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 engagement in employee 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.

Snapshot of how the EX Community contributes to employee health initiatives


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.

Amanda Graham, Ph.D.
Amanda Graham, Ph.D.

Chief of Innovations

As Chief of Innovations, Dr. Amanda Graham leads the Innovations Center within Truth Initiative. The Innovations Center is dedicated to designing and building leading digital products for tobacco cessation, including the EX Program. She is internationally recognized as a thought leader in web and mobile quit-smoking interventions and online social networks and has been awarded over $15 million in research funding. She has published over 100 peer-reviewed manuscripts and serves on National Institutes of Health study sections and numerous journal editorial boards. Graham is Professor of Medicine (adjunct) at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science.

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