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Issue addressed: Social networking sites (SNS) are increasingly popular platforms for health promotion. Advancements in SNS health promotion require quality evidence; however, interventions are often not formally evaluated. This study aims to describe evaluation practices used in SNS health promotion.
Methods: A systematic review was undertaken of Medline, PsycINFO, Scopus, EMBASE, CINAHL Plus, Communication and Mass Media Complete, and Cochrane Library databases. Articles published between 2006 and 2013 describing any health promotion intervention delivered using SNS were included.
Results: Forty-seven studies were included. There were two main evaluation approaches: closed designs (n = 23), which used traditional research designs and formal recruitment procedures; and open designs (n = 19), which evaluated the intervention in a real-world setting, allowing unknown SNS users to interact with the content without enrolling in research. Closed designs were unable to assess reach and engagement beyond their research sample. Open designs often relied on weaker study designs with no use of objective outcome measures and yielded low response rates.
Conclusions: Barriers to evaluation included low participation rates, high attrition, unknown representativeness and lack of comparison groups. Acceptability was typically assessed among those engaged with the intervention, with limited population data available to accurately assess intervention reach. Few studies were able to assess uptake of the intervention in a real-life setting while simultaneously assessing effectiveness of interventions with research rigour.