Can social networking help consumers get healthier?

October 13, 2009

Can social networking sites help people make wise health decisions? A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research says it depend on people's willingness to take action on the information they gain from the sites.

Using to obtain and advice is controversial. Critics say the sites can confuse, give inaccurate information, or prevent people from seeking professional advice. They doubt can carry the burden of complex , and worry that social networks can actually harm naďve consumers by encouraging them to engage in self-diagnosis and self-treatment.

Authors Rama K. Jayanti (Cleveland State University) and Jagdip Singh (Case Western Reserve University) closely monitored use of an Electronic Bulletin Board dedicated to thyroid disease and treatment over the course of ten months. Based on random selection, they analyzed six threads representing 392 distinct postings with 7,825 text lines by 80 unique individuals. They sought to determine if consumers can learn from these sites, how they learn, and how the learning empowers them.

In general, they found many benefits to using online communities for health advice. A three-stage process of reflecting, refining, and exploring is the key to effective use of the online sites, they say. The value of the online community is that it "facilitates learning by collectively transforming everyday individual experiences into usable knowledge," they write.

"We found that the community can collectively enable learning for individual members who often fail and falter on their own." By sharing their experiences, participants enlarge their repertoire of actions that affect their health. "Together these characteristics transformed helpless individuals into empowered patients who effortlessly changed physicians, switched medications, and modified diets."

However, the value of online community depends on how individuals choose to act on the information. "Productive inquiry alone is not sufficient to empower individuals," the authors write. "Community inquiry broadens the action choices available to its members. Action, however, is an individual choice."

The authors advise policymakers to lead the way in promoting learning in social communities so that consumers can empower themselves for informed decision-making and a better quality of life.

More information: Rama K. Jayanti and Jagdip Singh. "Pragmatic Learning Theory: An Inquiry-Action Framework for Distributed Consumer Learning in Online Communities." : April 2010

Source: University of Chicago (news : web)

Explore further: Social networking sites still popular

Related Stories

Social networking sites still popular

May 12, 2006

MySpace led in first place of 10 popular social-networking sites that collectively grew 47 percent year-over-year, according to Nielson//NetRatings.

Online technical support forums build social capital

March 17, 2008

Consumers in search of product related information and technical support often turn to virtual communities for help. A forthcoming examination in the April 2008 Journal of Consumer Research of virtual P3 communities – peer-to-peer ...

Action research helps people make positive changes

August 22, 2008

Certain kinds of research can help improve social problems, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research. Participatory action research is the subject of the study by authors Julie L. Ozanne and Bige Saatcioglu ...

Online educational empowerment

May 22, 2009

Online learning communities flourish best if individual learners have self-governance. That is the conclusion of a US study published in the International Journal of Web Based Communities.

Recommended for you

Four pre-Inca tombs found in Peru's Lima

November 27, 2015

Archaeologists in Peru have found four tombs that are more than 1,000 years old in a pyramid-shaped cemetery that now sits in the middle of a residential neighborhood in Lima, experts said.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.