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Can Social Accountability Circles Change Our World?

In our current Insight series, we have been exploring the power of Social Accountability Circles (SACs) to influence behavior change. We examined one model of success in Weight Watchers which brings together food point systems and programs, empowered by technology and relationships, to help members lose weight. We also identified four principles that promote the success of Social Accountability Circles:

  1. Gathering and connecting like-minded people who are committed to shared goals
  2. Creating systems of accountability to help the group to regularly measure change at both the individual and group level
  3. Fostering caring relationships with leaders and peers
  4. Celebrating milestones of achievement and success

Let’s look at another example: CrossFit. There are over 13,000 CrossFit fitness centers around the country that command high membership fees ranging up to $300 per month. CrossFit has been successful and continues to grow internationally as well because it follows the four SAC principles. The program attracts and retains members who value the unique program, which delivers high-intensity, core strength and conditioning training. I have observed CrossFit group classes in action; the participants are not always your stereotypical “Spartan Race” athletes. Many look like the average 55 or 65 year-old who wants to improve their core strength and flexibility in order to protect their bodies as they age. CrossFit groups are bonded because they are doing the same workout routines and durations together – but each individual is focused on their own personal performance. At the end of each class, member performance is tracked on a board and also in a personal file for ongoing progress tracking by member. From what I have observed, it is clear that group camaraderie is high. New personal bests are celebrated by members. I believe that the group accountability and relational dynamics of CrossFit enable members to achieve and maintain better results than they would if working out on their own.

MyFitnessPal.com and the MyFitnessPal app is another tool that utilizes the four SAC principles. MyFitnessPal offers a database and platform for people to easily track and share their meals and workouts (calories in/calories out). When you sign up for MyFitnessPal (there are both free and paid tiers), you are encouraged to be honest about your progress. Outside of logging your caloric intake, the platform also provides an opportunity for participants to learn from others, share their own tips, receive and give encouragement, and even make friends through their discussion forums. No need to feel guilty about eating that cookie when you can see a friend on the platform cheated with a slice of cake. Accountability, and success rates, go up when you both agree to log an extra workout to make up for your individual indulgences. 

Our society is innovating new ways to help people make positive changes by reducing or eliminating unhealthy behaviors and increasing and sustaining healthy ones. Enlightened school administrators care about enhancing whole child health (physical, social and emotional health) because doing so results in increased cognition and academic performance. 

Financial institutions and governments want people to be financially fit so that customers and taxpayers can pay their bills, pay their taxes and invest in their futures. But, unfortunately, our population at large is not getting healthier physically or financially. Rates of obesity and diabetes are at record levels, and almost half of American households have no emergency savings. The Federal Reserve Board in 2017 found that 44 percent of American households surveyed could not cover a $400 emergency expense.

I call on innovative marketers everywhere to learn from examples like CrossFit and MyFitnessPal, and to work harder with academia, government and non-profit organizations to create new solutions that leverage Social Accountability Circles to address these persistent problems in the areas of physical and financial fitness. Those who do will not just create new business and brand value – they might even change the world.


Marketing Agency Blog Post Author of Can Social Accountability Circles Change Our World?

February 21, 2019
Written by Tom Sullivan

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