The use of social media can have a significant impact on health care communication, according to new research at University of California at Merced.
Graduate student Holly Rus has taken the lead on a new study that analyzes how health-related Facebook posts influence and connect with readers.
For her project, Rus took a look at the 10 most popular diabetes support Facebook pages based on “likes.” She collected the 50 most recent posts from each page and measured how many users liked, shared and engaged in the post.
The long-term goal, Rus explained, is to understand if information shared on social media has an effect on health behaviors — in this case, if it would impact people’s diabetes-management skills.
“The great thing about this is that the data already exists, but no one’s looked at how it works,” Rus said.
The study found that posts with images were more likely to be shared and liked than posts without images. But posts with videos and external links usually resulted in fewer likes and shares.
Rus’ study also found that posts soliciting input received more comments than those without, and posts with negative emotions, such as frustration over diagnosis, collected more comments than posts with a positive emotion.
Rus conducted the study alongside UC Merced professor Linda Cameron. The professor’s work focuses on health communications and psychosocial interventions specifically for individuals who have or are at risk for illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
Cameron said Rus’ research is important because social media is increasingly becoming a resource in health communication.
With social media advancing so quickly, she said, it is becoming a go-to platform for patients to collect information. According to her, the next step would be to figure out how to use the data to improve health behaviors and health care.
Last month, Rus traveled to San Antonio to present her findings at the 36th annual meeting and Scientific Sessions of the Society of Behavioral Medicine. Her submission earned two awards and sparked conversation among the audience, she said.
Rus said it was her first time presenting at a conference and was pleased to see the interest in her work. An enlarged version of Rus’ research abstract, or summary, was on display at the San Antonio Marriott Rivercenter.
Rus and Cameron said they hope to eventually set up a social experiment in which they take a look at how people engage with tailored messages on social media.