Computer-Mediated Social Support for Physical Activity: A Content Analysis

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Purpose. Online fitness communities are a recent phenomenon experiencing growing user bases. They can be considered as online social networks in which recording, monitoring, and sharing of physical activity (PA) are the most prevalent practices. They have added a new dimension to the social experience of PA in which online peers function as virtual PA partners or supporters. However, research into seeking and receiving computer-mediated social support for PA is scarce. Our aim was to study to what extent using online fitness communities and sharing physical activities with online social networks results in receiving various types of online social support. Method. Two databases, one containing physical activities logged with Strava and one containing physical activities logged with RunKeeper and shared on Twitter, were investigated for occurrence and type of social support, by means of a deductive content analysis. Results. Results indicate that social support delivered through Twitter is not particularly extensive. On Strava, social support is significantly more prevalent. Especially esteem support, expressed as compliments for the accomplishment of an activity, is provided on both Strava and Twitter. Conclusion. The results demonstrate that social media have potential as a platform used for providing social support for PA, but differences among various social network sites can be substantial. Especially esteem support can be expected, in contrast to online health communities, where information support is more common.

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