Background: Given the rapid changes in the communication landscape brought about by participative Internet use and social media, it is important to develop a better understanding of these technologies and their impact on health communication. The first step in this effort is to identify the characteristics of current social media users. Up-to-date reporting of current social media use will help monitor the growth of social media and inform health promotion/communication efforts aiming to effectively utilize social media.
Objective: The purpose of the study is to identify the sociodemographic and health-related factors associated with current adult social media users in the United States.
Methods: Data came from the 2007 iteration of the Health Information National Trends Study (HINTS, N = 7674). HINTS is a nationally representative cross-sectional survey on health-related communication trends and practices. Survey respondents who reported having accessed the Internet (N = 5078) were asked whether, over the past year, they had (1) participated in an online support group, (2) written in a blog, (3) visited a social networking site. Bivariate and multivariate logistic regression analyses were conducted to identify predictors of each type of social media use.
Results: Approximately 69% of US adults reported having access to the Internet in 2007. Among Internet users, 5% participated in an online support group, 7% reported blogging, and 23% used a social networking site. Multivariate analysis found that younger age was the only significant predictor of blogging and social networking site participation; a statistically significant linear relationship was observed, with younger categories reporting more frequent use. Younger age, poorer subjective health, and a personal cancer experience predicted support group participation. In general, social media are penetrating the US population independent of education, race/ethnicity, or health care access.
Conclusions: Recent growth of social media is not uniformly distributed across age groups; therefore, health communication programs utilizing social media must first consider the age of the targeted population to help ensure that messages reach the intended audience. While racial/ethnic and health status-related disparities exist in Internet access, among those with Internet access, these characteristics do not affect social media use. This finding suggests that the new technologies, represented by social media, may be changing the communication pattern throughout the United States.