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This article documents the emergence of social media, and specifically social network sites (SNS) and their impact on health information–seeking and health-related behaviors. We review surveys of user behavior on SNS to document how health information is being transformed into a social health experience rather than an individual or clinical endeavor. We then turn to the research evidence for how SNS may influence health behaviors. Although there is a substantial literature that provides support for the role of social variables in the genesis and management of health and disease, there is little scientific grounding for how to leverage these variables to improve health in either online or offline milieus. We conclude with recommendations for practice to optimize the use of social media and its contribution to improved health outcomes, and pose a series of questions that may guide the development of a research agenda in this area.
The technological innovations of blogs, podcasts, interactive media, and SNS have enabled many people to create, post, and share their own messages and content by using a variety of digital social communication tools and platforms. People and organizations can now quickly create and deliver content through more interactive Web sites and online communities where, for example, people with medical conditions can seek, give, and receive advice from other patients and healthcare providers.1,2 New communication technologies and the emergence of what has been dubbed Web 2.0 are providing the opportunity for health professionals and patients alike to engage with 1 another, their peers, friends, and families in ways unimaginable just a few years ago. The speed and scale of adoption of social media is changing the way we think about and communicate with people formerly known as audiences and the way doctors and patients interact,2,3 bringing about a new social health experience. Yet, these social media and interactive elements have been poorly integrated into many health-related Web sites, for example, those dedicated to tobacco control.4