Over the last 3 years, Hope Warshaw (@HopeWarshaw), a dietitian and diabetes educator, has discovered the value of social media both for growing her nutrition and diabetes consulting business and connecting with diabetes advocates in the online community. SurroundHealth, a free online community for healthcare extenders, asked Hope to share her insights and tips.
SurroundHealth: Why did you decide to engage in social media?
Hope Warshaw, MMSc, RD, CDE, BC-ADM
Hope: I’m the author of a number of consumer books focused on diabetes and a diabetes nutrition consultant. I realized several years ago that from an entrepreneurial perspective social media, if well executed, creates a circular, push-pull connection between my website and blog, Facebook page, and Twitter feed. With this 360-degree approach I could share content and connect people back to my site to learn more about my books and services. So, from the entrepreneurial vantage point, social media has become a marketing tool for me.
SurroundHealth: When did you start engaging with diabetes advocates in the diabetes online community?
Hope: About 2 years ago. On Twitter, I saw that there was a growing online community for people with diabetes (to follow the community on twitter use the hashtag #DOC or #DSMA). My involvement with these amazing diabetes advocates comes very much from my heart. Having been a diabetes educator for 30 plus years, I know that people with diabetes who feel supported and are as positive as possible with the diagnosis (“make lemonade out of lemons”) tend to have better self-management over time and more positive health outcomes. I thought it was important, as a diabetes educator, to initiate dialog and connect with some of the leaders of the #DOC. The goal was simply to build relationships, talk about how we could work together, and how I could support their efforts which truly are nothing short of FANTASTIC and AMAZING. In fact, through this outreach and sufficient gumption, at the 2011 AADE Conference, I teamed up with David Edelman (of DiabetesDaily), Amy Tenderich (of Diabetes Mine), and Manny Hernandez (of Diabetes Hands Foundation), leaders within the online diabetes community, to present The Diabetes Online Community (DOC): What the Heck is Going On?
And now we’re on a roll. At the 2012 AADE program we teamed up again to present Power Your Practice in Our Socially Networked World. For 2013 we’ve been asked back by AADE to present a several hour pre-conference hands-on workshop. We don’t even have a title yet!
SurroundHealth: How has your experience of being involved with advocates in the diabetes online community changed your perspective as a diabetes educator?
Hope: For me, it’s given me an even clearer view of the realities and challenges of day-to-day living with diabetes. I think about a blog post from Diabetes Mine. Allison Nimlos, the writer who has type 1 diabetes and is a regular blogger for diabetesmine.com, went to a wedding and the bottle of insulin she was using broke, then her pump malfunctioned…obviously this impacted her weekend wedding festivities. As educators, we talk about always traveling with extra insulin for your pump and having a backup if your pump malfunctions…this blog showed the reality, in one scenario in life, of how dealing with diabetes adds layers of enormous complexity.
I have also been changed by seeing the importance of human-to-human support. This support ranges from people sharing valuable information about what’s going on in the diabetes world to emotional sharing about the challenges and realities of living with diabetes. And, it’s not just between people with diabetes. More and more, caregivers, spouses and parents of kids with diabetes are sharing their experiences. What I hear over and over again is how important it is for people to know that there are others out there who are dealing with the same struggles…that you are not alone, isolated. Social media makes it easier for all kinds of support to happen.
In many different ways, social media levels the playing field. It brings us to our simplest common denominator — human interaction.
SurroundHealth: As a diabetes educator, what tips can you give other healthcare professionals who want to connect online with the diabetes community?
Hope: The most important tip in using social media to connect with the DOC is to relate as a human being and to show your support for the support people with diabetes are giving each other and advance their efforts in building their diabetes online community. I would encourage educators and other healthcare professionals not to be preachy or to offer advice. It is a different way of relating. Take off your counseling hat and realize the online community is not taking place in a medical setting. For example, recently, a person with diabetes wrote a blog about dealing with depression and I tweeted how important it was to share that blog and linked to it. I definitely do share information, but more often I am sharing encouragement, support, advocacy, and humor.
SurroundHealth: What is your advice to healthcare professionals who worry that people with diabetes may be “lead astray” by what they read online?
Hope: Diabetes educators and providers are unrealistic to think that the people they counsel haven’t gone out to the Internet at some point to read and learn. More and more, it is our professional responsibility to ask people we counsel what on the Internet that they enjoy using and if/what they would like some guidance around. We can help by assessing what people are really looking for – is it cutting edge information? Or, a place to connect interpersonally? We also can give general guidelines if they are sought. For example: If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Ah, yes, quite true when it comes to diabetes and nutrition!
SurroundHealth: Are there any other social media guardrails you would suggest to professionals?
Hope: Sure, be ethical, candid, and non-promotional. Be respectful of privacy. Do not share content that is, in any way, shape or form, about a person with whom you have had a clinical interaction.
SurroundHealth: For professionals who have not yet ventured into social media, what would you suggest as a first step?
Hope: One of the best ways to take a first step is to do some lurking. That may sound like a negative word, but it’s the best way to learn about the diabetes online community.
On my website, people can access a list of online diabetes communities and resources. I have also created a printable PDF for providers to share with people with diabetes or their caregivers. By connecting people with diabetes with the diabetes online community, we can connect them to support.
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