How many contradictory posts on wellness have you seen in the past week? It can be hard to decipher what you should believe online, but Sarah Greenidge’s WellSpoken is a trailblazer for truth and credibility across the industry
What would you say if your boss told you to bend the truth? Or that blurring the lines of what you could and couldn’t say was OK? For Sarah Greenidge, this situation came up while consulting for a consumer health PR firm...
“I was really shocked, stunned, at what could be said at a consumer health level,” she says.
Sarah’s concerns were raised when she was asked to cast an eye over a campaign. “I remember giving it back with red marks, noting there were a lot of things that couldn’t, or shouldn’t, be said, and was met with a response of: ‘This is health and wellness, so it’s different. We don’t have to be so stringent.’”
To address this shocking state of fact and fiction, Sarah had the idea for WellSpoken – an independent authority providing a code of practice to ensure consumers could get credible, evidence-based information on nutrition and wellness.
Having worked in healthcare, medical communications, and regulations, Sarah had the knowledge and experience, so her first step was to get to grips with exactly what the main issues were. After a year-long journey, she realised two main things…
“There wasn’t enough infrastructure, regulation, or standardisation in place when it comes to dealing with something that’s inappropriate,” Sarah says. “Unfortunately that’s still the case, unless you breach the advertising rules, but you can put out some really dodgy information and there’s no repercussions, apart from a bit of backlash.
“The second thing is, I asked five CEOs what credibility and wellness meant to them, and I got some smashing answers – but they were all different,” Sarah says. “We don’t have a standard way of keeping our communications credible.”
So, by working with the University of Barcelona and the University of Sheffield, WellSpoken developed a framework. It offers accreditation and the WellSpoken Mark, to ensure consumers can find trustworthy information, and that those providing it are sharing authentic, reliable, and evidence-based content.
It’s an important step forward. Given that the worldwide wellness industry is worth 4.2 trillion dollars, it’s big business. But WellSpoken isn’t just about calling out misinformation. It’s also about supporting and developing credible – and incredible – content.
And it’s also important we move with the times. The way we’re consuming information is changing, so it’s not just the big brands that need to be aware of the impact they’re having.
“Often the way influencers make money is by being an ambassador,” Sarah explains, “or by being paid to share content about products. If you’re not experienced in that field, you might end up promoting something you wouldn’t ordinarily, and it’s not maliciously done.”
You may have seen the video clips from an undercover BBC3 series, exposing this very issue. Influencers, including Lauren Goodger, were filmed agreeing to promote a fake product called Cyanora, without questioning the poisonous ingredient hydrogen cyanide.
Part of WellSpoken’s work has involved researching the impact of influencer behaviour, by analysing more than 3,500 health and wellness influencers, and offering them data, and even guidance on pricing, for posts.
But there’s still more work to be done, Sarah insists. “We’re looking at the psychology behind the influencer-follower relationship – how ‘followers’ interact with those they follow, and how this might cause them to drop their guard.
“For example, if they read information in an article by an unknown author, they would be more likely to park that. But when that same information comes from someone they’ve put their trust in, they are more open to receive and act upon it – so influencer’s can have even more responsibility than a brand, in a way.”
With that responsibility, WellSpoken suggests the following four tenets every content producer should abide by. “We use SOBI. S stands for substantiation – making sure you can reference research and, where it’s personal opinion, showing that really clearly. O is is making sure you’re not out of remit. B is balance. And I is for incomplete – not leaving out vital information.”
It’s an approach she hopes many in the wellness industry will adopt moving forwards.