Wired – Wellness & Prevention: Getting Social Without the Networking: Enhancing RelatednessDecember 20, 2013 by Shannon

December 20, 2013


In a previous entry, I talked about how engaging people avatarsin technology requires supporting their basic needs of competence, autonomy, and relatedness. This is all described by the Self-Determination Theory of motivation. I’ve found working in health care technology that of these three needs, it can be most challenging to support people’s feelings of relatedness.

The reasons why are varied. One reason is that the most obvious solution to supporting relatedness, social media, is difficult to implement meaningfully in a health intervention. It’s not enough to simply give people a forum to share information; doing so must provide them with some sort of benefit, be it advice on working toward a goal, encouragement from others, or a challenge to try a new approach.

At the same time, health care companies tend to be conservative with respect to use of social media. Inviting users to discuss their health concerns might create a responsibility to respond that companies aren’t able to effectively meet. For these reasons and many others, the integration of social media with a health intervention can be tricky.

Fortunately, there are ways to support relatedness without using social media, or indeed, using any actual other person. I’ll talk about three here, and would love to hear people’s thoughts on other techniques in the comments.

Personalization. The digital health coaching products at Wellness & Prevention, a Johnson & Johnson Company, use a technique called tailoring to create an individualized coaching plan for each user. Users respond to a “consultation” that collects a variety of data, including both standard health risk information as well as information about motivational bases and barriers to change. Then, using this self-report data as well as any available import data from biometrics or EMRs, the digital health coaching system assembles the tailored plan. These plans are built from the word fragment level and reflect an understanding of the user’s needs. A system that recognizes the user in this way can enhance feelings of relatedness by saying, in a way, “I heard you. You matter.”

Personalization algorithms such as those used by Pandora and Amazon to select music or recommend product purchases are another way to show a user that their activities within a system have had an effect. As the algorithms grow increasingly accurate with additional data and feedback, a Pandora listener or Amazon shopper may indeed feel like the company knows them.


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By Amy Bucher

Amy Bucher is a psychologist who focuses on designing programs that help people live healthier and happier lives by changing their behaviors. She is Associate Director of Behavioral Science for Wellness & Prevention, Inc., a Johnson & Johnson Company.