November 2009 Issue

Get Connected — Go High Tech to Gain that Professional Edge
By Lindsey Getz
Today’s Dietitian
Vol. 11 No. 11 P. 46

The Web’s powerful networking resources aren’t lost on dietitians, who are blogging their way to better exposure and using numerous forms of social media to fortify their business.

There’s no question we’re living in a high-tech era. Many aspects of daily life—from banking to purchasing airline tickets—have become automated or electronic, and whether or not you agree with it won’t change the fact that our future will likely continue down the same path.

With less people communicating via telephone or in person, dietitians have had to adapt by finding innovative methods to reach out to their existing clientele and also finding creative ways to attain new clients. From connecting with others through various forms of social media such as Facebook and personal blogs to conversing with clients via e-mail and on-the-go using BlackBerrys, many dietitians are searching for the high-tech forms of communication that suit them best.

Online Endeavors
For many, connecting with others through online media has meant entering the blogosphere. Creating a blog is a way to project your voice and even open the door for dialogue with others. Robin Plotkin, RD, LD, a culinary and nutrition expert based in Dallas, debuted her blog in May 2008 (http://robinplotkin.blogspot.com). She considers it a unique blend of culinary-, nutrition-, and food-related posts. Questions she’s asked through work or even in passing from friends and family spark ideas for her posts, which also focus on what is on her own mind on any given day.

“Some of the most popular posts have been those that I wouldn’t have guessed to be so interesting, such as my self-proclaimed love of Diet Coke or my post on Cloris Leachman wearing an evening gown made out of cauliflower for PETA,” says Plotkin. “I write from the perspective of the everyday person, and my readers identify with my posts because they see that I am making it through the day, just like they are, trying to feed my passions but make healthy decisions along the way.”

Creating a blog is one way to enhance your visibility or even reinvent yourself, both of which can impact your career. Rebecca Scritchfield, RD, an American College of Sports Medicine health fitness specialist in Washington, D.C., has been a registered dietitian for only about one year, yet she says that social media have helped raise her profile and build her reputation in a short amount of time.

“For those who have already established a reputation in the field, social media allows you to continue to grow it,” says Scritchfield, who authors multiple blogs (one of which is http://rebeccascritchfield.wordpress.com). Her postings have helped her get work with Kashi and Starbucks, as well as interviews for publications, all of which have helped raise her credibility, even as a newcomer to the field. “Social media gives you a voice so that you can introduce yourself to the world,” she says. “It allows people who might not yet have that same awareness as a published book author to put themselves out there. While it definitely takes time to establish yourself, using social media and starting a blog allows you to be discovered—and to discover others, too. There are a lot of benefits to it.”

For Katherine Isacks, RD, MPS, who was working full time in a clinic, a blog was a way for her to break into some new work. Already an established dietitian, she was looking to shift gears and maybe even start her own business. “When working in a clinical field, it’s almost as though you get sucked into a vortex and it becomes harder to branch out,” she says. “I wanted something more modern. I love using the Internet and had started to consider writing a blog about nutrition.”

Isacks set up her blog (http://isacksrd.com) as both an educational tool and a way to market herself as a dietitian. As a result of the blog, which she started last year, Isacks has already received new paid work, including a nutrition writing gig and nutritional lecturing—all because the right people stumbled across her on the Web. She subsequently left her clinical work to focus on this new business as an independent dietitian.

While we tend to think of blogging in terms of written posts, it can be more creative than that. In addition to regular postings, Scritchfield also uses video for her blogs, which she says has not only been a way to engage her followers but has also been practice for her, as she aims to be on television someday. It’s also given her some demo reel footage to use as samples of her work. “Video is definitely great for beginners who want to break into communications,” she says.

Scritchfield uses a Flip cam that allows her to publish directly to the Web. A lot of her video posts are focused on short and punchy nutrition tips. “It’s a great way of expressing information because it’s visual and you can use props,” she says. “For instance, I’ve done videos on the confusion with food labels and actually been able to show what I’m talking about. I also did a video with healthy grocery shopping tips and used food props. This helps viewers remember the tips when they actually go to the store themselves.”

Adding special features and sections that are separate from your everyday posts can also make your blog stand out and may earn you regular followers who will check back for updates. Plotkin recently launched a special feature on her blog known as “Inside the Fridge.” It gives readers an inside look at some real-life refrigerators from people who have agreed to photograph their fridges and answer questions about the contents. “Chefs, dietitians, food writers and bloggers, and foodies are all on the list and I already have several posted,” notes Plotkin. “It’s created an interesting following.”

A blog is certainly a great vehicle to share opinions, connect with existing clients, and perhaps even reach out to new ones. But that’s not to say maintaining it doesn’t require a lot of work. “Staying current, posting worthy blogs, following experts, being creative, and staying in the eye of your readers are all critical,” says Plotkin, who averages about two to three posts per week. “With those efforts in mind, I definitely think it’s a way to get new clients.”

And if you do take the time to create a blog, it’s important that you also take the time to market it. Isacks says she always reads other nutrition articles and fellow bloggers’ posts. If it’s something she really likes, she’ll post a comment and will be sure to include her own blog’s address. It’s a way for others to link to her and find her blog. Isacks says she has also gotten to know many other dietitians this way.

Including a link to the blog in an e-mail signature is another simple way to market the blog and something that Plotkin and Scritchfield both do. Plotkin says she even incorporates the blog link into anything—written or electronic—that she provides to her clients or potential clients. “It’s a part of every proposal I create for potential business,” she says. “It helps to show that I not only take part in this medium for my own personal business but that I can actively and easily participate in social marketing for their business, too.”

Beyond Blogs
Blogging is not the only way in which dietitians can get involved with the world of social media and networking. Online networking is one of the easiest ways to expand a business and reach out to potential clients. The benefit is that it often doesn’t take much time to join one of these sites and most are free (with the exception of special features that may cost extra). Still, like blogging, for social networking to be effective, it does require time spent maintaining a page or profile.

Many people use social networking sites for personal reasons, but these sites can also help professionals market a business. Twitter is one such social networking tool that has been rapidly gaining in popularity. Though it’s been around since 2006, it’s still relatively new to many. Twitter is a form of social networking that allows users to send and read messages of no more than 140 characters. These short blurbs (also known as “microblogs”) are visible on the author’s profile page and delivered to subscribers of that author’s page. These messages are known as “tweets.”

“My Twitter goals are 100% business related, and I do not post anything personal,” says Plotkin, who has been using Twitter since 2008. “I have deemed it an important part of my business model. Many people that I would never have an opportunity to meet or follow have either sought me out or vice versa, and it’s been a great way to share information and showcase myself as an authority in the field.”

Facebook is another popular social networking site on which users can create a profile, send messages, post photos, and add new friends to their page. Plotkin has found Facebook to be another great tool for her business. “It allows blogs and tweets to be linked together, so it proves to be an all-in-one type of medium,” she says of the service.

While her Facebook account has more of a personal focus, Isacks has also found the networking site to be another way to direct traffic to her blog and market herself. “I’ll discreetly mention that I have a new blog post up and tell people to check it out,” she says. “Or I’ll let people know I was on National Public Radio and to listen to the interview. I use Facebook as a more passive marketing vehicle where I’m not actively promoting my business, but it doesn’t hurt to still mention it.”

Yet another effective tool is LinkedIn, which focuses on professional networking. Plotkin says it’s been an excellent way for her to find new business contacts. The site can also be used to find jobs and future business opportunities. “The ability to post Q & As to the different subgroups on LinkedIn has also proven to be quite helpful in the solicitation of business,” adds Plotkin.

As people spend increasingly more time in front of their computers—and less on the home telephone—dietitians may also have to commit to using e-mail as a form of non–face-to-face interaction with clients. Isacks also believes that Skype, a software application that allows users to make telephone calls over the Internet, often utilizing video conferencing, will be a way for dietitians to conduct long-distance consulting. While she’s personally currently testing it out with friends and family, she foresees a future where she will use video calls to “see” clients. “I know that research still shows that face-to-face counseling is most effective, but there is definitely growing research that supports telephone calls plus Internet support will be effective for the future,” she says. “A lot of people [who] need to lose weight don’t always have time to go to a clinic, so a video call is perfect for the busy professional. I believe it would benefit dietitians to learn more about this technology.”

Isacks also plans to get a smartphone in the near future. Besides being able to connect with clients via e-mail on the go, she says the ability to access the Internet and refer to the American Dietetic Association’s online Nutrition Care Manual at any time would be a huge benefit to her business.

Get With the Times
Clearly, there are many ways for dietitians to go high tech and doing so appears to be a wise business decision in today’s world. “It’s critical that, as dietitians, we find more ways to increase our worth and stay current with all aspects of business, including social marketing,” says Plotkin. “It’s truly one of the easiest and least expensive ways to market oneself or publicize their services.”

Adds Isacks: “I think this is a huge unexplored territory for us, and it’s going to be particularly great for the independent dietitian. Sometimes people don’t even know what we do, so getting online is a way to educate the public. In the past, dietitians have not been visible enough in the public—we’ve been more behind the scenes. But that’s changing fast, and the tools available online and through various forms of technology has been a big part of the reason.”

— Lindsey Getz is a freelance writer based in Royersford, Pa.

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