The Internet has been used extensively to offer health education content and also for social support. More recently, we have seen the advent of Internet-based health education interventions that combine content with structured social networking. In many ways this is the Internet equivalent to small group interventions. While we have some knowledge about the efficacy of these interventions, few studies have examined how participants engage with programs and how that might affect outcomes. This study seeks to explore (a) the content of posts and (b) the nature of participant engagement with an online, 6-week workshop for cancer survivors and how such engagement may affect health outcomes. Using methodologies related to computational linguistics (latent Dirichlet allocation) and more standard statistical approaches, we identified (a) discussion board themes; (b) the relationship between reading and posting messages and outcomes; (c) how making, completing, or not completing action plans is related to outcome; and (d) how self-tailoring relates to outcomes. When considering all posts, emotional support is a key theme. However, different sets of themes are expressed in the first workshop post where participants are asked to express their primary concern. Writing posts was related to improved outcomes, but reading posts was less important. Completing, but not merely making, action plans and self-tailoring are statistically associated with future positive health outcomes. The findings from these exploratory studies can be considered when shaping future electronically mediated social networking interventions. In addition, the methods used here can be used in analyzing other large electronically mediated social-networking interventions.
- cancer survivorship
- online interventions
- social support
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health