Young Fijian entrepreneurs empowering health eating through Mobile Social Media

BELE workshop.jpg – Dr Philippa Smith & Laurent Antonczak, November 2018.

It is very easy in this day and age to be pessimistic about the Internet and the negative impact it can have when we hear stories of scammers, hackers and cyberbullies taking advantage of others. At the same time, however, it is important to remember that the Internet offers us opportunities to be proactive by using social media, especially mobile social media, in very positive ways. This relates to publicising important messages, such as Health Promotion, through any connected device as this could change – and may save – people’s lives. For instance, in Fiji, where the focus of our Bele project is located, major health concerns are cardiovascular disease and diabetes mellitus [1].  These  diseases may occur as a result, not just of a genetic predisposition,  but also because of an unhealthy lifestyle which includes  a lack of exercise, tobacco use, and bad eating habits causing excess body weight gain through consuming foods with a high saturated fat or salt content rather than those which are high in fibre including fruits, vegetables and grains, for instance [2].

Consequently, we are great believers that where you have a positive message that can make a difference, connecting with communities via mobile social media is a great way to go. Therefore, our project involved running a workshop to inspire young Fijian entrepreneurs with food-focused, or health-related businesses, to make a difference in the lives of local people by promoting their own products or activities and sharing some of their positive healthy eating messages. While social media platforms accessed via computer provide a range of communication opportunities,  Mobile Social Media has some distinct advantages. These include:

  • Mobile Portability, your smartphone is constantly (almost) with you;
  • Using an App can make your life easier because everything is at hand in one small portable device;
  • Connectivity, your phone is always on and connected;
  • Media diversity, sometimes, it is better to share a picture rather than writing a long message;
  • Simplicity, predictive text on mobiles can save some time;
  • Multitasking, you can share and work at the same time [3].

Below are the three key messages in the workshop that we ran in Suva (Fiji), amongst the twelve project participants, to highlight the many ways you can use mobile social media to promote a local, or individual, business and to help others.

  1. Social media is an easy way to draw attention to the availability/accessibility of healthy food

This is about more than just having a website or presence on social media. To date, there are nearly 2 billion known websites in the existence of which just under 200 million are active [4]. Every second approximately 6,000 tweets go out on the Twittersphere,  more than 40,000 queries are searched for on Google, and more than 2 million emails are sent –  according to Internet Live Stats. That’s a lot of digital activity going on!  Thinking up ways to draw attention to what you do and how you can change people’s lives should be part of any business plan. Social media means you can access more people, engage with them if they have questions or comments about your business, get feedback from them about your products, and build a community around having a healthy lifestyle. This is particularly important since the advent of smartphones: about 4.5 billion people are using a mobile device [5], including 2.5 billion who are using a smartphone which means you have instant access to a lot of people. Think about the various options you might employ (e.g. Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest) and how you might link it to your website (if you have one), or your online presence. Think about how people find the locations of healthy food – have you added a pin (geo-marker) for your business for example on Google Maps? Do you provide directions to your business on your website or social media platform? How can you support people to identify your content more precisely – do you add a hashtag to your blogs or pictures?

These are some of the things you might do on Instagram or Facebook for example:
¬ Post a video of a particular dish being made with your product, or people enjoying the taste
¬ Choose a special time or event such as Christmas or the Bula, Hibiscus and/or Diwali  festivals to run a competition relating to your business
¬ Advertise for new employees using social media – post a photo of your current employees, or yourself, enjoying their job and interacting with customers
¬ Have some special days where a product might be discounted and promote this on mobile social media to attract new customers

  1. Use social media to empower others – tell your personal story

While you can use social media such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Twitter to tell people about your healthy food business – what they can get and where – it is even more inspiring when you share your personal story online. Making a video of a maximum of two minutes can be more effective, or convincing, than long pages to scroll through online particularly if some people have issues with reading. You can use sound (music and narration) and subtitles in a video which is more user-friendly. Highlighting the challenges and successes you encountered in setting up and running your own health-focused business can empower others to change their eating habits. But it could also encourage them to support your business by becoming a volunteer, advocate or promoter of your product – or they may just share information about you with their networks, friends, and family. Alternatively, they too might take your lead and look at setting up their own businesses [6][7]. The key message in using social media is to be concise in what you have to say especially if you are making videos: in 90 seconds, you can say a lot. Some mobile social media such as Snapchat, for instance, require users to upload videos of no more than 60 seconds. Also, remember that after nearly two hours, most of your posts will reach about 75% of its potential impact on Facebook [8].

Build a community and make a difference!
Become a mentor to others! Set an example!

  1. Learn from the experience of other successful businesses about using social media for the promotion of health messages

Do your own research to get ideas about how other businesses make use of social media. Look online at healthy food businesses in your own neighbourhood, city, and country or even in other countries. What strategies do they use to promote their messages? Do they hold competitions or perhaps they combine with another business to work together? For example, a café or a restaurant promoting fresh fruit and vegetables might invite a yoga or massage school to run a workshop at their location. In these cases, it is important that each business partner communicates about their own activities while promoting the new alliance, or collaboration by using the appropriate hashtag, or business online identity. Moreover, perhaps there is a local celebrity who is willing to visit your business and have their photograph taken there which can be uploaded onto a social media platform. Or you might even think of becoming involved in a special event at a school, or fund-raising event, where you can take photographs, make a quick video, or write a blog to share via mobile social media.

Finally – some cautionary words on the use of social media
Remember to use social media responsibly for your businesses. Don’t put up posts and photographs in haste without thinking about whether the content (the language used and the images) is appropriate and ethical. For example, have you checked with a customer that they are happy for you to post their photograph on social media?

Furthermore, make sure that you create a specific account for your business, keeping your personal matters away from your customers. Don’t forget that people can also post comments on your social media site that might be a complaint or perhaps an inappropriate comment. Have you considered how you could/should deal with this situation? What action will you take to restore faith in your business if someone is publicly critical of it? What measures do you have in place to deal with any inappropriate content that someone might post?

Additionally, take time to think about how you want to use social media – this should be part of your business plan and may take a few weeks to establish. It should not just be a knee-jerk reaction. Even though some Instagram accounts always look spontaneous – chances are they are not. They are likely to be highly curated– and everything has been well planned in advance.

Care should be taken too in what information you post – for example, be wary of putting up any medical advice, or making certain health claims about your products if you are not qualified or this is not your area of expertise.  In this situation, you might like to refer to point 3 above about making alliances with relevant experts to be associated with your business and to add value to your product.

At the end of the day, there are many advantages to social media if you plan well and use it sensibly. Use social media responsibly – and make a difference in people’s lives!

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