How Social Media Influences the Food Message

by Amanda Vogel, MA on Nov 10, 2016

Food Culture

Savvy use of photography and video can improve your business while encouraging healthy eating.

Social media serves many purposes, one of which is to share everyday experiences with friends, family, clients and even the wider world. Eating, of course, is one of those everyday experiences. But how much does posting a photo of your homemade quinoa salad or a video recipe for blueberry yogurt parfaits help create better awareness about good eating habits? More than you might think.

Experts agree that social media posts can have an impact on how people view nutrition—and even on what they pack in their lunch boxes and set on the dinner table. In fact, social messages around healthy relationships with food are more imperative than ever: A new study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics showed that young adults aged 19–32 who spent the most time on social media were more than twice as likely to report eating concerns compared with peers who spent less time on social media (Sidani et al. 2016).

People need balanced guidance from credible experts like you. Read on for thoughts on how your social media posts can influence attitudes toward food and eating behaviors.

Encourage Better Eating Through Food Posts

Posting about food on social media can inspire smarter food choices. You can provide recipes, education, grocery-shopping tips and more. Even colorful shots of beautifully presented dishes can go a long way toward motivating folks to pay attention, branch out and try something new. Think of it as “word of mouth” for food.

“You are more apt to try a recipe or a new food when you see a picture of it and have a friend or person you trust recommend trying it or how to use it,” says Kathy Smart, RNC, Registered Holistic Nutritionist™, CEO of Live the Smart Way and author of the best-selling cookbook Live the Smart Way (Kathy Smart 2014). She lives in Ottawa, Ontario.

Seeing healthy food on social media makes nutrition more prominent in people’s lives. “With all the image-sharing—on Pinterest, Instagram, etc.—people see foods that look good and recipes they want to try. They may explore more in the kitchen because of it,” says Chris Mohr, PhD, RD, co-owner of Mohr Results in Louisville, Kentucky. “Or maybe they see a food or similar recipe that they haven’t tried in a while and are reminded of it.”

However, the key to success has less to do with which healthy foods you feature (e.g., bowl of fruit, breakfast recipe, restaurant meal) and more to do with how easy a dish is to make and how appetizing it looks to people scanning their social feeds. Your grilled salmon with kale might be delicious and nutritious, but if the photo you share on social doesn’t do it justice, it’ll register as just food on a plate. People will probably scroll right past it.

Make the visual message clear: Healthy food can be a culinary delight. “When foods look good, people are more likely to eat them or want to eat them,” says Mohr.

Creating posts that make people admire healthy food and want to taste it for themselves is certainly possible. After all, most nutritious food is naturally photogenic. “We eat with our eyes first,” says Smart. “Natural and healthy foods are often the most colorful, and those are the foods that make the most vibrant picture. If a food looks appetizing or colorful, we instinctively want to try it.”

Jim White, RDN, owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios in Virginia Beach, Virginia, says the right social posts can also tempt people to take a second look at foods they would normally bypass in the store or the kitchen. “Healthy foods like fruits and vegetables may not look appealing to [people who are] browsing through the grocery store,” says White. “But when they see a picture online of a meal made with [those same ingredients], it excites them more and catches their eye, leading them to want to try the food.”

One final note on food photography: While many social media users might start eating better as a result of seeing gorgeous food shots, others go a step further: They base meal selections on what they deem worthy of being published in their own social feeds. “People have become so obsessed with sharing pictures of their food on social media that they may choose a specific dish at a restaurant because of its ‘Instagram quality,’” says White. “People want to choose [a food that’s] more intricate, exciting or fancy so that they can share it on Instagram and get a lot of likes on it.” Score one for nutrition: A vibrant mixed-berry salad will always upstage a lopsided fast-food sundae—in both nutrients and visual appeal.

For tips on getting great food shots for social media, see the “Photographing Meals for Maximum Appeal” sidebar.

Sharing Recipes And Food Prep On Social Media

Photos are one way to spread nutrition messages on social media. However, many experts rely on video, slideshows and infographics as well, because these media allow you to share a recipe or demonstrate clever food-prep hacks in short, easy-to-implement tutorials.

“Every time I scroll down my Facebook newsfeed, I see a ‘Tasty’ video [from BuzzFeed],” says White. “These videos are short and visually attractive. They use pictures and very few words to get their recipe across. They are eye-catching, which I believe also makes people more interested in stopping to watch them. This ultimately convinces [people] to try the recipe.” Mohr agrees that videos make it easy to try out a recipe in an easy-to-consume format. “All the information is right there,” he says.

For the most part, advises Smart, you’ll want to keep your message simple. However, you can also relay more detailed nutrition information with the right medium. For Smart, Facebook’s live-streaming feature works well, allowing her to interact with viewers in real time. “The beauty of Facebook Live is that the video can be watched later, increasing the chances of the information being shared,” she says. This could expand your reach to new audiences. (For more about Facebook Live, see “Using Live Video to Promote Your Services” in the October 2016 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal.)

Other formats to try include photos or illustrations of food-portion sizes and infographics of recipes. These work on any of the social channels—Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. But Pinterest seems to be an especially effective space for this content.

“Pinterest provides lots of ideas for new ways to cook or prep food,” says White. “For example, I often see posts about prepping a salad and dividing it into containers for the week, or posts about freezing smoothie ingredients in separate bags so you can easily dump the bag in a blender, add liquid and blend, all in about 2 minutes.” It’s also easy to spread the message on Pinterest, as people re-pin content they like to their own Pinterest boards.

Finally, regardless of which post type or social platform you favor, consider what message(s) your audience will relate to the most. Mohr reminds us that sometimes it’s okay to feature foods that come across as more “real” and approachable to the average eater. “No one ever shares themselves around a plate of pizza, unless it has a cauliflower crust and 7,000 veggies on top,” he says. “Share some recipes that aren’t ‘perfect’ but still taste good.”

Your Nutrition Message Matters On Social Media

The internet is rife with messages about nutrition—some of them questionable at best. Use social media to amplify your own expert voice. People need it! “There’s no way for us to get rid of the things that inexperienced people are posting,” says White, “but we can post our own information and evidenced-based research and hope that people look at credentials when believing a source of information.”

Beyond the education, consider that social media is the perfect forum for sharing food-related content. After all, food is social; it’s a natural touch-point for bonding with others. “Food connects us all and has forever,” says Mohr. “Sharing pictures/videos on social media gives people that sense of connection without being together.”

Want more from Amanda Vogel?

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About the Author

Amanda Vogel, MA

Amanda Vogel, MA IDEA Author/Presenter

Amanda Vogel, MA human kinetics, is the owner of ActiveVoice.ca, a writing, editing and consulting service for the fitness industry. She’s a Hootsuite-certified social media consultant for fitness brands and public figures and a Fitness Technology Spokesperson for IDEA. Specializing in group fitness, Amanda holds indoor cycling certifications from Schwinn and Keiser. In addition to blogging at FitnessTestDrive.com about fit tech, workout gear and exercise clothes, she writes for popular magazines, including IDEA Fitness Journal, ACE Certified, Best Health and Reader’s Digest. Find her on social: @amandavogel on Twitter and @amandavogelfitness on Instagram.