- provide individuals with exposure to new information,
- support learning and adoption of new knowledge or practices,
- maintain participation in the community.
The use of social media has spread so dramatically and pervasively in the past 15 or so years that its place is all but taken for granted. Yet, with the rapid growth in number of users, types of media, and applications, there is still a lot to learn about how to use such media appropriately and effectively. In particular, there is still a lot to learn about how such media can support offline behaviors, e.g., those relating to health and wellbeing, and how interacting online can be an effective support mechanism for communicating, learning, promoting and maintaining healthy regimes.
This paper reviews research on online community, with particular attention to how communities start and are maintained online.
The case of #hcsmca – a twitter community interested in social media and health in Canada is discussed as a demonstration of the kinds of analyses that are possible from such data. Of particular interest from analyses of such data is understanding of how interactions provide individuals with exposure to new information, support learning and adoption of new knowledge or practices, and maintain participation in the community.
The nature of community in an online context is discussed, as well as the different kinds of communal forms that can be created and sustained online, and the different motivations that support participation in these collectives. The review also considers the kinds of data that can be readily compiled from online communities as a way of understanding their operation, identifying key constituents, and following topic threads.
Where online communities are established to support behavior change, a major question is how such online interaction maps to offline behavior. To address this, the paper concludes with some discussion of online/offline synergies, and suggested directions for investigating how online interaction supports offline behaviors relating to health and wellbeing.