Moderated online social networking for smokers: Content of first posts from 2,562 members

Trevor van Mierlo*, No University Affilliation, V-CC Systems Inc. (Toronto, Canada); V-CC Systems USA Inc. (San Francisco, USA)
Peter Selby MBBS, CCFP , Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, University of Toronto, Ontario Tobacco Research Unit
Danielle Parent (RN) , None (V-CC Systems Inc)
John Cunningham, PhD, Centre for Addition and Mental Health, University of Toronto

Track: General Track
Presentation Topic: The nature and dynamics of social networks in health
Presentation Type: Oral presentation
Submission Type: Single Presentation

Building: MaRS Centre
Room: Auditorium
Date: 2008-09-04 03:30 PM – 05:00 PM
Last modified: 2008-11-06

If you are the presenter of this abstract (or if you cite this abstract in a talk or on a poster), please show the QR code in your slide or poster (QR code contains this URL).


Objective: Social support and group therapy is associated with successful smoking cessation. However, many smokers simply do not have access to, or time to participate in, real-world smoking cessation clinics or support groups. Would the convenience or accessibility of online versions of social support facilitate connection between widely dispersed groups of quitters who may experience isolation from either a geographic or temporal perspective? Although increasingly popular, there has been little research or best practice guidelines in the general development, management, and sustainability of online social networks for behaviour change or Web Assisted Tobacco Interventions (WATIs) specifically.

Key learnings from over eight years of eHealth social network management will be fused with the results of a qualitative study illustrating theoretical aspects of online social support, common discussion themes, average response times for new users, and the characteristics of smokers who post in an online smoking cessation support group.

Methods: Data were collected from version 5.0, a WATI equipped with an online social support network moderated by trained Health Educators from November 6, 2004 to May 15, 2007. Demographics for both users and non-users of the online social support network were analyzed, and qualitative analyses were conducted to explore message themes and message content. The frequency of and patterns of posting were also analyzed.

Results: 16,764 individuals registered, with 70% reporting being American. The mean age of registrants was 38.9 years and 65.4% reported being female. The mean number of cigarettes smoked was 20.6 per day. The mean score for 6,849 (41%) users who completed the Fagerstrom Test for Nicotine Dependence was 5.6. Of all registered members 15.3% (n=2,562) made at least one post in the Online Social Support network with 25% of first posts receiving a response within 12 minutes. The most frequent first posts were from recent quitters who were struggling with their quit attempts and most responses were from members who had quit for a month or more. Demographic characteristics between Support Network users (Posters) and registered users who did not post (Lurkers) were statistically but not clinically significant.

Conclusions: Peer to peer responses to new users are rapid, indicating that online social support networks may be a particular benefit to recent quitters who experience difficultly in their cessation attempt. Accessing this kind of rapid support from a professional would take an inordinate amount of time and money. The interactions appear consistent with in person social support groups. Further research in the effectiveness of WATIs with online social support networks is required to better understand the contribution of this feature to cessation. Also of importance will be determining if there is benefit for those who do not post but view the discussion of others.

A version of the data collected in this study was presented by Dr. Peter Selby at the Society for the Study of Addiction (SSA) 2007 Annual Symposium, York, United Kingdom, November, 2007.

An original paper utilizing data from this study has been submitted to the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR) special issue for Web-Assisted Tobacco Interventions (WATIs)

Audio File

Medicine 2.0® is happy to support and promote other conferences and workshops in this area. Contact us to produce, disseminate and promote your conference or workshop under this label and in this event series. In addition, we are always looking for hosts of future World Congresses. Medicine 2.0® is a registered trademark of JMIR Publications Inc., the leading academic ehealth publisher.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.