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Case Study: How the Recovery Community Became an Ecosystem of Care for People with Eating Dissorders

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Designing a quality virtual community for people with mental health issues is particularly nuanced. Managing those communities is even more complex.


It’s been six months since I partnered with the team at Very Health and I caught up with the community manager, Tamanna Bavishi, to reflect back on the initial community launch and how the community has evolved since then. 


Very Health is a virtual clinic for expert, effective and easy to access eating recoVERY. The provide a range of 1:1 and group services and they came to me to craft and launch their community offering. During our time together, we worked through my VIP Community Setup Package: crafting their community model, onboarding flow and copy, setting up the community platform, and creating a plan for launching it to their audience.


We decided to host the community on Circle

 

When the Very Health team came to me, they had a few team members who were dead set on hosting the community in Discord because of a few fancy features. People are usually drawn to popular platforms because they think we must build the community where people already are.


While access is of course important and there are really amazing community experiences happening on Discord, I knew that trust, safety and security would be the #1 priority for this community. I gently but firmly maintained that Discord was not the right space to host this community.


Luckily, the client listened.


We built a beta version for the community on the all-in-one platform Circle (more on how we made that decision in my platform comparison piece). We tested 2 community concepts - a place for patients dealing with disordered eating patterns and a place for their supporters to gather as well.


While the Recovery team will host both of these groups at first, I anticipate that over time there might be one group that finds more value out of the community experience and they can dedicate all of their community energy to this one (or, maybe they will find both fit their business objectives and both provide a lot of value, we don't know yet). But they are still in testing running both segments of the community.


In just 6 months, they are in beta with 150+ patients and supporters in their community talking about disordered eating recovery journey in a safe space.


Here’s what worked:


I asked Tammy, the community manager, what she’s most proud of. When the community first started, the open spaces for conversation that we designed were pretty quiet. She said that getting people to trust and talk with her in the DMs, especially in light of the nature of the space, was a lot of work, but once she was able to build trust privately in the DMs, she slowly started drawing those conversations back into the open conversation spaces.


Here’s what didn’t work:

One of the initial ideas was to have spaces for members to post regular updates about their recovery journey based on the direction of their progress. Tammy noticed that this design was a bit sterile and unused by members. Instead of wasting any more time on a design that clearly wasn’t getting the results she wanted, she pivoted and created spaces for open journaling. Instead of breaking the journey into 3 narrow statuses, she broadened the scope to access experiences members DID feel comfortable sharing about.


This is a great engagement strategy. Especially in communities that serve people with mental health issues, people can be hesitant to share about their mental health experience right off the bat. Rather than forcing it, Tammy focused her energy instead on broadening the conversation and getting members talking about something they are comfortable with - gratitude and general journaling.


What I greatly admire and appreciate about Tammy’s community building approach is that she is constantly testing. I asked if she had anything new planned coming soon and she reflected that she is always tinkering, testing, and iterating with the onboarding communication and flow. She admitted she will probably always be testing this and improving it over time.


Free and paid models

There are a lot of bad ways to offer a membership community for free, but there are two good ways. One is to use one program in your community and offer it for free to non-members as way to bring in new members. This works great for time-bound events, challenges, or limited access to stand-alone content. 


The other great way to leverage a free membership is to offer a free beta community when you don't know who your members are or how to best serve them. Now, I want to be extremely cautious here. Because 90% of membership communities do NOT need to offer a free beta version, even if they aren't completely clear on who their members are. They can start testing right away even with a paid offer. 


But this community concept and design was extremely nuanced, complex, and delicate. A huge part of the value of the community will come from the members that gather there. And members will not gather (let alone pay) until they know it is a safe, trusting, and vibrant home for people with eating disorders. 


It reminds me a lot of Groove, a community/product that only recently launched their paid product after over a year of offering it for free as a beta in order to gather and truly identify who their product was for.


If you know my style, you know I don’t advocate for a free offering for membership communities hardly ever, but this is one example where it was necessary to offer a free beta version in order to truly understand the member, the community offer, and what will make the community a valuable space for all participants.


Communities like the Recovery Community are my dream client. Their team was savvy and invested deeply in the project. They also quickly caught on to the vision of the community being a landscape for testing who their customer is and how the team can serve them. Not only that, but knowing I played a role in the impact this community has in changing and maybe even saving lives is deeply rewarding and meaningful.


Thank you to Tammy for sharing some time with me and the Very Health team for trusting me on such an important community building project. I can't wait to see where the community is headed next!


If you're ready to get your community launched, let's chat! Set up a free Discovery Call today to see if my services could be a good fit for you.


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