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Why do you take part in #hcsmca? Introducing a study examining motivations for participating in online groups

February 2, 2015

By Sarah Gilbert (@_sgilbert_) and Colleen Young (@colleen_young)

headshot of Sarah Gilbert

Sarah Gilbert

headshot of Colleen Young

Colleen Young

Have you ever wondered what motivates people to take part in online communities? It’s certainly a question that fascinates me. That’s why I welcomed the opportunity to introduce Sarah Gilbert to #hcsmca in the hopes that you would help advance her research. I’ll let her tell you more.

Hi #hcsmca! I’m Sarah @_sgilbert_, a PhD student at UBC studying why people participate in online communities. This research is part of my doctoral dissertation research and is also part of a larger study on learning using social media, called “Learning Analytics for the Social Media Age,” under the supervision of Principal Investigator, Caroline Haythornthwaite (Co-author of Enabling Community Through Social Media – A Social Network Analysis of #hcsmca)

Why are we conducting this study?

We want to learn more about why people participate in online communities. As a follower of and/or contributor to the Twitter community #hcsmca we’d like you to tell us about why you contribute (or don’t!) so that we can learn more about what motivates people to participate in online groups. The crux of my doctoral research is exploring why people are motivated to participate in and contribute to certain communities and to identify variables that impact motivations.

I will be conducting a series of case studies in which I will use a grounded theory approach to identify motivations based on what community members tell me through interviews.

Why #hcsmca?

I believe that the #hcsmca community would be a particularly interesting group to study given its proven success (as of October, 4 years, 12,892 tweeters, 149,859 tweets!) and its mission to bring together people who both deliver and receive healthcare. I believe that the community’s diverse perspectives will yield particularly interesting insights into my study on motivation. Thus I approached Colleen Young, #hcsmca Founder, to ask whether she thought you, the #hcsmca community, would be interested in giving me your input on why you contribute (or just lurk or not participate at all) in the weekly discussions. She responded “I’m confident that #hcsmca community members and people outside our community would be very eager to participate in such a study. Let’s start with sharing information about your research and your goals in an #hcsmca chat.”

Let’s chat

Thus, I’ll be joining the #hcsmca chat on February 4 at 1pm ET (10am PT). We can talk about the study and I’ll answer any questions you might have about the project. But let me tell you a bit more about it here first.

What happens if you agree to participate in the study?

If you opt to take part, I will invite you to an in person, phone or online (instant messaging or Skype) interview that will last from 1 to 1.5 hours. Questions will be semi-structured.

I will ask you things like:

  • Your involvement in #hcsmca. For example, we will ask questions like “How long have you followed the #hcsmca hashtag?”
  • Why you participate (or just follow along)
  • What you get from participation in #hcsmca. For example, we will ask questions like “Have you learned anything from your participation in #hcsmca?”

To inquire about taking part, contact Sarah at 

How will your privacy be maintained?

Your confidentiality will be respected. All transcriptions of interviews will only be identified by code number and you will not be identified by name or Twitter handle in any reports of the completed study. All audio and text records will be kept in password-protected files on an encrypted computer and only the principal investigator and I will see or hear the recordings to ensure confidentiality. 

Who is funding this study?

This study is funded by the GRAND (Graphics, Animation, and New Media) NCE (Network of Centres of Excellence).

How can you see the results of this study?

The results of this study will be published in my doctoral dissertation and may also be published in journal articles and books. When results from this study are published, I will share them with #hcsmca community via Twitter and Colleen Young. 

What are the benefits of participating in this study?

By understanding why people are motivated to participate in different communities, and variables that impact motivations, I’m hope that my findings can be leveraged by community leaders to improve their communities and better meet their members’ needs.

Colleen here: I’m going to jump back in to the conversation about this point. Contributing to this research is in keeping with #hcsmca’s mission to research, discuss, and problem solve health and health care challenges and opportunities. In our increasingly connected world, understanding online communities and motivations for participation will help us serve and support people in health settings. I encourage you to join the chat on February 4 to ask questions and find out more. Here are some of the questions I plan to put forward. Do you have any other questions to submit?

  • T1: Can you tell us more about your research and what motivated you to study online communities?
  • T2: #hcsmca Why do you think #hcsmca members would be suited (or not) to participate in @_sgilbert_’s research?
  • T3: What questions would you like to ask @_sgilbert_?
  • T4: Do you have concerns? What would prevent you from participating in this research?
  • T5: Interested in participating? Contact Sarah at 

Read the transcript of the February 4 #hcsmca chat.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 3, 2015 7:59 am

    looking forward to this chat – research is so fascinating

    Liked by 1 person

  2. February 4, 2015 9:38 am

    Health care transformation is, in large part, about how information has changed our world. Information started to expand with cable tv, surged with the internet, but exploded with online communities — the ability to talk directly to credible health care providers, and with each other. One of the next steps is to better understand what role(s) online communities serve in providing health care. Not an easy task, IMO, in a world where traditional services are being redefined (who goes to the ER? Why?) while new tools are still evolving. @_sgilbert_ ‘s research looks like a critical step forward in what are still relatively uncharted waters.

    Liked by 1 person


  1. What motivates #hcsmca members’ participation? An analysis of our Feb 4 chat | Colleen Young

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