FENS 2019: Influencing positively in an online world of ‘loud, provocative voices’

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

Jovanka Vis, head of knowledge and communication at the Netherlands Nutrition Centre, presents at this year's FENS conference.
Jovanka Vis, head of knowledge and communication at the Netherlands Nutrition Centre, presents at this year's FENS conference.

Related tags: Social media, Facebook, Instagram

The ‘double edged’ nature of social media that can aid the spread of incorrect information can be countered by building communities and improving the way visual content is presented.

Those are a handful of approaches amongst others that Jovanka Vis discusses as she gave an insight into how the Netherlands Nutrition Centre was adapting to the fast changing nature of social media.

Speaking at The Federation of European Nutrition Societies (FENS) conference in Dublin, Ireland, Vis, the centre’s head of knowledge and communication, spoke about the challenges of using a platform where most often “the loudest, most provocative, voice is best heard”.

“[Social Media] favours the less scientific, more commercial channels that are more interested in pulling an audience towards their bold statements, instead of informing them correctly about the developments in nutrition research and proven health benefits,”​ she said.

“Social media has helped us tremendously in reaching out to a large audience. This gives us more control over the message and the opportunity to explain more on a certain subject.

“By consistently building our own audience and improving the way we (visually) present our content, we try to counter the spread of incorrect information.”

Together with The Nutrition Society, FENS was an opportunity to exchange ideas on how to harness the power of social media to better translate meaningful nutritional research to consumers in an effort to improve diets, health and wellbeing.    

‘Unhealthy obsession’

Jovanka Vis 2
Netherlands Nutrition Centre's Jovanka Vis. ©JovankaVis

The discussion follows concerns​ made by Mike Gibney, a professor of food and health at University College Dublin, who described the ‘unhealthy’ obsession with diet and exercise by young adults on social media as “particularly apparent in young female professionals”.

“Orthorexia is an unhealthy obsession with eating ‘pure’ foods. This leads to eating a very narrow range of foods and constant concern about what others are eating around you and getting concerned when there aren’t any pure or healthy foods around to eat.​

“It’s strongly associated with obsessive physical activity so it may be that those people you see religiously and excessively working out are suffering with this."

Gibney’s thoughts along with the commercial channel motivations that Vis describes represent the other side of social media.

Only last month,​ the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) criticised Instagram messages by two firms and three celebrity influencers for posting adverts for products that broke health claims rules.

ASA upheld multiple complaints brought against two companies that regularly used social media – and celebrity influencers on Instagram in particular – to promote diet and weight loss products.

Cases like this are now a daily occurrence and are part of the battle fought by organisations like the Netherlands Nutrition Centre to quieten the loud, provocative voices, and present an informed voice of reason.

“We always try to stay on top of the latest social media developments by doing our own research, experimenting a lot and talking to experts in the field,”​ Vis said.

“We want to offer meaningful content that is appreciated by our current audience and think of innovative ways to attract a broader audience.

“We use Google-search experts, so our online activities are well positioned in Google and we have a webcare team in in place for daily conversation with consumers on social media.”

Adapting to changes

Vis also highlights a constant factor in trying to improve social media efforts, is adapting to new developments in the field, where analysing content performance provides a starting point from which to improve the centre’s work.

“We have noticed that in analysing our content properly, we are able to quickly adapt to changes in the social media space, like for instance the transition from a more Facebook based social strategy towards a focus on Instagram, using more attractive visuals and interactive content via Stories.

“Also, in 2019 we’ve launched two big YouTube series to expand our presence on this important search engine platform.”

Vis added that the centre also used layered information on its website, using simple text advice or video or tools as well as an encyclopaedia in which complex processes can be better explained.

“We also invest in our YouTube-channel in new videos of recipes, questions of consumers, hypes and explaining for example how BMI works,” ​she added.

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