Moment or Momentum? An Empirical Study on Users’ Participation in Online Weight-Loss Communities
38 Pages Posted: 5 Mar 2018 Last revised: 7 Nov 2019
Date Written: October 26, 2019
Patient-centric online platforms for the support of peers and for engaging in healthy activities have become increasingly popular among social media users. Although online healthcare communities have been found to be helpful, many users do not actively participate, and there is a high attrition rate. To understand whether and how each functional component of online healthcare communities is effective in attracting users’ participation, we examine users’ dynamic behavior patterns in a weight-loss community. Through data analysis, we first find that weight-loss outcome, self-monitoring, and social support establish a closed loop for one’s weight management. The directions of these impacts, however, do not point toward users’ active participation. Whereas users’ weight-loss progress leads to more social support, there is a bidirectional interrelationship between social support and self-monitoring that have a negative impact on each other. Our results further reveal that journaling about weight-loss effort, but not weigh-in frequency, and personalized feedback on one’s weight-loss progress, but not mere emotional encouragement, contribute to weight management. When users participate in the community for a social environment promoting behavior modification rather than weight-loss outcomes, our analysis results show that, once weight-loss outcomes are set aside, users who like to provide comments to others will have higher adherence to their own self-monitoring and that making forum posts will allow users to receive more personalized feedback. All of these identified impacts, however, are only short-term. Because users need to engage in healthy behaviors actively to derive long-term benefits and online healthcare communities need to have sufficient social resources to continue to provide services that attract participants, our findings are useful for users with chronic conditions and for service providers.
Keywords: online healthcare communities, chronic disease management, active participation, social support, panel vector autoregression (panel VAR) models
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