Social Support in a Virtual Community: Analysis of a Clinic-Affiliated Online Support Group for Persons Living with HIV/AIDS

Tabor E. Flickinger, Claire DeBolt, Ava Lena Waldman, George Reynolds, Wendy F. Cohn, Mary Catherine Beach, Karen Ingersoll, Rebecca Dillingham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Social support can improve outcomes for people living with HIV (PLWH) and could be provided through online support groups. The Positive Links smartphone app is a multicomponent intervention that allows users to interact in a clinic-affiliated anonymous online support group. We investigated how social support was exchanged in a group of 55 participants over 8 months, using an adaptation of the Social Support Behavior Code. Participant interviews assessed their experiences and perceptions of the app. Of 840 posts analyzed, 115 (14 %) were coded as eliciting social support and 433 (52 %) as providing social support. Messages providing support were predominantly emotional (41 %), followed by network (27 %), esteem (24 %), informational (18 %), and instrumental (2 %) support. Participants perceived connection and support as key benefits of the app. Technical issues and interpersonal barriers limited some participants in fully using the app. Mobile technology offers a useful tool to reach populations with barriers to in-person support and may improve care for PLWH.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3087-3099
Number of pages13
JournalAIDS and behavior
Volume21
Issue number11
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 1 2017

Keywords

  • HIV/AIDS
  • Mobile app
  • Online support group
  • Social support

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Infectious Diseases

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