling on Instagram , the platform experiences exponential growth, with:
One billion monthly users
63% of users logging in daily
Users spending and average of 28 minutes each day
200 million users visiting at least one business profile
That profile could be yours! You can learn from Libby in a webinar offered by the Academy, Instagram: 5 Strategies to Build Your Brand .
Inan-Eroglu E, Buyuktuncer Z. What images and content do professional dietitians share via Instagram. Nutr Food Sci. 2018;48(6):940-948.
Probst YC, Peng Q. Social media in dietetics: Insights into use and user networks. Nutr Diet. 2018;76(4):414-420.