Using a mobile social networking app to promote physical activity: a qualitative study of users’ perspectives

Huong Ly Tong, Enrico Coiera, Liliana Laranjo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)
34 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Despite many health benefits of physical activity, nearly a third of the world’s adult population is insufficiently active. Technological interventions, such as mobile apps, wearable trackers, and Web-based social networks, offer great promise in promoting physical activity, but little is known about users’ acceptability and long-term engagement with these interventions.

Objective: The aim of this study was to understand users’ perspectives regarding a mobile social networking intervention to promote physical activity.

Methods: Participants, mostly university students and staff, were recruited using purposive sampling techniques. Participants were enrolled in a 6-month feasibility study where they were provided with a wearable physical activity tracker (Fitbit Flex 2) and a wireless scale (Fitbit Aria) integrated with a social networking mobile app (named “”). We conducted semistructured, in-depth qualitative interviews and focus groups pre- and postintervention, which were recorded and transcribed verbatim. The data were analyzed in Nvivo 11 using thematic analysis techniques.

Results: In this study, 55 participants were enrolled; 51% (28/55) were females, and the mean age was 23.6 (SD 4.6) years. The following 3 types of factors emerged from the data as influencing engagement with the intervention and physical activity: individual (self-monitoring of behavior, goal setting, and feedback on behavior), social (social comparison, similarity and familiarity between users, and participation from other users in the network), and technological. In addition, automation and personalization were observed as enhancing the delivery of both individual and social aspects. Technological limitations were mentioned as potential barriers to long-term usage.

Conclusions: Self-regulatory techniques and social factors are important to consider when designing a physical activity intervention, but a one-size-fits-all approach is unlikely to satisfy different users’ preferences. Future research should adopt innovative research designs to test interventions that can adapt and respond to users’ needs and preferences throughout time.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere11439
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 21 Dec 2018

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2018. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • exercise
  • fitness trackers
  • mobile apps
  • mobile phone
  • social networking


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