Dietetic Practice & 
Social Media

Social Media, Mobile Form

Social media is a broad term used to define forms of electronic communication (e.g., websites for social networking and web-based applications) through which users create and share information, ideas and other content online. This has changed the way people, organizations and communities communicate.

Social media may include blogs, vlogs, wikis, message boards, chat rooms, forums, podcasts, electronic polling, social bookmarking, clouds, social networking (e.g., Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn) and video platforms (e.g., TikTok, YouTube) and more.

Social media can be used for several reasons in dietetic practice, including:
  • Increasing dietitian capacity to reach clients and their families with timely, high-quality health and nutrition information and resources;
  • Answering questions and obtaining feedback from clients, families and the public;
  • Raising public awareness of key nutrition issues;
  • Promoting and advertising upcoming events, programs or dietetic services available;
  • Providing education to nutrition students and dietetic practicum students;
  • Networking with other professionals and sharing educational information;
  • Creating common interest groups on nutrition topics; and
  • Creating communities of practice to support health professionals and clients.
1.  Social Media and Practice
Communication Practices
Social media can help enhance communication by making information mobile and easily accessible. However, it also inherently has added risks of miscommunication and a possible decrease in the level of individualized care or services compromising the client therapeutic relationship.

Strive for clear, professional and audience-appropriate communication when using social media. For example, abbreviations, acronyms and medical terminology can be confusing and hard to understand. Texting short and incomplete sentences can add to this confusion. In addition, not all clients and social media users are aware of online language culture (e.g., short forms for LOL, BRB, etc.).

Dietitians and their clients should be aware of the limits to what can be communicated safely via social media. Where interactions with clients become more complex and individualized, you may need to take the conversation away from social media.
Evidence-Informed Practice
Employers, clients and the public rely on a dietitian’s expertise to provide accurate and timely nutrition information. Any information communicated through social media should always be evidence-informed. When you include hyperlinks to other information and resources (e.g., websites, videos, podcasts, etc.) in social media posts, all information should be current, accurate and reliable.

Provide appropriate evidence-informed documentation to substantiate any claims made about health and nutrition issues or expert opinions. Dietitians cannot rely on trends or hearsay; they need concrete evidence to support their nutrition recommendations, opinions, and advice.

Dietitians should familiarize themselves with popular online discussion forums and website resources to comment on the credibility of the health and nutrition content when appropriate. Where the accuracy of information is questionable, direct the users to reliable, evidence-informed online resources.

Conflict of Interest
Given the casual nature of social media and the opportunities to market and advertise services and products, be aware of behaviours and actions that may lead you to a conflict of interest. For more information on conflict of interest, refer to the Standards and Guidelines for Professional Practice: Conflict of Interest.

Advertising/Promoting Dietetic Services
Social media provides opportunities for dietitians to promote their dietetic services. A group or an individual dietitian can create sites for various purposes such as describing nutrition services, sharing nutrition education and resources, summarizing recent nutrition research, and professional opinions.

The College encourages professional advertising of dietetic services. When advertising, keep in mind the public’s best interest and ensure full disclosure and transparency.

Interjurisdictional Practice
Social media and virtual care have provided dietitians in Ontario to provide services in other provinces or even outside of Canada. In Canada, each province has its regulatory oversight for the dietetic profession.

The College advises dietitians outside Ontario or Canada to contact the regulatory body in the applicable jurisdiction(s). Dietitians are required to follow the direction of the regulatory body in the applicable jurisdiction(s). In addition, they should confirm that their professional liability insurance provides coverage for virtual care and the jurisdiction(s).

For dietitians registered outside of Ontario, please see the Position Statement for Interjurisdictional Practice.
2.  Social Media Content
Dietitians are responsible not only for the content they post on social media accounts and platforms but also for the content that others may post to the website, web page, account, stream, or application they manage.
Client testimonials on any social media site are discouraged. The public cannot verify the truth or value of the testimonials, and testimonials from a select number of clients may not represent all clients and can be taken out of context. Testimonials may also create a conflict of interest for the dietitian and compromise the relationship between a dietitian and clients by putting them in an awkward position when asked to provide testimonials.
Moderating Comments
Dietitians are responsible for all information, including comments, posted on any social media account they manage. If readers post a comment or ask questions, respond to them, verify that all the information is accurate and post corrections when needed. Seek to remove all inappropriate comments (e.g., insults, foul language, inaccurate or misleading information).

Many social networking platforms have settings that send notification emails to the administrator when comments are posted, and dietitians may use this feature to moderate comments. The frequency for moderating comments depends on the site traffic (e.g., daily for heavy traffic, weekly for lighter traffic).

Many platforms have settings to accept anonymous comments or only accept comments from those who have set up a profile. The latter is advisable so that you can identify who makes comments, and if need be, correspond with a user individually.

While dietitians are not responsible for third-party websites and unsolicited comments, dietitians should strive to be aware of comments posted about their practice. Where information is inaccurate, misleading, fraudulent, or defamatory, dietitians should contact the third party’s website administrator to request a correction or deletion.
3.  Social Networking Platforms
Social networking uses an online service, platform, or site that focuses on building social relations among people who share similar interests and activities. Social networking websites may be helpful places for dietitians to gather and share their experiences and discuss nutrition and dietetics. These types of professional interactions represent a convenient means for professional and interprofessional education and dialogue. However, most social networking sites do not provide a secure platform for confidential patient information.
  • Using Twitter: If someone asks for dietetic advice through Twitter, it is essential to note that information on Twitter is not confidential. Although general nutrition information may be shared with a client on Twitter for more personal advice, it would be best to take the conversation offline unless you have explicit informed consent from the client. Also, keep in mind that Twitter’s character limitation can make meaningful communication more difficult. If you work for an organization, refer to your employer’s social media or social networking policy for direction.
  • Using Facebook/Instagram: Before you post information or “like” anything, reflect on your intentions and the possible impact on your professional image. Ask yourself: Does this post uphold my image as a professional health care provider? Does it respect my friends and colleagues who will see this post? Is it accurate? "Liking" someone’s disrespectful comments, inappropriate jokes, or pictures is just about the same as posting them yourself.
Assuming there is no conflict of interest, a dietitian can blog/vlog about topics and products that relate to nutrition. When blogging/vlogging about nutrition, ensure that your opinions are evidence-based and professional. If you are using client examples, remove any client-identifying information from the post. Clients should not be able to identify themselves as the subject of the blog/vlog post.

Reflect on your intentions and the possible consequences of your blog/vlog. Also, be careful with your responses to the blogs/vlogs of others. “Liking” or agreeing with someone’s disrespectful comments/actions on a blog/vlog is almost the same as making them yourself. “Liking” means you agree and support.

This article is based on “Social Media and Dietetic Practice” by Deborah Cohen, MHSc, RD, which appeared in the Summer 2013 issue of Résumé, the former newsletter of the College of Dietitians of Ontario. It was updated in October 2021. Top image: iStock. 
For more on this topic, please read Dietetic Practice and Online Communications.