If you tweet about breastfeeding, you’ve met Fleur! With 4,000+ followers and an active Facebook page, Fleur Bickford is a top influencer for lactating mamas. She’ll be spreading her genius next week at ILCA, speaking on using social media to promote, protect and support breastfeeding.
Since she – like many of us! – is not a digital native, I wanted to learn more about what inspired her to devote her considerable knowledge as an RN, IBCLC, and past La Leche League leader to engaging with mothers around evidence–based breastfeeding information. (Foreshadowing: Fleur is all about *engagement* – listening to and learning from moms.) I also wanted to glean a few tips for those of us who (sniff) won’t be at ILCA this year. We chatted over anymeeting.com (check it out – free and easy to use) – her in Ottawa, Canada and me in Ithaca, New York – earlier this week:
BirthSwell: What was the turning point for you that made you realize the impact of social media?
Fleur: I was on bedrest during my pregnancy with with my son, I had preeclampsia and premature contractions, with two months of being bored and having to stay quiet! I spent a lot of time on the Mothering message boards. I connected with a lot moms, and I liked it as a way to help other moms. Before and after my son’s birth, I also had a few miscarriages. Being able to connect with other mothers who had experienced loss, was a big source of support for me. I had personally seen the impact that social media could have. It was very natural to just continue with it.
When I started my practice as an IBCLC, I was looking for ways to market myself, but also to disseminate some of the knowledge I had gained. We all know how much misinformation is out there. Social media seemed like such a natural way to spread good information.
BirthSwell: Share your favorite story of how a mother was helped through social media.
Fleur: I had been tweeting about birth, and how if doesn’t go the way you planned, it is important to give yourself the opportunity to grieve.
A mom sent me a tweet, said she had really been struggling. She was plagued with guilt and what-ifs. She told me that knowing that she wasn’t alone really helped her. For me, it was a simple thing – putting out a few tweets. But it really meant a lot to this mom. Social media helps mothers know they are not alone.
BirthSwell: How is social media changing the relationship between care providers and mothers?
Fleur: It is very difficult for people to go against what their doctor tells them. That is not necessarily the best thing for health care. We want people involved in their care, we want people interacting with their provider. Having professionals online helps with increasing the interactions, and helping mothers see that doctors are human and don’t have all the answers. Get that engagement! It is such a good way to encourage people to take charge of the health of their family.
BirthSwell: And how about policy change?
Fleur: Evenflo came out with what was supposed to be a marketing video, but it played on every stereotype and fear about breastfeeding. There was a huge outcry on social media and it was pulled quite quickly. It demonstrates the power of social media to affect change and make a difference.
BirthSwell: You are now a top resource for women in social media on breastfeeding – how did you learn your social media skills?
Fleur: Some of it was my own experiences of playing around when I was pregnant. Some of it I have gotten from reading, from articles and posts on-line. I loved the book Unmarketing by Scott Stratton – it has a common sense approach that is very readable.
But honestly, it was really about jumping in and seeing where it went! On Twitter, for example, I just started following a few people – Scott Stratton, for instance. I really learned by being there. Some of it was by making mistakes. I’m hoping with my talk I can share some of what I’ve learned and help others to avoid those pitfalls!
BirthSwell: In your personal experience, as a mother, a RN, and an IBCLC, do you feel like you see a lot of misinformation about breastfeeding in social media? How do mothers handle it?
Fleur: There’s nothing new about mothers talking to others mothers and sharing information. That is wonderful, mother to mother support is so important. Of course, on social media, there’s the potential for misinformation to be shared on a broader scale. Yes, I’ve seen misinformation shared. It depends on the outlet. On message boards such as Mothering.com, there is much less misinformation. On mainstream boards, you certainly do see misinformation. But we always have to remember, mothers are sharing what worked for them. This could happen anywhere – in social media, or a La Leche League meeting, or wherever moms are talking and sharing.
BirthSwell: What can we as birth and breastfeeding professionals do about misinformation in social media?
One of the things that I love about social media is that it allows me to listen to what is happening and what misinformation is out there. I can listen to what myths are very prevalent. What information are mums getting and what is the source? Mums are still really going on about foremilk/hindmilk – how can we find a way to address that? What can I put into a blog post to spread accurate information? I find that writing a blog post, [editor’s note: read Fleur on hindmilk here] and then using social media to disseminate it, to be one of the best uses of my time to help get more accurate information out there.
BirthSwell: How has your social media work impacted your private practice?
Fleur: It is helpful for marketing. I have had a number of clients who found me through Facebook and Twitter. The feedback I get from mums is also very helpful. It may change the way I talk about a certain situation.
One big impact is the professional networking aspect. Social media means being able to have quick and easy access to a big group of peers. It is a great way to get peer feedback, learn from one another, get information about managing a private practice, etc. It is fantastic to be able to connect with other lactation consultants in not just in your area but around the world.
BirthSwell: If a birth or breastfeeding professional told you they wanted to learn about social media, but didn’t know where to start, what would you tell them?
Fleur: I would tell them to take one platform and start with that – a lot of lactation consultants are probably already using Facebook. Set up a page for your practice. There are plenty of how-to guides that are freely available. Jump in! Some people will find it is not for them, others will really enjoy it. There’s often some hesitation about connecting with moms online. You may want to start by connecting with other LCs, use it for professional networking first.
You don’t have to be using social media to interact with moms to benefit from it. You can benefit from monitoring social media. Just by paying attention to the conversations that are happening, you can learn what are moms talking about. Use social media as a way to find out what is needed.
BirthSwell: Let me be the devil’s advocate: if you are so into social media, why attend in-real-life conferences like ILCA?
Fleur: It is always different, interacting online and in-person. Social media can make it more fun. Going to the ILCA conference – I’m going for the first time, and there are all of these friends I am seeing for the first time. But we have already started the relationship and have gotten to know one another on social media! It makes it much less intimidating.
BirthSwell: What do you think is the most important thing for birth and breastfeeding professionals to know about social media?
Fleur: Social media is really about engaging. It is not about just shooting out information!