Opinion Leaders for Health: Formative Research with Bloggers about Health Information Dissemination

Amelia Burke-Garcia

Major Professor: Kevin B Wright, PhD, Department of Communication

Committee Members: Gary L. Kreps, Xiaoquan Zhao, Nan Zhang

The Hub, VIP II
November 21, 2017, 09:30 AM to 11:30 AM


The area of opinion leadership is a concept found in a number of health promotion models, theories, and frameworks (Valente & Pumpuang, 2007), and it has received a substantial amount of empirical and theoretical attention by social scientists over the last 20 years (Valente & Davis, 1999). Most empirical research in this area has found that opinion leaders can be used to gain support for and implement health promotion programs in local communities (Valente & Pumpuang, 2007). With the advent of the Internet, individuals from all walks of life can have access to more information, access it more quickly, and have it curated through the online channels they trust. As more and more interactions take place online, interest in how opinion leaders have migrated online is increasing among a number of interdisciplinary researchers, including those within the communication discipline (Kavanaugh et al., 2006; Dubois & Gaffney, 2014; Song, Chi, Hino & Tseng, 2007; Bodendorf & Kaiser, 2009; Nisbet & Kotcher, 2009). Yet, empirical research into the roles these online layperson opinion leaders play in health promotion remains scarce (Sundar, Edwards, Hu & Stavrositu, 2007). While relatively little research has looked at how online opinion leaders can impact health promotion initiatives, preliminary research suggests that they have a similar ability to traditional opinion leaders to support and influence health promotion and behavior change programs (Porter et al., 2007; Lin & Huang, 2006; Kaye, 2005; Terilli & Arnorsdottir, 2008; Burke-Garcia et al., 2017a; Burke-Garcia et al., 2017b).

Results included that bloggers overwhelming consider themselves to be opinion leaders for their readers and are willing to write about health issues. Further, findings included that tie strength is positively associated with both opinion leadership and willingness to communicate about health, but interestingly, not having written about health in the past was associated with greater opinion leadership and greater willingness to communicate about health. Supporting these findings, key themes that emerged from the interviews included how changes in the blogging industry are changing the content and focus of blogs as well as the relationships between bloggers and their readers; how health as a topic adds credibility to blogs; how bloggers have strong conceptualizations of risk when it comes to talking about health; how this sample does not have strong conceptualizations of fatalism; and finally, how they preferred prevention-oriented health messages over risk-oriented ones or both message together. 

This dissertation highlighted similar and unique perspectives within blogging culture on the topics of opinion leadership and willingness to communicate about health. It also uncovered multiple theoretical, methodological, and translational insights that can be applied to the study of health communication and information dissemination more broadly.