Exploring engagement with health apps: the emerging importance of situational involvement and individual characteristics

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Flaherty, Sarah Jane
McCarthy, Mary
Collins, Alan M.
McCafferty, Claire
McAuliffe, Fionnuala M.
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Purpose: Health apps offer a potential approach to support healthier food behaviours but a lack of sufficient engagement may limit effectiveness. This study aims to use a user engagement theoretical lens to examine the factors that influence app engagement over time and may prompt disengagement. Design/methodology/approach: A phenomenological exploration of the lived experience was used. Women from a lower socioeconomic background (based on the occupation and employment status of the household’s primary income earner) were randomly assigned to use one of two apps for a minimum of eight weeks. Multiple data collection methods, including accompanied shops, researcher observations, interviews, participant reflective accounts and questionnaires, were used at different time-points to examine engagement. Theoretical thematic analysis was conducted to explore the engagement experience and relevant social, personal and environmental influences. Findings: Healthy food involvement appears to drive app engagement. Changes in situational involvement may contribute to fluctuation in engagement intensity over time as the saliency of personal goals change. Negatively valenced engagement dimensions may contribute to the overall expression of engagement. A lack of congruency with personal goals or an imbalance between perceived personal investment and value was expressed as the primary reasons for disengagement. Research limitations/implications: Situational involvement may act as a trigger of different engagement phases. There is a need to better distinguish between enduring and situational involvement in engagement research. Practical implications: Individual characteristics may shape engagement and propensity for disengagement, which highlights the practical importance of incorporating tailored features into app design. Originality/value: Findings broaden the current conceptualisation of engagement within the digital space and prompt a reconsideration of the role of situational involvement and negatively valenced dimensions throughout the engagement process.
App , Food purchasing , Healthy eating , Involvement , User engagement
Flaherty, S. J., McCarthy, M., Collins, A. M., McCafferty, C. and McAuliffe, F. M. (2021) 'Exploring engagement with health apps: the emerging importance of situational involvement and individual characteristics', European Journal of Marketing, 55(13), pp. 122-147. doi: 10.1108/EJM-06-2019-0531