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      Community Management That Works: How to Build and Sustain a Thriving Online Health Community

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          Abstract

          Health care professionals, patients, caregivers, family, friends, and other supporters are increasingly joining online health communities to share information and find support. But social Web (Web 2.0) technology alone does not create a successful online community. Building and sustaining a successful community requires an enabler and strategic community management. Community management is more than moderation. The developmental life cycle of a community has four stages: inception, establishment, maturity, and mitosis. Each stage presents distinct characteristics and management needs. This paper describes the community management strategies, resources, and expertise needed to build and maintain a thriving online health community; introduces some of the challenges; and provides a guide for health organizations considering this undertaking. The paper draws on insights from an ongoing study and observation of online communities as well as experience managing and consulting a variety of online health communities. Discussion includes effective community building practices relevant to each stage, such as outreach and relationship building, data collection, content creation, and other proven techniques that ensure the survival and steady growth of an online health community.

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          Most cited references50

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          Empathic Accuracy

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            Sociability and usability in online communities: Determining and measuring success

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              An Online Community Improves Adherence in an Internet-Mediated Walking Program. Part 1: Results of a Randomized Controlled Trial

              Background Approximately half of American adults do not meet recommended physical activity guidelines. Face-to-face lifestyle interventions improve health outcomes but are unlikely to yield population-level improvements because they can be difficult to disseminate, expensive to maintain, and inconvenient for the recipient. In contrast, Internet-based behavior change interventions can be disseminated widely at a lower cost. However, the impact of some Internet-mediated programs is limited by high attrition rates. Online communities that allow participants to communicate with each other by posting and reading messages may decrease participant attrition. Objective Our objective was to measure the impact of adding online community features to an Internet-mediated walking program on participant attrition and average daily step counts. Methods This randomized controlled trial included sedentary, ambulatory adults who used email regularly and had at least 1 of the following: overweight (body mass index [BMI] ≥ 25), type 2 diabetes, or coronary artery disease. All participants (n = 324) wore enhanced pedometers throughout the 16-week intervention and uploaded step-count data to the study server. Participants could log in to the study website to view graphs of their walking progress, individually-tailored motivational messages, and weekly calculated goals. Participants were randomized to 1 of 2 versions of a Web-based walking program. Those randomized to the “online community” arm could post and read messages with other participants while those randomized to the “no online community" arm could not read or post messages. The main outcome measures were participant attrition and average daily step counts over 16 weeks. Multiple regression analyses assessed the effect of the online community access controlling for age, sex, disease status, BMI, and baseline step counts. Results Both arms significantly increased their average daily steps between baseline and the end of the intervention period, but there were no significant differences in increase in step counts between arms using either intention-to-treat or completers analysis. In the intention-to-treat analysis, the average step count increase across both arms was 1888 ± 2400 steps. The percentage of completers was 13% higher in the online community arm than the no online community arm (online community arm, 79%, no online community arm, 66%, P = .02). In addition, online community arm participants remained engaged in the program longer than no online community arm participants (hazard ratio = 0.47, 95% CI = 0.25 - 0.90, P = .02). Participants with lower baseline social support posted more messages to the online community (P < .001) and viewed more posts (P < .001) than participants with higher baseline social support. Conclusion Adding online community features to an Internet-mediated walking program did not increase average daily step counts but did reduce participant attrition. Participants with low baseline social support used the online community features more than those with high baseline social support. Thus, online communities may be a promising approach to reducing attrition from online health behavior change interventions, particularly in populations with low social support. Trial Registration NCT00729040; http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT00729040 (Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/5v1VH3n0A)
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                Author and article information

                Contributors
                Journal
                J Med Internet Res
                JMIR
                Journal of Medical Internet Research
                JMIR Publications Inc. (Toronto, Canada )
                1439-4456
                1438-8871
                June 2013
                11 June 2013
                : 15
                : 6
                : e119
                Affiliations
                [1] 1Canadian Virtual Hospice Toronto, ONCanada
                Author notes
                Corresponding Author: Colleen Young colleen@ 123456colleenyoung.com
                Article
                v15i6e119
                10.2196/jmir.2501
                3713910
                23759312
                78f02c7d-fe49-4884-9bf7-81bf843a7d56
                ©Colleen Young. Originally published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (http://www.jmir.org), 11.06.2013.

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work, first published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, is properly cited. The complete bibliographic information, a link to the original publication on http://www.jmir.org/, as well as this copyright and license information must be included.

                History
                : 19 December 2012
                : 30 January 2013
                : 02 April 2013
                : 08 May 2013
                Categories
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                Medicine
                online community,virtual community,health,patient,health care professional, community management,community strategy,guidelines,tutorial,peer-to-peer health

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