Communicating health advice on social media: A multimodal case study


  • Martin Engebretsen University of Agder, Norway



health communication, social media, trust, multimodality, case study


Social media represent new arenas for health communication. Platforms such as YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok provide unique opportunities for health workers to build understanding, engagement, and trust among a broad and young audience. At the same time, such platforms demand of health workers a careful balance between social closeness and professional distance. The article is based on a case study in which the award-winning Norwegian psychologist Maria Abrahamsen’s practice of health communication on Instagram is studied through the lens of multimodal discourse analysis. Following a bottom-up method, the study starts with a close reading of a single Instagram post, where video and written verbal text interact closely. The entire account is then studied as a complex case of mediated health communication. Conclusively, after a discussion of genre implications, the article suggests possible solutions to key challenges concerning the followers’ engagement and trust.


Abrahamsen, M. [@psyktdeg]. (n.d.). Posts. [Instagram profile]. Instagram. Retrieved April 4, 2022, from

Abrahamsen, M. [@psyktdeg]. (2021, July 18). «Compare Yourself To Who You Were Yesterday, Not To Who Someone Else Is Today» - Jordan B. Peterson Husker du hvor du en gang var? [Video]. Instagram.

Aiello G. (2020). Inventorizing, situating, transforming: Social semiotics and data visualization. In M. Engebretsen, & H. Kennedy (Eds.), Data visualization in society. Amsterdam University Press.

Basch, C. H., Fera, J., Pierce, I., & Basch, C. E. (2021). Promoting mask use on TikTok: Descriptive, cross-sectional study. JMIR public health and surveillance, 7(2), e26392.

Bauer, M. W. (2009). The evolution of public understanding of science: Discourse and comparative evidence. Science, Technology & Society, 14(2), 221–240.

Campbell, L., Evans, Y., Pumper, M., & Moreno, M. (2016). Social media use by physicians: A Qualitative study of the new frontier of medicine. BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making, 16, 91.

Chen J., & Wang, Y. (2021). Social media use for health purposes: Systematic review. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 23(5), e17917.

Davies, S., & Hara, N. (2017). Public science in a wired world: How online media are shaping science communication. Science Communication, 39(5), 563–568.

Engebretsen, M. (2012). Balancing cohesion and tension in multimodal rhetoric: An interdisciplinary approach to the study of semiotic complexity. Learning, Media and Technology, 37(2), 145–162.

Fairclough, N. (2010). Critical discourse analysis: The critical study of language (2nd ed.). Longman.

Ferrell, D., & Campos-Castillo, C. (2022). Factors affecting physicians’ credibility on Twitter when sharing health information: Online experimental study. JMIR Infodemiology, 2(1), e34525.

Flyvbjerg, B. (2006). Five misunderstandings about case-study research. Qualitative Inquiry, 2(2), 219–245.

Fontaine, G., Maheu-Cadotte, M., Lavallée, A., Mailhot,T., Rouleau, G., Bouix-Picasso, J., & Bourbonnais, A. (2019). Communicating science in the digital and social media ecosystem: Scoping review and typology of strategies used by health scientists. JMIR Public Health Surveillance, 5(3), e14447.

Gnach. A., Weber, W., Engebretsen, M., & Perrin, D. (2022). Digital communication and media linguistics. Cambridge University Press.

Halliday, M. (1978). Language as a social semiotic: The social interpretation of language and meaning. Arnold.

Iser, W. (1974). The implied reader: Patterns of communication in prose from Bunyan to Beckett. Johns Hopkins University Press.

Jenkins, E., Ilicic, J., Barklamb, A., & McCaffrey, T. (2020). Assessing the credibility and authenticity of social media content for applications in health communication: Scoping review. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 22(7), e17296.

Jewitt, C. (2009). Introduction: What is multimodality? In C. Jewitt (Ed.), The Routledge handbook of multimodal analysis (pp. 14–27). Routledge.

Kite J., Foley, B., Grunseit, A., & Freeman, B. (2016). Please like me: Facebook and public health communication. PLoS ONE, 11(9), e0162765.

Kress, G., & van Leeuwen, T. (2001). Multimodal discourse: The modes and media of contemporary communication. Arnold.

Kress, G., & van Leeuwen, T. (2021). Reading images: The grammar of visual design (3rd ed.). Routledge.

van Leeuwen, T. (2005). Introducing social semiotics. Routledge.

Lunde, A. (2020, November 13). Jeg vil være noe nyttig innimellom alle silikonpuppane og Restylane-reklamene [I want to be something useful in between all the silicone nipples and restyle ads] [Interview with Maria Abrahamsen]. A-magasinet.

Lüders, M., Prøitz, L., & Rasmussen, T. (2010). Emerging personal media genres. New Media & Society, 12(6), 947–963.

Martini, T., Czepielewski, L., Baldez, D., Gliddon, E., Kieling, C., Berk, L., Birk, M., & Kauer-Sant’Anna, M. (2018). Mental health information online: What we have learned from social media metrics in BuzzFeed’s mental health week. Trends in Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, 40(4), 326–336.

Miller, C. (1984). Genre as social action. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 70(2), 151–167.

Munson, S., Cavusoglu, H., Frisch, L., & Fels, S. (2013). Sociotechnical challenges and progress in using social media for health. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 15(10), e226.

Nes, R., Aarø, L., Vedaa, Ø., & Nilsen, T. (2020). Livskvalitet og psykisk helse under koronaepidemien november-desember 2020. Report from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.

O'Dea, B., & Campbell, A. (2011). Healthy connections: Online social networks and their potential for peer support. Studies in Health Technology and Informatics, 168, 133–140.

Rauch, J. (2021). The constitution of knowledge: A defense of truth. Brookings Institution Press.

Steffens, M., Dunn, A., Leask, J., & Wiley, K. (2020). Using social media for vaccination promotion: Practices and challenges. Digital Health, 6, 1–9.

Torjesen, A. (2021). The genre repertoires of Norwegian beauty and lifestyle influencers on YouTube. Nordicom Review, 42(2), 168–184.

Unger, J., Wodak, R., & Khosravinik, M. (2016). Critical discourse studies and social media data. In D. Silverman (Ed.), Qualitative research (4th ed.) (pp. 277–293). Sage.

Vaa, A. (2021, May 14). Psykolog på sosiale medier. VG.

Vanini, P. (2007). Social semiotics and fieldwork: Method and analytics. Qualitative Inquiry, 13(1), 113–140.

Yonker L., Zan, S., Scirica, C., Jethwani, K., & Kinane, T. (2015). “Friending” teens: Systematic review of social media in adolescent and young adult health care. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 17(1), e4.

Zulli, D., & Zulli, D. J. (2020). Extending the internet meme: Conceptualizing technological mimesis and imitation publics on the TikTok platform. New Media & Society, 24(8), 1872–1890.




How to Cite

Engebretsen, M. (2023). Communicating health advice on social media: A multimodal case study. MedieKultur: Journal of Media and Communication Research, 39(74), 164–184.