Over the past decade, the wellness industry has become a formidable consumer market, with 73% of Americans participating in some form of wellness activities. But if the wellness industry spent the preceding years building itself a rocket, then Covid-19 sent it soaring into the upper atmosphere — these days, we could all use a little more self-care.
Facing both individual and collective loneliness, isolation and anxiety, people are increasingly seeking solutions to enhance their wellbeing. By the end of March 2020, downloads for mindfulness apps hit 750,000 a week, a 25% jump compared to January and February 2020, while a Yale-run online course on the science of wellbeing gained over a million new subscribers in just a few weeks.
In tandem with this spike in the pursuit of wellness, the remote nature of a Covid-stricken world sent many consumers flocking to online communities, with 77% saying in a global survey conducted by Facebook late last summer that the groups most important to them were operating online.
The wellness industry is at the intersection of these pandemic-accelerated trends — the wellness lifestyle boom and the phenomenon of growing digital communities. As consumers carry their new notions of self-care out of the pandemic era, it is no longer enough for wellness brands to simply provide a stellar standalone service or product. To sustain engagement and make a truly meaningful difference in customers’ lives, wellness companies should make community a central component of their offerings.
Here are three ways brands and their customers stand to benefit from harnessing the power of connection.
1. Connection promotes wellbeing
Forging community is healthy, plain and simple.
According to research by the Canadian government, people with a strong sense of belonging to community are twice as likely to report being in good health, both physically and mentally.
Wellness brands that can effectively recreate a similar sense of inter-connected satisfaction through the community that surrounds their product will ultimately be offering a service that is greater than the sum of its parts.
By providing platforms that bring people together to discuss shared interests and foster mutual encouragement and motivation, digital communities strive to replicate the longstanding positive effects of in-person communities. Social health and wellbeing startup, Wisdo, connects people facing similar experiences and challenges through a judgment-free AI-powered community that ranks everyone by how helpful they are to others. With 1.8 million users and counting, Wisdo has been able to measure and demonstrate dramatic loneliness reduction and an increase in emotional, mental and physical health. Wellness brands that can effectively recreate a similar sense of inter-connected satisfaction through the community that surrounds their product will ultimately be offering a service that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Chat rooms, bulletins, instant messaging services or social media integration within a wellness product let like-minded customers cheer each other on, share tips, and keep one another motivated…and seen. Communities can form and maintain a relationship with a given wellness brand by way of forming and maintaining relationships with each other, resulting in a wellness product whose benefits extend far beyond the moment of use.
2. Community builds engagement
Being connected to others, even digitally, often correlates with just how active and engaged users are with a product. By injecting their technologies with a wider social psychology or shared philosophy of wellness, wellness companies can offer users more than just a “product,” and will likely get more in return, including engagement, reviews, feedback, and continued subscriptions.
Fitness apps like Strava, Nike+, MyFitnessPal, and Fitocracy attest to the success of this line of thinking. They function through real-time engagement with users and are rooted in the philosophy of a physically healthy lifestyle. A 2017 study deemed these apps as “persuasive technologies,” as they’re designed to effectively shift the attitudes or behaviors of users through an external — communal — source of motivation and social influence.
The positive reinforcement users receive in these communities through ratings, thumbs ups, and various other features not only helps keep people engaged with the apps or products themselves, but makes them more committed to effectively achieving their fitness goals. Additionally, the competitive component of in-product communities, with interactive leader boards or comparable results like Fitbit’s friend tracker, provides friendly competition within the product, keeping people actively striving and engaged.
With digital social communities, wellness brands can turn the act of personal wellness and fitness — often an individually motivated pursuit — into a collective one that not only offers healthy solutions, but support and reinforcement as well.
3. Community helps maintain habits and accountability
Like in-person communities — where people find long-term camaraderie, comfort, and support — digital communities help keep users involved over time. This long-term engagement offers people the time and extra motivation needed to build habits, creating a healthier lifestyle overall.
Customizable aspects of apps or products that allow for personalization even within community-driven features can also help mesh the “personal” with the “collective,” bolstering positive habit formation and encouraging users to hold themselves and each other accountable for leading healthier lives. Personalization gives each respective user a wellness experience that is tailored to their individual needs and goals, while the communal aspects of a wellness product can help reinforce individual perseverance, “stepping in” even when personal motivation may wane.
The more one is engaged with their wellness community, the more likely they will have stronger feelings of belonging and loyalty to the product, with habitual, continual engagement driving customer loyalty and increased revenue, while also improving users’ outcomes.
Community-building as a facet of wellbeing tech is a growing trend, and for good reason. Social experiences can be great motivators for the creation and the maintenance of habits, and companies that make community-building a core feature of their product are seeing the benefits both for their users and for their business.
Wellbeing products can not and should not replace real-life experiences, but they can help, at least in part, satisfy the deeply human need for connection and for being part of something bigger than themselves. A model of wellness-tech that combines real-life experiences, sustained engagement, and digital connections will promote wellness in ways that will long outlast the current pandemic.
Article originally published in Entrepreneur Magazine, on August 11th, 2021