Health communication and the diabetes narratives of social media influencers in the UK


Health communication is essential in promoting healthy lifestyles and preventing unhealthy behaviours. Various studies show that people are more likely to search on social media than to see their doctors when having health problems(Hesse et al., 2005; Whitten et al., 2005, Ziebland et al., 2004), and more motivated and proactive in virtual interactive conditions to gain emotional support and manage their illness (Whitehead, 2001; Hwang et al., 2010; Takahashi et al., 2009; Sanford, 2010). Thus, a special group of active social media users (influencers), who may not be medical professionals but use social platforms to share personal health experiences or disseminate health information, start playing a pivotal role in providing health ‘solutions’ and even facilitating health promotion (Moreno et al., 2015; Fox, 2011; McCoarcia, 2019; Burke-Garcia, 2019); such individuals are often referred to as “influencers” because of the persuasive effect their actions may have on audiences (Khamis et al., 2017; Fox, 2011; Freberget al., 2011; Guldbrandsson et al., 2012). The narrative is a basic mode of human interaction, which can be an effective means of communicating health-related information (Hinyard and Kreuter, 2007; Kreuter et al., 2007). Studies show that the use of narrative can result in positive health outcomes (Dunlop et al., 2010; Kim et al., 2012; Moyer-Guse & Nabi, 2011; Murphy et al., 2011). However, there is no work on the impact of narratives shared by influencers on other people’s health attitudes and behaviours.

The main aim of this study is to investigate the diabetes narratives presented by social media influencers (SMIs) in the UK because of the new dimension they bring to health communication and the potential impact they may have on audiences’ health outcomes. This paper will present the background literature, an explanation of the conceptual and theoretical framework and the proposed research methods for the study.