Investigating Patterns of Participation in an Online Support Group for Problem Drinking: a Social Network Analysis
This study contributes to emerging literature on online health networks by modeling communication patterns between members of a moderated online support group for problem drinking. Using social network analysis, we described members’ patterns of joint participation in threads, parsing out the role of site moderators, and explored differences in member characteristics by network position.
Posts made to the online support group of Alcohol Help Centre during 2013 were structured as a two-mode network of members (n = 205) connected via threads (n = 506). Metrics included degree centrality, clique membership, and tie strength.
The network consisted of one component and no cliques of members, although most made few posts and a small number communicated only with the site’s moderators. Highly active members were older and tended to have started posting prior to 2013. The distribution of members across threads varied from threads containing posts by one member to others that connected multiple members. Moderators accounted for sizable proportions of the connectivity between both members and threads.
After 5 years of operation, the AHC online support group appears to be fairly cohesive and stable, in the sense that there were no isolated subnetworks comprised of specific types of members or devoted to specific topics. Participation and connectedness at the member-level was varied, however, and tended to be low on average. The moderators were among the most central in the network, although there were also members who emerged as central and dedicated contributors to the online discussions across topics. Study findings highlight a number of areas for consideration by online support group developers and managers.
KeywordsSocial network analysis Online support groups Alcohol Internet-based interventions
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