Surf Your Way to the Ideal Weight?
Dieting and healthy-living Web sites are joining the Web 2.0 revolution.
With the advent of programs such as Overeaters Anonymous and Weight Watchers in the early 1960s, weight-loss programs left the confines of the home in favor of a form of group therapy. Men and women who couldn’t lose extra pounds on their own found solace and success with other like-minded individuals.
While these programs still are available today, new trends have given dieters the freedom to manage weight loss from their homes, and the Internet has made sure they’re not leaving behind the benefits of social interaction. Following are some ways health and dieting Web sites are using the knowledge gleaned from group meetings to change the way their members lose weight at home.
Immediately engage and motivate
To paraphrase Sir Isaac Newton’s first law of motion, an object in motion remains in motion unless something acts to slow it down. Unfortunately, human nature doesn’t often follow the laws of the physical world. A diet started today with the best of intentions might stop tomorrow unless something actively keeps it going. The first function of many weight-loss services is to provide that motivation through counseling or group meetings.
Understanding this, weight-loss programs Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers Online keep the initial momentum going for their new members by sending e-mail encouragement during the first few weeks of their respective programs. In both cases, the messaging cycle is automatically kick-started by the member sign-up.
“These e-mails get them engaged in the program and educate them on how to follow the plan online to ensure they’re successful,” says Alexandra Aleskovsky, senior vice president and general manager of New York-based WeightWatchers.com. “And it helps drive retention because the more successful and the more engaged the subscribers are up front, the longer their retention curves tend to be.”
Weight Watchers Online sends five e-mails in the first five weeks of its online program; Jenny Craig sends two in the first week, and one per week for the next seven weeks.
Trish Arellano, director of Internet marketing for Carlsbad, Calif.-based Jenny Craig, notes that the company’s e-mails include tips tailored to where the customer is in her weight-loss cycle, as well as links to video content exclusively available through the e-mails. The videos feature a celebrity spokesperson describing her journey through the program at the same point in time as the client receiving the e-mail.
Help members help each other
At the crux of programs like Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers is the concept of accountability through social interaction. Jenny Craig encourages its members to work one on one with a consultant, while Weight Watchers uses group meetings to share stumbling blocks and success stories. The rise of online social networks has made those types of interactions available at the click of a mouse.
Healthy-living community SparkPeople.com offers free tools, forums and content centered on setting and attaining weight-loss goals. Initially dedicated to providing tools for setting any type of goal, the Cincinnati-based site began transitioning to a focus on healthy lifestyles and weight loss goals in 2003.
In 2005, the site launched social-networking tools typically associated with sites like MySpace: customized personal pages, group pages and personal blogs. However, “ … unlike a lot of other social-networking sites, we don’t focus on getting people to make this their primary social network and get all of their friends to join,” says Grant Miller, general manager of SparkPeople.com. “We’re just a tool so people can more easily meet others like themselves online and support one another.”
As of October 2007, SparkPeople has registered more than 2 million members.
A typical SparkPeople user comes to the site because she wants to lose weight, but once she joins the service, she’s presented with many options, Miller notes. She can either access her personal diet plan or search for a SparkTeam focused on issues important to her.
SparkTeams are groups of SparkPeople users united by a common thread.
“Some of the more popular teams include vegetarians, dog lovers, single moms, gardeners and brides-to-be,” Miller says.
But all of these groups are focused on maintaining goal-oriented, healthy lifestyles, so users aren’t just communicating with people who want to lose weight; they’re communicating with people who want to lose weight and who hold similar interests, jobs or stations in life.
And if a new user can’t find a SparkTeam that suits her niche, she’s free to start one and invite others.
Jenny Craig, which traditionally has clients work with individual consultants rather than in groups, recently launched a community message board and chat rooms on its site to facilitate member-to-member communication.
Several message boards are related to Jenny Craig’s celebrity spokespeople. The forum built around Valerie Bertinelli is called “Val’s Pals,” while Kirstie Alley has “Kirstie’s Corner.” Members also are free to start their own forums on whatever topics they choose.
Jenny Craig’s Arellano notes that the company places considerable value on the communities fostered by the forums, which she refers to as “all-way communication.”
Blogs: A two-way street
Blogs have been embraced by many industries as another method of delivering relevant content to consumers. Within the weight-management community, two types of blogs seem prevalent.
On one hand, a paid expert or spokesperson delivers content that reinforces with readers a company’s values while still providing worthwhile advice. Both Jenny Craig and WeightWatchers.com feature blogs of this type.
Jenny Craig features several blogs, each written by a different celebrity. Bertinelli and Alley act as spokespeople and maintain blogs chronicling their experiences using the Jenny Craig service, Arellano says. A third blog, written by singer and model Kimberly Locke, does much the same and includes her song downloads and bio.
These blogs take several forms, with a mixture of audio, video and text posted on a regular basis. Jenny Craig members can respond to blog posts on the site’s forums.
WeightWatchers.com offers four blogs, three of which are available only to plan subscribers. Each blog focuses on a particular topic, such as a “What’s for Dinner?” blog, which features quick recipes that fit Weight Watchers guidelines. Another blog features a writer who’s reached her goal weight, and relates her experiences maintaining that weight.
SparkPeople.com, on the other hand, puts blogs in the hands of its users. True to its reputation as a social network, the site allows users to speak freely about their strategies, failures and successes on the road to healthy living.
“Blogs allow people to keep themselves and others engaged without really any editorial work on our part,” SparkPeople’s Miller says. “Featuring new blog posts on each SparkTeam page has allowed us to effectively outsource a lot of our continuous communication.”