Social Network Structure of a Large Online Community for Smoking Cessation

Objective: We evaluated the social network structure of QuitNet, one of the largest online communities for behavior change, and compared its characteristics to other known social networks.

Methods: Using modern network analysis methods, we identified QuitNet members who were active during a 60-day period, along with their ties. We then derived multiple subgroups, such as key players and integrators, from connections and communication patterns.

Results: Among 7569 participants, we identified 103592 connections to other members. Metrics of social network integration were associated with increased likelihood of being female, being older, having been in the system longer, and not smoking.

Conclusion: The QuitNet community is a large-scale social network with the characteristics required for sustainability of social support and social influence to promote smoking cessation and abstinence. These characteristics include persistence of members over time, heterogeneity of smoking status, and evidence of rich, bidirectional communications. Some of the influential subgroups we identified may provide targets for future network-level interventions.

Key Takeaways:

  • Tobacco use continues to be a significant factor in healthcare costs and premature death, and is projected to cause 10 million deaths worldwide by 2030.
  • Interventions should leverage social networks through multiple mechanisms, including social support, information transfer, social influence, and the transmission of social norms.
  • This study analyzed the core characteristics and structure of this online social network, identifying key subgroups that could be used to enhance network stability and growth.
  • This research shows that social well-being can play an important role in behavior change related to tobacco cessation and supports continued study of social support mechanisms that may prove useful in changing other unhealthy behaviors.
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