Personas in online health communities
Many researchers and practitioners use online health communities (OHCs) to influence health behavior and provide patients with social support. One of the biggest challenges in this approach, however, is the rate of attrition. OHCs face similar problems as other social media platforms where user migration happens unless tailored content and appropriate socialization is supported. To provide tailored support for each OHC user, we developed personas in OHCs illustrating users’ needs and requirements in OHC use. To develop OHC personas, we first interviewed 16 OHC users and administrators to qualitatively understand varying user needs in OHC. Based on their responses, we developed an online survey to systematically investigate OHC personas. We received 184 survey responses from OHC users, which informed their values and their OHC use patterns. We performed open coding analysis with the interview data and cluster analysis with the survey data and consolidated the analyses of the two datasets. Four personas emerged—Caretakers, Opportunists, Scientists, and Adventurers. The results inform users’ interaction behavior and attitude patterns with OHCs. We discuss implications for how these personas inform OHCs in delivering personalized informational and emotional support.