Health promotion organizations are increasingly embracing social media technologies to engage end users in a more interactive way and to widely disseminate their messages with the aim of improving health outcomes. However, such technologies are still in their early stages of development and, thus, evidence of their efficacy is limited.
The study aimed to provide a current overview of the evidence surrounding consumer-use social media and mobile software apps for health promotion interventions, with a particular focus on the Australian context and on health promotion targeted toward an Indigenous audience. Specifically, our research questions were: (1) What is the peer-reviewed evidence of benefit for social media and mobile technologies used in health promotion, intervention, self-management, and health service delivery, with regard to smoking cessation, sexual health, and otitis media? and (2) What social media and mobile software have been used in Indigenous-focused health promotion interventions in Australia with respect to smoking cessation, sexual health, or otitis media, and what is the evidence of their effectiveness and benefit?
We conducted a scoping study of peer-reviewed evidence for the effectiveness of social media and mobile technologies in health promotion (globally) with respect to smoking cessation, sexual health, and otitis media. A scoping review was also conducted for Australian uses of social media to reach Indigenous Australians and mobile apps produced by Australian health bodies, again with respect to these three areas.
The review identified 17 intervention studies and seven systematic reviews that met inclusion criteria, which showed limited evidence of benefit from these interventions. We also found five Australian projects with significant social media health components targeting the Indigenous Australian population for health promotion purposes, and four mobile software apps that met inclusion criteria. No evidence of benefit was found for these projects.
Although social media technologies have the unique capacity to reach Indigenous Australians as well as other underserved populations because of their wide and instant disseminability, evidence of their capacity to do so is limited. Current interventions are neither evidence-based nor widely adopted. Health promotion organizations need to gain a more thorough understanding of their technologies, who engages with them, why they engage with them, and how, in order to be able to create successful social media projects.