Impacts on Society: Informational and Socio-Emotional Support in Virtual Communities and Online Groups

Impacts on Society: Informational and Socio-Emotional Support in Virtual Communities and Online Groups

Shahar Gur, Anita Lynn Blanchard, Lisa Slattery Walker
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9899-4.ch010
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This chapter discusses the implications of giving and receiving social support in virtual communities and online groups. The chapter first offers a literature review about social support in general, and then delves into specific details about online social support. More specifically, this chapter focuses on informational and socio-emotional support, especially as they pertain to online groups and virtual communities. Three specific examples of online groups and virtual communities studied by the authors are offered, along with research findings and hypotheses. Finally, best practices are outlined for those who are interested in starting and maintaining an online group with the purpose of offering informational and/or socio-emotional support to potential users.
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Social support can come in many forms, but all forms are ultimately aimed at comforting and uplifting others (Finfgeld-Connett, 2005; Langford et al., 1997). People need social support especially when they are under stress (Cohen & Wills, 1985). Traditionally, social support has been studied within the health care and psychological research fields due to its direct relationship to the outcome of improving one’s mental and physical health. In fact, studies find empirical support for the direct relationship between psychological adjustment and social support of cancer patients (for a review see Helgeson & Cohen, 1996). Lance Armstrong is a popular example of a patient who overcame the stress of his cancer diagnosis with the help of his family and friends. His website, Livestrong, originally was a support system for other cancer survivors. Moreover, on top of aiding in recovery from disease, having a supportive social network can positively affect a person’s overall quality of life (Helgeson, 2003) and well-being (Lee, Noh, & Koo, 2013).

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