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You talkin' to me? Web-based campaign speaks to individuals. (Creating Community).

Years ago, a popular advertising campaign featured an elegant table surrounded by beautiful people that were enjoying a decadent meal. As the quality condiments made their way around, an obviously out-of-place man asked in a southern yawp, "Can you please pass the jelly?" The look on the horrified matron's face told the story: One must choose words carefully, particularly when it comes to fruit spread.

Knowing with whom you are speaking and employing the proper response may be just semantics in the world of preserves, but for nonprofits it can mean the difference between providing essential information and services and missing the target altogether.

The Arthritis Foundation has decided not only to cater to individuals on a personal basis, they have utilized the oft-impersonal Internet to do so. The Atlanta-based organization has developed Connect and Control, an Internet-housed, 18-week campaign that provides personal pain reduction tips, emotional coping techniques and physical activity and nutrition guidance. The tips provided are produced out of each individual's specific lifestyle, disease and disposition toward adapting one's behavior. The tone of the messages will vary with each person's profile.

"We realized that since there are 43 million Americans with arthritis that is a very large number to tackle," explained Shannon Whenstone Mescher, vice president of programs and services at the Arthritis Foundation. "So one of the things that we needed to do was to find another way to reach them besides direct service."

What was developed was a program that is uniquely devised upon the receipt of profile information from enrolled members. Connect and Control asks personal questions in segments, or modules, focusing on exercise habits, nutrition, pain management, support needs, treatment options and the manner in which that person handles stress and depression. From the survey questions a program is tailored specifically for those answers. Since its soft launch in November, 2000, more than 5,000 people have answered the survey and taken part in the program.

"We break it into the modules ... and for each module there's about 15 questions," clarified Carl Malpass, account manager for MicroMass Communications. MicroMass developed the software used to launch Connect and Control. "That's close to 100 questions total, but the person is not filling that out all at one time. Each week a certain module is the focus and they answer those questions for that week. The majority of the questions are multiple choice but there are some questions where people provide their own words. The program changes and morphs each week depending on the previous week's answers," he added.

Those weekly changes make the ultimate path a virtual uncertainty. Unlike many Web-based programs, Connect and Control is not a bank of preconceived programs assigned to specific answer combinations, said Bryan Ferren, CEO of MicroMass. The system itself creates the message that is sent Out.

"It's different than a traditional sort of segmentation model that's out there where a program would build different permutations that it may deliver to someone based on profile points," Ferren explained. Traditionally, the content in a database is set out in full form and based on someone's profile they will pick out which one most closely matches and then deliver that pre-determined message to them. This system works in that messages sit in a database in its message fragments. Based on (the person's) profile, our engine goes into that database of content and assembles a message that is appropriate for that individual, delivers it and then that message goes away, it may never be delivered again. But it would only be delivered again with a profile from a second individual that exactly matches the first person.

Once the system composes the message it is sent Out on a weekly basis via email. The email contains a direct link back into the Connect and Control program where a "Welcome Back" screen greets participants. That initial Web page will provide an outline for all of the stories and content that they will be reading for that week, Whenstone Mescher said. Most of the content used was either previously developed or owned by the Arthritis Foundation.

Connect and Control is actually based on a previous program called the Arthritis Self Help Course. Whenstone Mescher explained that the core concepts of the Self Help Course were developed in a way that it could be tailored to each individual user. The refurbished information was then combined with MicroMass software to produce the current incarnation. Topics that are covered include pain management, physical activity, nutrition, support and healthcare providers, and the emotional side including stress and depression.

"Most of the content and core concepts already existed. What we did was work it into a theory-based formula," said Whenstone Mescher. "What that formula does is look at the way that a person accepts messages. So, if we were talking to me, who might not be ready to start an exercise program, we would talk to me in a different way than we would talk to you, who has already been exercising for six years now."

The program is being counted on to become a staple of the foundation's Web site with updates and revisions taking place in the same time frame as other programs -- a three-year basis. However, if something Was missing or only part of a picture was being presented the organization would go back and update the content "as needed," Whenstone Mescher added.

As for people disclosing personal health information, Whenstone Mescher assured that personal information entered into the program would not be shared. That information is housed on a completely separate database that is not associated with the Arthritis Foundation's other databases. Participant's identities will not be connected to their health-related information either, she added. In addition, all of the aggregate data gathered, for example, to see what portion of the people have osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, is kept confidential.

The foundation is encouraging year-round use of the program despite only 18 weeks of initial content. The Connect and Control site is supplemented with a table of contents that lists all of the stories for quick and easy access. Also, once people completes the 18 weeks, they will be at a different stage so refreshing their answers to the introductory questionnaire will yield a second program that varies from the first.

"Now the content itself is similar but the way we speak to them about the content is a little bit different," explained Whenstone Mescher. "They can also just use it as a resource -- they can pick and choose tools that they want to use. If they want to come back and use the message boards or the exercise log they can. So, it's really kind of limitless how they want to use it after the 18 weeks."
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Article Details
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Author:Causer, Craig
Publication:The Non-profit Times
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 15, 2002
Words:1122
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