Beginners guide to health in the digital age

I recently signed up to a health bloggers community, but was surprised to find that no-one was writing about, well, health.  Lifestyle, definitely.  Wellbeing, maybe.  But health?Obviously my outmoded nurse-y ideas of health need a reboot.

‘Dr Google’, blogs, vlogs, apps; the internet is fast becoming an integral part of our health and wellbeing, with 49% of UK adults seeking health information online.  But in this digital world, what does it mean to be healthy?

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Then

Back in 1947 health seemed fairly straight forward, defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as, “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

Now

If you were to define health now, what would you include?  Would you talk about diet, appearance, self-monitoring?  What about clean eating?  And meditation? On her mad lifestyle blog Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow recommends steam cleaning your vagina!  (She also recommends lymphatic drainage as ‘a great way to start the year’ 😯 )

You see, it’s all about wellness and wellbeing now isn’t it?  We should all try and be better than we currently are; happier, healthier, fitter, thinner, cleaner, more productive, less stressed. To eschew wellbeing could be considered an act of rebellion, subversion even.  As Cederstrom & Spicer argue, “Today, wellness is not just something we choose.  It is a moral obligation.” (Read more about their fabulous book on wellness here)

Even the government is measuring our wellbeing.  Somewhat ironically maybe, given they keep trying to make us all so bloody miserable.

I wonder what my gran would make of it all.  She keeled over aged 84, having lived on fags, Guinness and bread pudding. She would take me into town for fish and chips and give me her peas.  I don’t think I ever saw her eat anything that wasn’t beige.

But it’s all good, right?

There’s no denying that access to good, evidence-based health information is a positive. We can now manage our health in a way that my gran would never have dreamed possible. Sometimes even I can’t quite believe it.  When I was a student nurse, I had this:

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I thought I was living in the future because I had a colour version! Which turned out to be a total lie. Does this look ‘colour’ to you?

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As a student nurse spending hours in dusty medical libraries to find stuff out, it’s hard to believe that much of that information is now available on my phone.  Phones are now considered to be medical accessories; I thought mine was a device for beaming drivel into my eyes.  (It is.)  There are apps for pretty much any health issue imaginable, and we can take control of our health like never before.

What about the hooey?

The problem with wellness is it’s potential for vagueness.  All kinds of quackery and jiggery-pokery can sneak in under the wellness banner.  And there is the small question of who is giving us wellness advice.

In case you missed it, there was a high profile case of a blogger claiming to have cured her terminal cancer through diet.  Of all the things she had – a huge following, a book deal, enormous influence – it turns out cancer wasn’t one of them.  People who did have cancer were following her advice, hoping to be cured.

There are many successful, influential wellness bloggers out there making health claims based on anecdote and personal experience.  Personally, I like a slightly more robust evidence base behind my health information.

And let’s not forget steam-cleaning our Lady Marys.

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Oh Gwyneth!

It’s also worth considering this: the wellness industry is worth trillions of dollars. Your body, your face, your hair, your insecurities about your appearance are all up for grabs. And this is one heck of a powerful industry, with unprecedented, privileged access into your home, your habits and your wallet.  Just sayin’.

Definitions of health seem fairly constant, but wellness and wellbeing appear to be far more nebulous and subjective.  Good apps can be fun and the wealth of support and advice available is astounding.  Like I said in my new year post, it might just be worth asking if the person giving advice is qualified to do so.

©Jo Higman

Twitter 101: beginners guide to twitter for freelancers and small businesses

You want to ‘be on twitter’ but don’t know where to start.  Who should you follow?  What are the rules?  Is it worth the effort?

Maybe you’ve spent the last few years avoiding twitter, secretly thinking it’s a bit pointless. When you think  of twitter, you might think it’s all a bit:

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It is!

But it’s also a great place to promote your business.  There’s just one problem.  Where on earth do you begin?  Everyone seems to know what they’re doing and you’re worried you’ll get it wrong.

You may have read some social media books, had a nose through a few marketing blogs, looked up a training course or thought about using an agency.  Great!  They are all really helpful if you have the time and money, or if you’re thinking of a full-on social media marketing strategy.

But for many of us, just having a presence on twitter is enough for now.  Starting a business or becoming a freelancer can be challenging, and it can be easy to get distracted with social media.  (I speak from experience.)  But to ignore it is an oversight; a bit like setting up a market stall then not allowing anyone to see what you’re selling, or telling anyone that you’re there.

This simple guide will take you through the basics.  We’ll start from ground zero and get you tweeting in no time.  I promise you, it’s not as scary as it looks.

I’m going to assume that as you’re here, you just want to get started.  So let’s get stuck in.

How do I register?

Twitter has tons of helpful advice including this page on signing up.  Alternatively, if you just want to jump in and register, go here.  Think carefully about your name and your brand style.  As I produce my content, and I am my brand, I just use my name.  If you have a company, you should use your company name.  You may have a really colourful social life, but if you’re serious about using twitter for marketing purposes, calling yourself @DrunkStrumpet may not project the best image.  (Or it might!  Depending on your business….)

Profile

This is where you create your quick first impression, so you need to make it a good one. Social Media guru, Peg Fitzpatrick has some great tips on her blog.  If you are tweeting as a freelancer, consider using a picture of yourself here.  If you’re a company with several employees, then a company logo should go here.  For the header, again make sure it reflects your brand.  

An important point here is copyright.  Stock images on google are great, but you run the risk of copyright infringement if you use it to promote your brand. The best option is to use good clear images of your own.  If you want to use stock images, try Creative Commons where you can access shareable resources.

First tweet

Avoid ‘hello world’.  Unless you’re a megastar or world leader, the world is unlikely to notice you at this stage.  You could announce that your company website has gone live, or just get stuck in sharing some relevant content (see below).

Who should I follow?

  • Don’t waste money ‘buying’ followers – it just looks bogus, especially when people have a nose around your account to see who is following you.  Better to have a carefully cultivated community that will bring value to your brand.
  • Follow relevant regulatory/professional bodies/professional journals/government departments, etc.
  • Local business networks.  Look up organisations in your area aimed at nurturing small businesses and entrepeneurs.  Follow them, and see who is in their community.
  • Someone asked me recently if it was ok to follow competitors.  I say it’s not ok, it’s essential!  Know who is in your space and what they are doing.  Become part of your local community, find out what events they’re attending, share their content, retweet and acknowledge their contribution.
  • Follow media organisations for breaking news and stay topical in your tweets.  If a relevant news story breaks, incorporate that into your twitter feed.  And know when not to (see below).
  • Friends.  I think it’s fine to include friends in your professional twitter world – after all, if they aren’t going to big you up, who is?  If they get a bit too raucous on your timeline, just move the conversation into a private sphere.

What shall I say?

The best advice I can give is to have a nose around your twitter community and see how it’s done.  Just imagine you’re part of a big conversation and follow the same rules of politeness.

I like the 5-3-2 rule from Pam Dyer.  If you post 10 tweets a week, consider this approach:

  • 5 – relevant content from others (eg, a competitor has published a ‘how to’ guide on an aspect of your profession – share it, saying what helpful/great advice it is.  Your professional body has published some new guidelines – share them, with an appropriate comment.)
  • 3 – content created by you (eg, a photo of an event you’ve organised, your professional blog post, your own ‘how to’, etc.)
  • 2 – personal, humorous content, showing the human side of your brand (eg, have you done something fun during the work day which is shareable?  Has your favourite coffee shop just given you a free coffee?  Take a pic and acknowledge them.  Is something fun happening in your workspace?  Tweet about that?  Or if it’s a Friday afternoon and a funny Buzzfeed list has caught your eye, share that.  (Just watch out for anything that might offend).

Note: If something tragic has happened in the news, you don’t want to appear insensitive by firing off zippy tweets with smiley faces.  Neither should you try and capitalise on bad news.  You’ll just look heartless.  Here’s an example: when Bowie died, lots of brands were quick to send RIP tweets with his iconic red and blue flash emblazoned across their products.  The twitter-verse did not like that.  It was bad taste, and said brands were called out for it.  And rightly so.

Etiquette

Be polite.  Be generous.  Be kind.  Be helpful.  Always.  

If someone criticises your work or brand on twitter, your response is crucial.  Don’t ignore it, say you’re sorry to hear it and send them a ‘DM’ (Direct Message) out of the public eye.  

If it is a malicious tweeter with no contact with your business, report / block them.  Never get in to an argument on twitter.  

I don’t speak twitter!

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To get you started, here are a few essential phrases.

  • You’ll see a lot of these #.  All a hashtag does is bring together all tweets around a topic.  So if you type something about tax, you might type – ‘important info re #tax. Don’t sprinkle hashtags around like confetti, just in front of the relevant topic.  If you search for #tax, you’ll see your tweet along with any other mentions of it.
  • RT = retweet.  Here are some tips on retweeting.  The new option to ‘Quote tweet’ mentioned here, gives you a great opportunity to add a little of your brand essence.
  • DM = Direct Message.  If you want to take the conversation out of the public gaze, then DM someone.  Look for this symbol:  Depending on the person’s account, you may need to be following each other to do this.

Get in and stay in

If you’ve taken the plunge, don’t leave your followers hanging.  Remember, this is your shop front.  

What’s your special sauce?

Twitter is a crowded market place.  Always try and remember your USP, or ‘special sauce’ when tweeting.  

Know your audience

Are you a cocktail start-up or financial advisor?  Always put your reader at the heart of everything you write.  (For more on this see this excellent writing guide by Ann Handley.)  

Know yourself

If you have a brand style or personality, carry that through to your tweets.  Twitter may seem informal, but it is all part of your brand communication strategy.  

So, now you’ve got the absolute basics to get you started.  Have a play around and get familiar with the twitter-verse.  You’ll read lots about social media strategies, content creation/curation, SEO, ROI, platforms and so on.  But really, in the early days, if you just want to ‘be on twitter’ this will keep you going for now.  When you’re ready to step it up, here are some great resources:

There are A LOT of social media bloggers out there, giving free and helpful advice.  I especially like Peg Fitzpatrick’s blog.

If, like me, you’re still partial to a spot of paper, then here are a couple of easy-to-follow books:

500 Social Media Marketing Tips, by Andrew Macarthy

The Art of Social Media, by Guy Kawazaki and Peg Fitzpatrick

Have fun!  But be warned, twitter can be addictive…..

Do you run a small business or work freelance?  What would you suggest to those starting out on twitter?

©Jo Higman

Is it OK to be sad when a celebrity dies?

Is it ever ok to put a lid on someone’s sadness?  If you saw someone crying would you comfort them, or tell them to ‘man-up’?  Do we need permission to feel sad?

As the news of David Bowie’s death broke, social media was flooded with affection, sadness, memories, favourite songs, videos, photos, letters, memorabilia, all contributing to the collective grief for the passing of a legendary artist.  Many of us felt a little bit like this:

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But in one tiny corner of the internet lurked the grief-police; those who feel it necessary to criticise this ‘grief-bandwagon’ mentality, describing it as ‘mawkish’ and suggesting people ‘man-up.’

So let’s unpack that a bit.

We are social animals

Historically, we would come together as communities to mourn collectively and support one another.  Meghan O’Rourke writes more about that here.  Western culture moved towards private grieving early in the 20th Century, characteristic of the famous British ‘stiff upper lip.’  But do outpourings of emotion following celebrity deaths reveal an innate need to grieve together?  The go-to example of this is the response to Princess Diana’s death.  Social media didn’t exist then (how did we function?), but traditional media outlets certainly offered a platform for the collective grief of a nation.  So is it so surprising that twitter and facebook have become the new space where we gather together to mourn? Man alive, people share pictures of their dinner there!  Who’d have predicted we have an innate need to do that?

Whose grief is it anyway?

Yours!  Own your tears!

How can anyone possibly tell you how to feel?  Maybe it is grief-bandwaggon-ing.  So what?  Perhaps it is a necessary modern phenomenon, providing a legitimate outlet for our otherwise self-contained emotions.

Maybe when a celebrity passes away, we have permission to express those emotions we work hard at keeping tightly locked away.  Or maybe people (like me) felt genuinely sad about David Bowie’s death.  Lauren Laverne’s show on BBC6 Music was testament to the fact that many people were touched by his music and deeply moved by his passing. Responding to a listeners concerns about feeling so sad, Laverne argued; “It is personal when someone whose music has changed the way you see things dies.  The way they see the world, you take that on, it becomes part of you; they become part of you.  It’s a huge loss.” This post from Vox goes into more detail on the subject.

Perhaps you were completely unmoved by the news and don’t get what all the fuss is about.  Well that’s fine too.  Lot’s of celebrities die without me paying much attention.  But as Sean Faye wrote this week, “To sneer arrogantly at grief as a failure of social elegance – or worse, to dismiss it as a delusion or lie – is as cruel as it is hypocritical, given that grief will find us all at some stage.”

We have a big problem with stigma around mental health in the UK

Suicide is the leading cause of death in 20-34 year olds (Office for National Statistics, 2015), yet we still struggle to talk about all things emotional.  The Time to Change campaign was launched last year to tackle the stigma associated with mental health, and to put an end to the resulting discrimination.  Now, I’m not suggesting that grieving for David Bowie is evidence of a mental health problem, nor can it be compared with the daily challenges faced by those with mental illness.  But if we can’t even allow people to express their sorrow at a celebrity’s  passing, well, we’ve clearly got a long way to go.

Be polite

In the ensuing debate around ‘grief-police’, someone posted that twitter was a bit like being at home with the windows open, having a friendly conversation with the world. Occasionally, someone walks past and shouts something offensive, impolite or just not to your liking.  In that instance, the best thing to do is simply close the window.  Surely those who are offended by public displays of grief could just dip out of twitter for a while?

Writing for The Pool, Sali Hughes had this to say: “There are millions like me, who in losing an artist, feel as though they’ve lost an entire world. You absolutely don’t have to understand that, but you really should respect that”.  In The Art of Social Media, Guy Kawasaki and Peg Fitzpatrick quote the film Bambi: “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.” And last but not least, in How To Be A Woman, lifelong Bowie fan Caitlin Moran offers this pearl of wisdom: “Being polite is possibly the greatest daily contribution everyone can make to life on earth.”

So, from life on earth to Life on Mars.  And in the words of long time Bowie collaborator Tony Visconti, “For now, it is appropriate to cry.

Via YouTube

©Jo Higman

 

 

5 questions you should ask before trying to make a ‘new you.’

Do you ever get the sneaking suspicion that ‘new year, new you’ is just one big marketing ploy?  An annual ruse, designed to make us spend money in the period when we might otherwise be inclined to spend less?

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If however you’ve emerged from your hibernaculum, peeled off your pyjamas and have the Netflix whirlygig imprinted on your retina, you may be feeling like making some changes.   But before you hand your debit card over to anyone offering to make you fit/healthy/clean/detoxed, consider these few questions first:

Is there anything wrong with the old you?

It’s perfectly normal to feel sluggish after a few days of over eating, lunchtime sherry and general inactivity.  If you feel 20151231_203225.jpgthe need to get fit / stop drinking / eat less, then go for it!  But is there more to it than that? People trying to sell you things are really clever at making you believe you have a problem. Once they’ve done that, they can sell you more stuff.  Think about glossy magazines.  Their survival depends on advertising revenue. Whose best interests have they got at heart?

Christmas can be a stressful time.  All that money!  All those relatives!  Sometimes we’re led to believe that the way to beat stress is to buy more stuff.  Apps, books, food, posh bubble bath. You may well be feeling wrung-out after Christmas, but before you buy anything take a look at this brilliant article by SaraKnight. (Warning: mostly consists of the ‘f’ word.)

I’m guessing that the existing you is just fine.

How much will it cost?

A ‘new you’ doesn’t need to cost anything.  But, here are a few things you might be tempted to buy:

  • Posh juicer: £80
  • Gym membership: varies, around £75
  • Mindfulness app: £60 for the year
  • Diet/self-help book: £15
  • Running shoes: depending on quality £50-100+
  • Chia seeds: £5
  • Detox tea: £10
  • Detox bath oil: £21

Alternatively, the NHS weight loss plan is free, a brisk walk is free, there is plenty of evidence based self-help on websites such as NHS Choices (it’s snazzier than you might think!)  Fruit and veg are cheap, plentiful and healthy without being juiced (and all that mess!)  No amount of bath oil is going to detox you, and a glass of tap water will be just as beneficial as ‘draining’ tea.  the only thing it will be draining is your bank account.

Who is giving me advice?

Is the person giving you advice also trying to sell you something?  If the answer is yes, ignore that advice.

Is the person giving you advice qualified to do so?  If the answer is no, ignore that advice.

If you want support with significant health matters such as weight loss, stopping smoking, stress or if you haven’t exercised in a while, your GP practice would be a good place to start.

Is there any evidence that this will make me healthier?

Yes!  And no.

There’s plenty of evidence showing that regular exercise and a balanced diet can improve not just our physical health, but mental health too.  Again, NHS Choices has plenty of research based advice on it’s website.  (I promise you it’s snazzier than you think!)

Changes to the UK drinking guidelines now suggest that we abstain from alcohol for at least two days a week.  ‘Dry January’ (especially if done for charity) may not be such a bad idea, but could it come at a worse time?  Back to work?  The school run?  Are you kidding me? Why can’t it be in May when we’ve all perked up a bit?  If, like me, you’ve found the return to normal life all a bit too much and succumbed to a glass of wine, don’t beat yourself up about it.

A recent review of the research into detox diets found little evidence to support them.

To my knowledge, there is no evidence to support detox bath products.

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Why are you doing it?

Good question!  If you and your friends are supporting each other in giving up drinking for a month, or stopping smoking then that’s great.

Some people just wake up in January brimming with enthusiasm to get fit.  How mad is that?!

If however you’re making a ‘new you’ because it’s January and you feel under enormous pressure to change the old you, then step away from the self-help section! Of course we all feel a bit dreary going back to work after the pizzazz of Christmas.  But before you decide to throw it all in / leave your spouse / pay £21 for a posh bubble bath, give yourself a couple of weeks to shake off the Baileys and tinsel and see how you feel then.

So there you have it.  If you’ve answered all these questions and still want to make a new you, then go for it!  But maybe turn off the facebook sharing on your running app.  Or I may need to detox my friend list….

©Jo Higman