Engagement-based Analyses of the Growth of Online Health Forums
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The emerging research on nurturing the growth of online communities posits that it is in part attributed to the network effects, wherein every increase in the volume of user-generated content increases the value of the community in the eyes of its potential new members. The recently introduced metric “engagement capacity” offers a means of quantitatively assessing the ability of online platform users to engage each other into generating content; meanwhile, quantity “engagement value” is useful for quantifying communication-based platform utilization. This study aims to empirically analyze the relationship between internal OHF utilization, quantified using engagement measurement, and external growth. Data were collected from seven OHFs between the years 1999 and 2016. Longitudinal analyses were conducted by evaluating engagement in the OHFs over time. Two-way causality effects between engagement value and the metrics evaluating OHF growth were analyzed using Granger Causality tests. User activity metrics per week were correlated with engagement metrics, followed by linear regression analyses. Results from this study supports the claim that network effects play an important role in accelerating OHF growth, opening the door to exploiting these effects in calculated ways. In such efforts, engagement metrics can be used to monitor the “health” of an OHF, and identify the users most important to its success.