Social networking sites for sexual health promotion: a review

In recent years, online social networking sites have grown rapidly in popularity. The popularity of these sites, along with the interactive functions, offer a novel environment in which to deliver health promotion messages.

The aim of this study is to identify strategies for success in the delivery of health promotion messages via online social networking sites. In particular, the objective is to better understand the content, features and approaches that successfully encourage social engagement on these websites.


We began by systematically searching the internet for instances in which social networking sites were being used for sexual health promotion. The results of this search were published in 2011 here, and the results are described in detail below. In brief, we found that many organisations are already using social networking sites for health promotion, however there is very little scientific literature evaluating the success of these projects.

To follow on from last year’s study, we collected further quantitative data over a one-month period from the active Facebook and Twitter profiles in order to evaluate:

  • their reach - how many people they are delivering their message to;
  • their activity - how active they are on the social networking websites; and
  • the level of engagement amongst their users.

We ranked all sites based on these quantitative measures and came up with the ‘Top Ten’ sites that have been most successful in reaching and engaging audiences. Content of the ‘Top Ten’ successful Twitter and Facebook profiles were then analysed and compared with poorly-performing sites.

Currently, we are in the process of contacting the organisations that run the ‘Top Ten’ sites directly in order to gain further insight into key strategies to successfully reach and engage users.


Results from the first part of the project include:

  • One hundred and seventy eight sexual health promotion activities met the inclusion criteria and were included in the review
  • Only one activity was identified through a traditional systematic search of the published scientific literature
  • Activities most commonly used one online social networking site, were conducted by not-for-profit organisations, targeted young people and involved information delivery
  • Facebook was the most commonly used social networking site (used by 71 percent of all health promotion activities identified), followed by MySpace and Twitter
  • Seventy nine percent of activities on MySpace were considered inactive as there had been no online posts within the past month, compared to 22 percent of activities using Facebook and 14 percent of activities using Twitter
  • The number of end-users and posts in the last seven days varied greatly between health promotion activities.

Results from the second part of the project include:

  • Strategies associated with having a large and active user base include: multiple posts per day by the organisation; direct engagement with users; and encouraging interaction and conversation by posing questions
  • Making content broadly relevant and engaging, and posting time-relevant content also appears to be important for success

We hope that with further feedback from the successful Facebook and Twitter profiles, we will be able to specify clear strategies that will help organisations successfully use online social networking sites to reach and engage audiences for sexual health promotion. It this way, social networking sites have huge potential to support existing sexual health promotion activities or to exist as stand-alone initiatives to promote healthy behaviour and improved sexual health.



Contact Details

For any general enquiries relating to this project, please contact:

Professor Margaret Hellard AM

Deputy Director (Programs); Adjunct Professor, Monash University, DEPM.




[email protected]