What Are PWDs (People With Diabetes) Doing Online? A Netnographic Analysis

J Diabetes Sci Technol. 2019 Mar;13(2):187-197. doi: 10.1177/1932296818813192. Epub 2018 Nov 27.


Background: Social media have become a crucial channel for patient empowerment and peer support. New qualitative research underscores the fact that this "support" transcends mental health concerns, to actually provide patients with important practical tips and tricks for diabetes self-care, and product selection/decision-making information from peers.

Methods: Netnography is an emerging methodology that applies an ethnographic research approach to studying activity on the social web. Researchers embed themselves in the online environment to take an observational "deep dive" into online conversations to identify themes, sentiments, and perceptions. Using this methodology in summer 2017, a team of researchers captured and analyzed hundreds of diabetes-related posts on prominent platforms Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, Reddit, and Quora.

Results: Our team identified 6 major trends, or "life themes," in diabetes patient social media, providing insights into patient sentiments and needs. A topology of social media channels emerged, indicating which platforms are used most often for each life theme.

Conclusions: Findings indicate that social media provides a significant source not only of moral support and camaraderie, but also critical education on thriving with diabetes. Importantly, we observed strong evidence of peer influence on patients' therapy and diabetes technology purchasing decisions.

Keywords: diabetes online community; diabetes technology; patient education; patient engagement; peer support; social media.

Publication types

  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Attitude to Computers
  • Cost of Illness
  • Diabetes Mellitus / diagnosis
  • Diabetes Mellitus / psychology
  • Diabetes Mellitus / therapy*
  • Emotions
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Online Social Networking*
  • Patient Participation*
  • Peer Influence*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Social Media*
  • Social Support*