Online Communities: Kickstart Engagement to Improve Employee Health

Online Communities: Kickstart Engagement to Improve Employee Health

With the right online communities, employers can kickstart and sustain employee engagement in improving their health.

Research shows that even complex and costly addictions, such as tobacco use, can be overcome with active support from an online community.

Over the past 10 years, we’ve grown a large, thriving online community of current and former smokers—called the EX Community—who support each other throughout the quitting process. Here’s how active social networks can provide a positive impact on improving employee health by helping tobacco users quit.


Benefits of online communities for employee health

For those who choose to connect with others in online social networks, the richness and personalization of the information shared can be powerful drivers of healthy behavior and better health. Here’s how:

  • Online social networks provide easy, round-the-clock access to hundreds if not thousands of “expert” peers – those further ahead on the quitting journey. These peers can provide firsthand experience about what might happen and how things feel to demystify and “de-awfulize” quitting. In the EX Community, one of the most widely read posts is titled “What To Expect In the First Four Months.”
  • Online social networks transcend geography to provide access to a global network of people taking the same medication, navigating the same difficult behavior change, or struggling with the same chronic condition. Access to this extended network helps members overcome feelings of isolation and stigma.
  • The availability of a larger, more diverse social network through the Internet may provide better-matched and more sustained support than “offline” networks. A spouse or family members may become burned out over time in providing support. The change, flux and persistence of long-term members in online communities means there is always someone available for support.

The proof that online communities work

Simply browse the EX Community and it becomes quickly apparent that this online social network has literally saved lives.

“I could never have quit without the people on this site, I could go here for support any time of the day or night, which when you are trying to quit you need it lots and family members that do not smoke just do not understand” says one community member.

Says another, “From the bottom of my heart: I feel like those of you that have been supporting me, although I don’t know any of you, are helping me to save my life (what stranger does that) my friends at this point aren’t doing that. You guys are the most caring, supporting folks I have ever had the privilege to cross paths with. From the bottom of my heart: Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.”

Our research substantiates these powerful personal testimonials. A paper published in PLOS One in August 2017 showed that participating in the EX Community is prospectively related to greater success in quitting. The effect was strongest for those who actively posted and engaged with other members – but we’ve also seen that even lurking or just reading other posts produces benefits in terms of quitting.

Learn more about the impact of online communities on employee health

I shared more details around the framework for effective online communities to help smokers quit in a recent webcast, “Done Right: How Online Communities Transform Employee Health.”

In this Society for Human Resource Management webinar, I was joined by two colleagues who share my passion for online communities for health. Colleen Young, community director of Mayo Clinic Connect, discussed what works (and what doesn’t) when it comes to using online communities to support effective health management. Plus, Todd Nilson, head of consultancy at FeverBee, shared pivotal ways that online communities support organizations to achieve company goals.

To listen and learn how you can help your employee population improve their health outcomes through online communities, complete a short registration and download our free webcast.

Amanda Graham, Ph.D.

Senior Vice President of Innovations

Amanda leads the Innovations Center within Truth Initiative. The Innovations Center is dedicated to designing, building, and marketing novel digital products—like the EX Program—for quitting and prevention. She is a thought leader in web and mobile quit-smoking interventions and online social networks, and has been awarded over $15 million in research funding. Amanda earned a Master of Science and Ph.D. in Clinical Health Psychology from the University of Health Sciences/Chicago Medical School. She is also an Adjunct Professor of Oncology at Georgetown University Medical Center.