Contrary to what one might think, how much empathy an online community seems to have may not be driven by its community’s social bonding. For healthcare organizations, it is communities that could effectively inform, and not socially bond, which were perceived to be empathetic. 1
Not as surprisingly, communities where one felt the other members were similar to themselves, homophily, were perceived to be more empathetic. 1
What might this mean for a community manager?
The study speculates that the desire for information for these communities may be effected by their well known medical organizations. However, for lesser known health orgs, it is important to not ignore the informational needs of it’s members. Creating FAQ’s, tables of content, whitepapers, tweaking search, are several things one can do to make information easier to find. Further, it would be good to encourage community norms that include research and information gathering.
Encouraging homophily may be as simple as narrowing membership or having subgroups within the community. Trying to appeal to all may be harmful, on the flip side, noting people’s similarities may be a way to mitigate differences and include a larger membership.
1. Information seeking and social support in online health communities: impact on patients’ perceived empathy P Nambisan J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2011 May; 18(3): 298–304.