A Healthier Gram: Assessment of Peer-to-Peer Influence in Healthy Behavior Social Media Engagement
Placht, James Arthur
University of Kansas
Health, Sport and Exercise Sciences
Copyright held by the author.
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The development of social media has quickly grabbed our global attention by finding innumerable ways for teens to communicate all over the world. However, as both adolescent mental and physical health continues to decline within this digital world, there is a need for research on effective measures of engagement on social media for health professionals and educators. The current study used two separate studies to explore how teens engage with content on social media and the role health messaging plays within their social media experience. The first study aimed to understand how adolescents respond to health behavior information conveyed to them by their peers as opposed to an individual in a position of authority, such as a physician, educator, or administrator. The goal of this study was to understand if peer-messaging is an effective measure of education on social media platforms. A student group from a high school in the Lawrence, Kansas area developed the peer messages that would be shared on the two separate Instagram pages in two different high school populations. These Instagram accounts were analyzed using the Instagram analytical data provided by Instagram to gather the descriptive information. The peer-led account saw a higher level of reach, impressions, following, and engagement than the educator-led account. The second study aimed to fill an even greater gap specifically using qualitative research. Focus groups were utilized to explore how teens use social media, what content they find most engaging, and the role health plays in their social media experience. Three focus groups with 14 participants were conducted using two cofacilitators. Manual open coding was used to analyze the focus group transcriptions and generate five major themes. These major themes are: The Social Media Experience for Teens, Marketing and Influencer Impact, Uses of Instagram, Future Efforts using Instagram for Health Messaging, and Ideal Content for Teens: What to Promote and Avoid. Additional subtheme areas were recognized to further code participant responses in greater detail with consistent quotes from participants. The data that was collected was then utilized to inform future recommendations. The recommendations include: implement social media studies with large followings, a deeper dive into celebrity influences, more diverse demographics, exploring preference in social media use, additional exploration of peer-led social media and the potential to influence health, additional exploration of user-generated content in health education, targeted education to distinguish valid and reliable health information, and emphasis on peer-led social media health campaigns. The data provided through both the quantitative and qualitative research can be used to further understand the complexity of the adolescent social media experience and its role in health education. A greater understanding can be used to inform health educators to effectively engage pupils when using social media as an educational platform.
- Theses 
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