Social media tools may prove an effective way to boost participation in online health programs
adding an interactive online community to an Internet-based walking program significantly decreased the number of participants who dropped out.
Program results showed that 79 percent of participants who used online forums to motivate each other stuck with the 16-week program.
Only 66 percent of those who used a version of the site without the social components completed the program.
both groups saw equal improvements in how much they walked while using the program's Web interface to track their progress – about a mile per day.
The approach also has the potential to produce significant savings compared to traditional interventions, such as face-to-face coaching, which are expensive to do on a large scale.
"We can see that social components can help to mitigate the big downside that Internet-mediated programs have had in the past, namely attrition."
For health programs with a national or international scope, even small reductions in attrition could lead to positive health outcomes for large numbers of people and significant system-wide cost savings, said researchers.
Use a small number of conversation spaces rather than many specialized ones.
Have staff respond to user posts when other users don't and post new topics when there is a lull in the conversation.