2012-06-19

Co.Exist

With Facebook's HealthyShare, Your Online Friends Propel Your Real Excercise

A new app from the social network and GE aims to get us moving during the Olympics. Can public goals (okay, yes, and shame) help people stick to their plans?

As part of their push to be part of the Olympics, Facebook announced today a new app that lets you add your own fitness and health goals to your timeline during the Olympics, and tasks your friends with helping you stick to them (and with cheering you on as you get closer).

Called HealthyShare, the app lets you record goals about fitness or diet. You can walk more, which is a simple yet surprisingly effective way to instantly improve your health--especially if you’re someone who doesn’t get much other exercise. You can also change up your diet, replacing candy with fruit, say. Once you commit to your goals (such as walking three times a week for 20 minutes) in the app, it’s recorded for permanent social networking posterity on your timeline.

As you log progress, you earn points in the app. Like a friend’s progress, or have them like yours, and you earn points, too. And, as you exercise more or eat healthier--or fall short--your friends notice and can encourage you or, if you’re of a different psychological makeup, remind you that you’re a fatso doing a bad job of getting fit. "I’m much more likely to achieve success if my friends are helping me along the way," says Kevin Knight, who works on creative strategy for Facebook. "It’s a lightweight way to set a goal and pursue it with my friends cheering me on."

There is also an option to commit to completing workouts submitted by Olympians and Olympic hopefuls like Kevin Durant, Michael Johnson, and Summer Sanders. A word of caution: There is no way you’re completing a workout close to what Michael Johnson does to prepare for racing. But we’ve all got to start somewhere.

This is another push by Facebook to use its massive networking power to change health outcomes, following as it does on the heels of a plan to let people display their organ donor status. "We want to look at what kind of good that can come with so many people connected," says Knight. "Part of that is building an infrastructure to allow visionaries like GE to plug into that infrastructure and do what they do best: helping people be healthier."

For GE, it’s part of their initiatives to help our country get more informed about health and wellness (which eventually will lead to selling more MRI machines). While the company’s Healthymagination site provides reams of info about American health, its footprint is small. As Linda Boff, GE’s executive director of global digital marketing, says: "We could never reach the number of people that Facebook has, and we bring our own credibility in the space."

Will having the support--or shame--of hundreds of people, many of whom you don’t know so well, push you to exercise harder or eat better? For most people, the answer is likely no. But for most people, nothing else is working either, so it’s worth trying the combination of a network effect plus some Olympic inspiration. Expect to see healthier timelines soon, and more of it brought to you by GE. Says Boff: "What we’re launching this morning is step one of a journey that will continue around people using social to get healthier together."

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