Background: Electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) use has increased in the United States, leading to active debate in the public health sphere regarding e-cigarette use and regulation. To better understand trends in e-cigarette attitudes and behaviors, public health and communication professionals can turn to the dialogue taking place on popular social media platforms such as Twitter.
Objective: The objective of this study was to conduct a content analysis to identify key conversation trends and patterns over time using historical Twitter data.
Methods: A 5-category content analysis was conducted on a random sample of tweets chosen from all publicly available tweets sent between May 1, 2013, and April 30, 2014, that matched strategic keywords related to e-cigarettes. Relevant tweets were isolated from the random sample of approximately 10,000 tweets and classified according to sentiment, user description, genre, and theme. Descriptive analyses including univariate and bivariate associations, as well as correlation analyses were performed on all categories in order to identify patterns and trends.
Results: The analysis revealed an increase in e-cigarette-related tweets from May 2013 through April 2014, with tweets generally being positive; 71% of the sample tweets were classified as having a positive sentiment. The top two user categories were everyday people (65%) and individuals who are part of the e-cigarette community movement (16%). These two user groups were responsible for a majority of informational (79%) and news tweets (75%), compared to reputable news sources and foundations or organizations, which combined provided 5% of informational tweets and 12% of news tweets. Personal opinion (28%), marketing (21%), and first person e-cigarette use or intent (20%) were the three most common genres of tweets, which tended to have a positive sentiment. Marketing was the most common theme (26%), and policy and government was the second most common theme (20%), with 86% of these tweets coming from everyday people and the e-cigarette community movement combined, compared to 5% of policy and government tweets coming from government, reputable news sources, and foundations or organizations combined.
Conclusions: Everyday people and the e-cigarette community are dominant forces across several genres and themes, warranting continued monitoring to understand trends and their implications regarding public opinion, e-cigarette use, and smoking cessation. Analyzing social media trends is a meaningful way to inform public health practitioners of current sentiments regarding e-cigarettes, and this study contributes a replicable methodology.
Keywords: Twitter; content analysis; e-cigarettes; social media.