How IBCLCs Can Make an Impact Through Social Media

Written by Robin Kaplan, M.Ed., IBCLC

With 93% of adults born after 1982 (the Millennial Generation) communicating online and nearly 3 out of 4 using social networking websites, such as Facebook and Twitter, breastfeeding promotion and support has been taken to an entirely new level. In the Journal of Human Lactation article, Establishing an Online and Social Media Presence for Your IBCLC Practice, authors Amber D. McCann and Jeanette E. McCulloch, present findings that encourage all of us in the breastfeeding community to step into the minds of these Millennial mothers and engage with them about breastfeeding in their preferred medium.

Why does breastfeeding promotion and support need a social media presence?

While health care providers continue to be the first choice for most people with health concerns, 80% of US Internet users have sought health advice online.  Plus, 44% of US women spend more time online after a new baby is born.  We live in an amazing time where we can find answers online in an instant when we used to have to wait until our doctor’s office opened the next morning.  The scary side of this is that there is so much misinformation online about breastfeeding and how easy it is for mothers to access this incorrect advice. Even formula companies have breastfeeding advice sections on their websites… this is NOT where new mothers should be receiving their evidence-based breastfeeding information and support….right next to a Enfamil advertisement!

Also, with breastfeeding being such a HOT TOPIC in the news, mothers are often bombarded with this negative press.  It goes viral in an instant!  The Time Magazine article, ‘Are You Mom Enough‘ and Mayor Bloomberg’s initiative to ban the formula bags in all New York City hospitals flooded the Internet and social media networks in record time.  Negative comments about breastfeeding were abundant!  While Best for Babes and Kellymom are doing all they can to turn this bad breastfeeding press into something positive, they need our help to further provide breastfeeding education and support online.

So where are these Millennial mothers and what are they doing online?

The four most dominant social media platforms are Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and Pinterest. What these platforms have in common is that they ALL promote engagement among Internet users.  This is not like reading a book for information, which is a one-sided conversation.  Using social media allows you the ability to comment, ask questions, and agree/disagree with the author and other commenters.  It’s a conversation.  When a mother posts a question on a Facebook page, she is actively seeking advice from her peers or an ‘expert.’  When a mom reads a blog article, she is looking to make connections with the author to help make sense of her world and often seek advice on a particular topic.  Twitter is all about conversation and engagement and Pinterest is now a hub for articles and driving more traffic to websites than Facebook.  We may not live in a village anymore, but the Internet is revitalizing the village mentality.  It’s all about the need for support and belonging.

How can an IBCLC use social media effectively, without feeling like it is a waste of his/her time?

  • Creating a social media plan can be extremely helpful or you might find yourself being led down the time-sucking social media rabbit hole.  As McCann and McCulloch suggest, create a plan that is appropriate for the size of your business or organization.
  • Decide who your target audience is and the purpose of your engagement.
  • Choose a social media platform or two that you feel is manageable and decide how much time you plan to dedicate to it a week.
  • Spend some time just watching and listening.  You will figure out pretty easily what your audience is looking for.
  • Keep in mind that social media is all about sharing information. While you don’t want to give away everything you know, the more information you benevolently share online, the more appreciative your audience will be and encouraged to return to your platform in the future.  You may have the chance to influence the greater masses with your positive messages about breastfeeding!

What about ethical concerns and client/patient confidentiality?

McCann and McCulloch stress the importance of upholding our Code of Professional Conduct, Scope of Practice, and Standards of Practice.  The authors state that while these documents ‘do not contain a specific social media policy, IBCLCs may want to review the American Medical Association’s Policy on Professionalism in the Use of Social Media’.

As an avid blogger and social media user, I have a phrase that I use very regularly when I receive a comment or question that takes information from general breastfeeding advice to specific for one mom and baby and it goes something like this…. “It definitely sounds like you have some very important questions that would be best answered in a private conversation with an IBCLC.  If you would like to discuss this further, please contact me at …..”   This lets the mother know that I would love to help her, but this is not the appropriate place to discuss private, personal information and I want to protect her privacy.

So, even if you feel like you are not Internet savvy and social media gives you hives, all you have to do is start off slowly.  Lurk a little on these social media platforms and just listen to what mothers are saying and asking for.  Check out the Lactation Matters article, Great Breastfeeding Blogs to Read, and start sharing these articles on a social media platform.  Begin a conversation on a Business Facebook page and see where it takes you.  My guess is that you quickly see your calling to offer breastfeeding-supportive and evidence-based guidance to our Millennial mothers.  And you never know… you might just have a ton of fun, as well!

Robin Kaplan received training to be a Certified Lactation Educator and an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant from UCSD. She holds a Masters in Education from UCLA, a multiple-subjects teacher credential from UCLA, and a BA in Psychology from Washington University in St. Louis, MO. In 2009, Robin started her own business, the San Diego Breastfeeding Center, where she offers in-home breastfeeding consultations, free weekly support groups, breastfeeding classes, and online support through her business blog.  In addition to her private practice, Robin was the founding Co-editor of theInternational Lactation Consultant Association’s (ILCA)blog, Lactation Matters, and a regular contributor toILCA’s E-Globe newsletter.  She also is the host/producer of The Boob Group online radio show and the Director of Marketing for  Robin lives in her native San Diego, where she enjoys cooking, hiking, trying new trendy restaurants, and traveling with her family.

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