Researchers from the University of Georgia examined health-based social networking sites that focus on helping members to quit smoking.
Researcher Joe Phua found that as participation on these sites increased, members began to build a sense of community on the sites.
Specifically, they started to identify more strongly with other members, receive and give more social support, found common ground from smoking behaviours and built a sense of trust.
As a result of the increased social connectedness associated with participating on the sites, these members ultimately become more likely, and found it easier, to quit smoking.
They also maintain abstinence for a longer period of time, because of their increased sense of self-efficacy to abstain from smoking during tempting situations.
The findings show that on health-based social networking sites, members can build strong social interconnectedness with other people who have the same health issue.
This can help users to achieve their health goals in a shorter amount of time, without having to go through more traditional, offline support groups and services, researchers said.
"This study helps further the notion that social networking sites and other forms of social media can help people to improve their health conditions," said Phua.
"These can be used as a standalone way to improve chronic health conditions, or as part of a holistic treatment plan that includes both professional offline help and online social media sites," Phua said.
The study was published in the Journal of Communication.