Should You Give Medical Advice as a Health Brand?
We’ve all heard the horror stories – customers taking medical advice from obscure sources and winding up with green finger nails, or worse. It happens more often than it should, particularly with celebrities. Giving advice in a social media advertising campaign is how a lot of stars get paid (Kim Kardashian is rumored to make upwards of $200,000 for mentioning a product on Instagram). But sometimes the product’s credibility is overlooked and the advice is, frankly, ill-advised. Dr. Oz, for example, has been under legal investigation numerous times for advertising potentially harmful weight loss supplements on his show.
“The scientific community is almost monolithic against you in terms of the efficacy of the three products [he] called ‘miracles,'” consumer protection panel Chairman Claire McCaskill said at his hearing. “I get that [he does] a lot of good on the show, but I don’t get why [he needs] to say this stuff because it’s not true.”
The latest celebrity to come under fire for publicly pushing harmful products is Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle blog Goop. The site offers all sorts of advice from the latest fashion trends where you should vacation next, how to get your zen on at work, and most recently, how to stay healthy.
A few weeks ago, the popular blog posted an article on why consumers should include iodine supplements into their daily wellness routine. The article is in the form of a Q&A with “Medical Medium” Anthony Williams, whose bio says he “famously gets to the bottom of his patients’ misunderstood illnesses and helps them heal using wisdom passed on to him from a divine voice he calls Spirit,” and that his work is “several decades ahead of scientific discovery.”
Doctors didn’t like the article very much. It turns out, iodine is a highly debated mineral in the medical industry, but the conclusion seems to be like many others when it comes to health: whether it’s good for the body really depends on each individual.
But we’re not here to set the record straight because – surprise – we’re not doctors either. Here’s our point:
If you’re going to position yourself as an industry go-to for information, you have to accept that responsibility. Make sure what you’re putting out there for people to read is just that: Information.
So how do you know what sources are credible as you research? That, we do have the answer to.
How to know when a source is credible
When beginning your research for a new blog post or article, start by asking yourself the following questions about your sources.
Where was the source published?
Is the original source only online? This isn’t necessarily bad, but it does require a bit more homework. For example, if you see a statistic you’d like to include in your article on your favorite blog, follow the source they linked. And then follow that one. And then the next… all the way back to its original study, if you can. Do you trust that original study’s validity?
Who wrote it?
To know if you trust the study, you must understand who created it. Remember in the 9th grade, when your teacher told you, “there is information to prove anything you want”? Well, it’s true. You can find information to back up any viewpoint. What you’re looking for are sources that aren’t interested in any particular outcome. Unbiased. Generally speaking, studies published by accredited schools, the government, or market research companies are a pretty safe bet.
Is the piece timely and still relevant?
Was this piece written in the last two years? In the health industry, things move fast, and more and more information is being gathered every day. Make sure that whatever information you’re quoting is still true before you post it!
What will you use the source for?
If you consider all this and determine a direct quote or stat (referred to as a ‘secondary text’) may not be the way to go, it doesn’t mean the article or study is useless to you. When you read an article as research, that’s called a ‘primary text’. Basically, it means that you read and analyzed the piece for your own understanding before writing your own article. There is still great value in this. The more information and perspectives, the better!