Announcing the Launch of SparkAmerica!

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Update 12/17/13 2 p.m.: Check out this Washington Post story about SparkAmerica, featuring an interview with Chris Downie!

Hello, SparkPeople members!
I’m here to share with you the launch of our SparkAmerica campaign.  This is one of my favorite projects we’ve ever launched, so I took some time to try my best to give you a behind-the-scenes look at what we’re trying to do with this campaign. I'd love to hear any feedback or questions in the comments on this post!
Setting the Stage: How to Think about SparkAmerica
First, I want to set the stage for how you can think about this project.  As you know, we like having different types of challenges on the site as a way to motivate members to reach their goals.  Examples of challenges can include:  eating more fruits and veggies, submitting a crockpot recipe to win a prize, learning a new exercise, and many more.
This emphasis on challenges fits well with the underlying SparkPeople brand and program that integrates these two areas:
  1. The best of all areas of health and fitness
  2. The best of behavior change – including goal-setting,  motivation, leadership, fun, and more
We have seen that the integration of these two main areas has been key to our success in helping to transform the lives of tens of thousands of people over the past decade – where challenges are a great way to emphasize setting goals, getting motivated, having fun, showing leadership, and more.
As you read about SparkAmerica below, just keep in your mind that SparkAmerica is really just a giant challenge we’re building into the site in several fun ways.  In fact, when I tell the full history of SparkAmerica, I love sharing how this concept originated from a small challenge started by members in the SparkPeople community!
What Is SparkAmerica?
Now that you understand that SparkAmerica is simply a new type of challenge on the site, I want to share that we think this challenge could become so BIG that it grows into a national and international grassroots movement that is led by SparkPeople members!
Here’s how we are describing SparkAmerica to many large partners coming on board:
SparkAmerica: A National Movement to Spark America’s Health and Health Leadership
"We are bold enough to believe we can change America, but humble enough to know we need help—continued help from our many millions of visitors...and
help from visionary leaders and organizations across America."

–Chris Downie, Founder, SparkPeople
We’ve all seen the statistics: 68% of Americans are overweight or obese. 79 million Americans have pre-diabetes. Only 22% of us report regular physical activity. $495 billion in lost economic productivity due to health-related issues per year.
At SparkPeople, we believe our nation’s health problems are just as much a leadership issue as a health issue. By looking at the situation from this perspective, we have developed an innovative solution that has never been done before.
SparkAmerica is a campaign championed by SparkPeople and our 15 million members that aims to improve the health of all Americans in a sustainable way.
One of the big points of this language builds on what I mentioned earlier: that the underlying SparkPeople program integrates the best of health and fitness with the best of goal-setting, motivation, leadership, and more.  In other words, SparkPeople + our amazing members may truly be ideally suited to lead this movement!
We’ve been incredibly excited that many visionary leaders and organizations are signing on to be partners with SparkAmerica in some way.  I’ll be sharing more about this with you soon.
But, I’ll let you in on a secret.  I strongly believe that our most important partner in this campaign is YOU and every other current and future SparkPeople member.  After watching so many people transform their lives on the site over the past decade, I KNOW that individuals working together are the real key to building a grassroots movement.  And I know that with many of the new features and programs we’re launching as part of SparkAmerica that we now have the right formula to bring this all to life right now in a way that will help motivate you to reach your goals, possibly help the people most important to you (your friends, family, co-workers, and social network). And then, if we have enough individuals working together on this, that is what really could make an impact on one community at a time, scaling up to cities, states, many other countries, and the world.
Read on to see how we’ll make this happen...
What Programs Are Included in SparkAmerica?
As you know, we love SparkPoints!  We originally developed this rewards program because we want it to be fun and motivational for people to take one small step at a time to reach their goals—and ultimately reach goals you may have never thought possible.

1. The comprehensive SparkPeople weight-loss and fitness program
One of the best parts about this new SparkAmerica campaign is that the most basic thing you need to do to participate is to just take one step at a time to reach your goals on the site.  We will then take your SparkPoints and fitness minutes you earn as part of reaching your goals and do something very fun and exciting with those points and fitness minutes that I’ll describe in the next section.

2. The 60-Second Daily Check-In
A new program we are launching along with SparkAmerica is something we’re calling the 60-Second Daily Check-In. Here is the thinking behind that option:  Whenever we get together with SparkPeople members in person, they tell us that they share the site with all of their friends.  They say that many of their friends will tell them that SparkPeople is great and they become SparkFriends.  But, they also say that some of their friends aren’t looking to participate in a comprehensive program like SparkPeople. So, for a long time, we’ve wanted to strip out the best of what we offer (tracking tools; articles & videos from experts; and our supportive online community) and build a very simple program that anyone can use to reach their goals—even if they don’t want to track their foods or lose weight, for example. This program is essentially a slightly modified version of the Start page that emphasizes easy fitness-minute tracking instead of daily food tracking.

Since this SparkAmerica challenge is all about encouraging everyone to take action, we aggregate everyone’s SparkPoints and fitness minutes from both programs and bring them together.  Next, I’ll show you what we’re doing that is fun and innovative!
SparkAmerica Leaderboards & Challenges
This section is where all of this comes together into something new and exciting that nobody has ever attempted before.
Several years ago in our hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, we did a small beta test called SparkCincinnati. It ended up being so fun that we knew we wanted to make this a national and international challenge at some point.  Now is the time!
Here is how the SparkAmerica leaderboards will work: A key part of the challenge is that we’ll have members select their “favorites” from many different categories including city, state, employer, favorite sports teams, favorite celebrities or athletes, non-profits, universities and schools, and more. One key new point about these SparkTeams like your favorite city and state is that you don’t need to be active in the actual SparkTeam in order to join or support it.  Instead, you are simply indicating that this Team is one of your favorites that you support (additional participation in SparkTeam community is completely optional).
Next, the SparkPoints and fitness minutes earned by members will be aggregated and applied to all of their selected Teams. We will then rank the Teams in each category and publish ongoing leaderboards. This framework will become a platform for countless types of challenges all over America in a way never done before. SparkPeople has seen that this type of friendly competition is a great way to motivate people to reach goals.
Another fun feature we launched to help you feel even more connected to your favorite Teams is the “Team Bonus Points” feature (Step 3 on your SparkPeople Start page).  As you earn SparkPoints throughout the day, you will earn Bonus Spins so that you can give extra points to your favorite Teams to help them rise on the leaderboards.  Our goal with this feature is to have a simple and fun way to connect you with your real-world affinities as a way to stay motivated to reach your goals by helping support your teams.
Some examples of SparkAmerica Leaderboard Challenges will include:
  • Healthy Leader Challenges ranking individual fitness minutes and SparkPoints
  • City Challenges
  • Sports Team Fan Challenges
  • Corporate Challenges
  • Fans of Celebrities & Athletes
  • School and University Challenges
  • Mom Challenges (where Moms across America come together to help the children of America to end childhood obesity)
  • Health and Fitness Professional Challenges
  • Rallying Cry Challenges that everyone strives to reach together (an example could be for all SparkPeople members to reach 10 billion fitness minutes in 2014)
In addition to many types of ongoing leaderboards, we will also do many shorter-term challenges like:
  • Challenges between two cities during the week that their sports teams play each other
  • Short-term goal challenges around some part of the SparkPeople program
How to Get Involved
The great part about SparkAmerica is that just by using as a way to help you reach your goals, you are involved with the challenge.  But here are simple ways you can take this involvement to the next level:
  1. Select your favorite SparkTeams. Be motivated by the fact that reaching your goals will help your favorite teams rise on the leaderboards.
  1. Use the site to reach your goals.
  1. Spread the Spark (more on that below) about this to anyone you know. Now your friends can participate on SparkPeople using either the existing program, or the new 60-Second Daily Check-In if they want a simpler experience.
  1. Share SparkPeople content with your social networks (Facebook, Pinterest and more). Our healthy and motivational stories could be that small “spark” that changes someone’s life!
Here are some examples for how you might Spread the Spark:
  • SparkTeams: Help your favorite Teams (cities, sports teams, employer, etc.) rise on the leaderboards by spreading the spark to anyone you know who also is a fan of that Team.  This can be a fun and simple way to introduce your friends to SparkPeople
  • Companies/Organizations: If you work at a company or are involved in any other type of organization (like a church, school, non-profit, etc.), you can consider starting a SparkTeam for that organization and then being the “SparkAmerica Champion” for that organization.  With the launch of the 60-second daily check-in, SparkPeople now has something to offer to anyone in an organization!
  • You! We realize that sometimes members will heavily use for a while to reach a weight-loss goal and then they might stop using the site. With more emphasis on simple ways to stay engaged with SparkPeople that go far beyond weight loss, we hope that members will stay more engaged with the site for longer periods of time.  The important part about this is that this simple consistency—even if it takes only 60 seconds per day—can build your momentum over time to reach goals you might have never thought possible!
Note to International Members
Our goal is to build out this challenge one step at a time. So, the first step is to launch in the U.S., our home country.  But we are very passionate about bringing this challenge to many countries around the world.  Our first step is to provide a leaderboard for all other countries.  A next step will be to build out those leaderboards into specific country challenges like SparkCanada, SparkUK, etc.  Another next step will be to reach out to possible large partners in other countries for help.  Please remember we’re still a small team trying to do our best to help as many people as we can, so stay tuned for more steps for additional countries.  Our real goal is to Spark the entire world!
We welcome your questions and feedback about SparkAmerica. Please comment below with any thoughts or questions about whether SparkAmerica makes sense to you, what you like about it or anything else!