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BACKGROUND: Incorporating social media features into digital behavior change interventions (DBCIs) has the potential to contribute positively to their success. However, the lack of clear design principles to describe and guide the use of these features in behavioral interventions limits cross-study comparisons of their uses and effects. OBJECTIVE: The aim of this study was to provide a systematic review of DBCIs targeting modifiable behavioral risk factors that have included social media features as part of their intervention infrastructure. A taxonomy of social media features is presented to inform the development, description, and evaluation of behavioral interventions. METHODS: Search terms were used in 8 databases to identify DBCIs that incorporated social media features and targeted tobacco smoking, diet and nutrition, physical activities, or alcohol consumption. The screening and review process was performed by 2 independent researchers. RESULTS: A total of 5264 articles were screened, and 143 articles describing a total of 134 studies were retained for full review. The majority of studies (70%) reported positive outcomes, followed by 28% finding no effects with regard to their respective objectives and hypothesis, and 2% of the studies found that their interventions had negative outcomes. Few studies reported on the association between the inclusion of social media features and intervention effect. A taxonomy of social media features used in behavioral interventions has been presented with 36 social media features organized under 7 high-level categories. The taxonomy has been used to guide the analysis of this review. CONCLUSIONS: Although social media features are commonly included in DBCIs, there is an acute lack of information with respect to their effect on outcomes and a lack of clear guidance to inform the selection process based on the features' suitability for the different behaviors. The proposed taxonomy along with the set of recommendations included in this review will support future research aimed at isolating and reporting the effects of social media features on DBCIs, cross-study comparisons, and evaluations.

Original publication




Journal article


J Med Internet Res

Publication Date





behavior control, behavioral medicine, eHealth, health behavior, social media, systematic review