Abstract: What do Social Media Influencers Say about Health in China? A Theory-Driven Content Analysis of Top 10 Influencers on Sina Weibo

◆ Wenxue Zou, Texas A&M University
◆ Wanjiang Jacob Zhang, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
◆ Lu Tang, Texas A&M University

Background: Social media influencers are micro-celebrities equipped to disseminate information to their huge numbers of followers (Senft, 2008). They play an essential role in communicating health information as well as misinformation to the public. This paper examines the contents of the top ten health influencers on Sina Weibo, a microblog site in China equivalent to Twitter with over 462 million users. Guided by the Extended Parallel Processing Model (EPPM) (Witte, 1992), we ask the following research questions: 1) What kinds of health-related topics are communicated by leading health influencers on Sina Weibo (in terms of different diseases, risk factors, and benefits) and 2) To what extent do these posts display threat appraisal (severity and susceptibility) and efficacy appraisal (self-efficacy and response efficacy)?

Method: First, we used purposive sampling and downloaded all posts of top 10 health influencers as recognized by Sina Weibo published between January 1st, 2018 and October 1st, 2019 (n=93,568). Next, systematic random sampling method was used to collect 100 posts from each account, which comprised 731 posts after excluding posts unrelated to health. Codebook included demographic information of these posts, health topics and EPPM constructs. All the coding categories reached relatively high intercoder reliability (k ranges between .72 and .97). Data analysis involved a series of basic frequency analysis.

Results: In terms of health topics, only 45% posts were related to specific diseases, among which female reproduction-related diseases (n=78, 10.9%) were most often mentioned, followed by cancer (n=48, 6.7%) and dermatological conditions (n=45, 6.3%). Meanwhile, risks associated with cosmetic procedures (n=91, 12.8%) and risks associated with pregnancy (n=70, 9.8%) were most frequently discussed. With regard to benefits, benefits of beauty and cosmetic products (n=79, 11.1%) as well as healthy diet and nutrition (n=59, 8.3%) got the most coverage. When it came to EPPM constructs, both severity (n=220, 30.9%) and susceptibility (n=116, 16.3%) seldom appeared in health messages while 64.7% posts involved self-efficacy, response efficacy or both (n=479).

Discussion: Overall, women's health was the most dominant topic discussed by the leading health influencers on Weibo. The results showed that female reproduction-related disease, beauty-related risks and benefits occupied the majority of health topics. Women appear to be the primary target of health influencers. Moreover, most posts included messages about individual efficacy and response efficacy while severity and susceptibility gained limited exposures in health messages. It is vital for practitioners to design more effective health messages that has the potential to be translated to behavior changes. Last but not the least, satisfying the needs of different populations demands relatively equal allocation of diverse sorts of health messages.