Message matters: The persuasive impact of health blogs

Health-focused blogs and journals can have a positive impact on patients, but they're much more effective when written in non-narrative form by authors to whom readers can relate, according to a new study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

Author Amy Shirong Lu, Ph.D., of Northwestern University, set out to examine how message type and source similarity--the number of shared characteristics between writer and readers--persuade readers to adopt a specific health behavior, such as running for exercise.

"Suppose a young man has been recently diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes," Shirong wrote. "His doctor says that the diabetes could be managed if he adopts a healthy diet. The doctor also recommends a smartphone app that, after collecting personal information, automatically retrieves blogs written by other bloggers who are making healthier diet transitions. Suppose the app would select a blog for each reader, would the blog message in the form of personal stories (narrative) or step-by-step instructions (didactic) be more helpful? What kind of blogger would be the most effective in helping this young man achieve his goals?"

Before-and-after questionnaires showed that the source similarity effect was stronger for non-narrative blogs and that health-related similarities between the reader and the source had greater persuasive impact. When blogs are engaging narratives, readers may be already involved and may not "scrutinize the messages or evaluate the relatedness of source similarities," as much as those nonnarrative blog readers, having less of an effect on their health behaviors, according to the study.

In June, JMIR found that online health communities, including blogs, can be powerful tools for addressing chronic care issues.  

To learn more:
- read the JMIR study

Related Articles:
5 steps to engage patients in their healthcare data
Social media, online access creating a 'perfect storm' in healthcare
Bipartisan Policy Center: Online tools key to patient engagement

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