New Ingredient for Your Diet: Virtual Support Communities!


Keywords: Virtual communities; Virtual support communities; Public commitment; Identity-based motivation; Social identity; Weight loss

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                                               Share your progress 🙂

Dear bloggers,

Session 6 of the course Customer-centric Digital Commerce will be about community commitment and sharing economies. The required readings for this session are about why people participate in collaborative consumption and what managers should know about the sharing economy. This blog post will provide some insight into the required literature for this week by showing the effect virtual support communities could have on achieving individual goals, for example weight loss. I hope you feel inspired!

Have you ever wondered why your friends share their holidays, high wines and new clothes on Social Media that much? Do you sometimes feel desperate by watching so much bullsh#t on the day that you have to work on your blog posts? Well, then buy yourself a large Starbucks at the campus and feel energized. But.. does it actually help? I have a better suggestion: open your Instagram or SnapChat App and SHARE YOUR PROGRESS. I can promise you will feel energized as if you drank three Starbucks in a row!

Unfortunately, a new trend is coming where people actually don’t like the Social Media Bloggers since it make people feel the grass is always greener on the other side (you might recognize this). However, you can use that grass to color yours and benefit from it! But.. how?

The answer is simple: grab your mobile phone, open your Instagram and share your personal progress. And yes: this has been confirmed by a very interesting paper.

Academic Paper
Let me introduce you a very inspiring study, named ‘Weight loss Through Virtual Support Communities: A Role for Identity-based Motivation in Public Commitment’’. The authors of this study published their convincing findings in the Journal of Interactive Marketing and concluded that watching others’ success on social media can actually be effective for your own success. In this study, they observed the progress of two different weight-loss communities over a period of four years, which is quite long. They found that those who had shared their progress online had greater success in achieving their weight-loss goals than those who did not share their progress.

The two communities included in the study are ObesityHelp.com, the best website for surgical weight loss support, and WeightWatchers.com, the site for the top lifestyle-oriented weight loss program. Within these sites, individuals can access information or create content via blogs, chat rooms, or comments. They write and share blogs and are encouraged to actively share their progress through both text and pictures.

According to the authors, social identity motivates public commitment in support of goal attainment. The sharing of intimate information and photos about weight loss goals in virtual space seems to be a key factor in motivating behaviors and thus helps people attain their goals. So, actually, people can share the greenness of their grass instead of thinking that it’s always greener on the other side! GO ONLINE AND SHARE YOUR PROGRESS. It might be more effective than just drinking coffee..

Side note: there are four types of virtual support community members:

Which type of community member do you think you are? For example on Instagram?

1-s2-0-s1094996817300361-gr2-e1520247734424.jpg
Figure 1 | Typology of virtual support community members (Bradford et al., 2017)

Why is it relevant?
Not everyone can get the support they need from other people they interact with in person on a daily basis, for example friends and family. It might be helpful that technology can support community building and goal achievement in a digital world. Virtual Support Communities, such as online blogs, Instagram Blogs, and Facebook allow for accessibility, availability and flexibility in how users represent themselves on their achievements. These communities help participants to keep motivation and strive for progress. It decreases feelings of loneliness and makes people feel more happy and supported.

Virtual Suppo…. what’s that?
Social media can be used to build connections and relationships to have impact on the world. Jim Rawson says social media can build a virtual community in which to transform the sharing of ideas into real life endeavors. He is an academic professor at Georgia Regents University and his primary research interest is health policy, process improvement and innovative educational techniques. You should watch this video if you want a detailed explanation of what virtual support communities can do for online users today. Examples of virtual support communities are blogs on Instagram, Facebook and several webpages.

Click on the following link to watch the TedTalk of Jim Rawson on Youtube: TedTalk.

selfie+weight+loss.jpg
Figure 2 | Example of Virtual Support Community on Instagram (wdtv.com, 2018)

Conclusion – ”Sharing the triumphs and tribulations of your weight loss journey with other members of an online virtual support community plays an important role in achieving success, according this new study. The study examines the role of virtual communities and public commitment in setting and reaching weight loss goals.” – Bradford et al. 2017

Critical Note
Strength: the study provides a new definition of virtual support communities by developing a typology of different users. This typology is based on both beneficiary focus and the breadth of sharing.

Strength: the study contributes an explanation of how the balance between compliance and co-creation influences opportunities for public commitment in Virtual Support Communities. Prior literature called for additional research into roles for value creation in online communities. The authors of this study provide answers to this demand. 

Weakness: the authors do not explain the limitations of their study, they only discuss their contribution to prior literature. A critical note towards their own work is missing.

Weakness: the authors used two samples from the following communities: obesityhelp.com and weightwatchers.com. Both communities focus on lifestyle-oriented weight loss. The results of this study thus might be low in generalization since online communities differ in the subjects they are focusing on. It might be that sharing progress around for example career might be less positively working on others than the progress of weight loss. Losing weight is kind of health related and people would therefore feel more emotionally attached towards their ‘friends’. For sharing progress around careers, it might be that envy comes into play.

Suggestion: further research that investigate the effect of virtual support communities should incorporate several distinct online communities. Communities that both differ in user types (recruiters, learners, etc.) and are focused on different topics (career, study, health, etc.). Moreover, further research should make a critical note around their own work. This study doesn’t provide limitations, which is disadvantageous for readers’ confidence.

 

Are you ready to share your progress? I hope you feel inspired 🙂 

 

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Bibliography
Tonya Williams Bradford, Sonya A. Grier, Geraldine Rosa Henderson, Weight Loss Through Virtual Support Communities: A Role for Identity-based Motivation in Public Commitment, Journal of Interactive Marketing, Volume 40, 2017, Pages 9-23, ISSN 1094-9968.

Author
D. Verpalen
374199
Erasmus University, The Netherlands

 

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