Being Part of the Consumer’s Community
Posted by Hannah Taylor
Because I don’t yet work as a technical communicator, I mainly approach technical communication as a health consumer. I have multiple sclerosis (MS), an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks the brain and spine, causing weakness, fatigue, and other symptoms. Living with MS, I was frustrated by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s outreach efforts. I felt it focused on fundraising and new drug treatments, none of which had helped me. As a health consumer, I wanted results I could see.
In January 2012, my cousin posted Dr. Terry Wahls’s TEDx talk on Facebook. Wahls stands for 17 minutes, explaining how changing her diet changed the course of her MS. She demonstrated how she started out in a tilt-recline wheelchair and transitioned to walking without a cane and riding a bike in less than a year. She credited this change to eliminating grains, legumes, and dairy and eating great amounts of vegetables rich in sulfur and phytonutrients, along with high-quality animal protein.
YouTube allowed Wahls to reach millions of people with autoimmune disease, including me. Because of social media, I changed my diet and started using electrical stimulation on my muscles. I bought Wahls’s book and googled the Paleo diet. With YouTube, Wahls achieved an element of what Verzosa Hurley & Kimme Hea (2014, p. 61) and Pearson (2011, p. 5) called reach. She found me, a customer for her book, before I knew I was her customer. She persuaded me to change my diet and lifestyle. And although I didn’t stop needing a walker, her diet helped me greatly reduce my fatigue and alleviated many other symptoms.
Though she had social media accounts on Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube, Wahls rarely posted or commented on social media. (In fairness, she’s busy practicing medicine, running her foundation, and conducting clinical trials on diet and MS.) But she didn’t become part of my life.
After I started the Wahls Protocol, I enjoyed so many health improvements that I resolved to stick with the diet and eliminate other potentially inflammatory foods. With Google, I found Sarah Ballantyne, a medical biophysicist, at www.thepaleomom.com. She had improved her own autoimmune disease and lost over 100 pounds after changing her diet. She wrote about the Autoimmune Protocol, a diet similar to the Wahls Protocol. The Autoimmune Protocol further eliminates eggs, nuts, seeds, nightshades, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
Ballantyne maintained active social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube, and iTunes. She posted original recipes and linked to others. She hosted guest bloggers on her website. She guest-blogged on other bloggers’ sites and appeared on their podcasts. She updated her blog frequently with original scientific papers and always posted links on social media. She started a podcast with Stacy Toth of www.paleoparents.com. She started a cooking TV show. She went on a book tour and met me!
By creating content and giving other writers a forum on her podcast and website, Ballantyne contributed to the community of health consumers looking to improve their health with her diet, and she became part of their lives. She created a following and increased her visibility, as Verzosa Hurley & Kimme Hea (2014, p. 65) and Pearson (2011, p. 5) put it. She reached this consumer in a way that the National Multiple Sclerosis Society didn’t.
Pearson, B. (2011). Pre-commerce: How companies and customers are transforming business together. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Verzosa Hurley, E. & Kimme Hea, A. C. (2014). The rhetoric of reach: Preparing students for tech comm in the age of social media. Technical Communication Quarterly, 23:1, 55–68. doi: 10.1080/10572252.2014.850854
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