So for the last couple of years here, I've been leader of a Spark Team.
I'd like to say that it's a great overall experience, but I can't (though there are some truly great moments).
It's too much work for too little return on the investment of time. Initially I blamed myself... there must be something I'm doing wrong... so I tried all sorts of things that I saw other teams doing in an attempt to generate some team momentum and energy. After trying many different things, many different ways to no great effect, I realized it's truly not me.
I've even invested time to the detriment of my own journey (reading/responding to team member blogs, starting new discussion threads, researching new resources, planning and executing team challenges, trying to make sure the team at least LOOKS active)... no longer blogging as much (which I love and prefer) and spending as much time checking in on my friends not on the team (who I miss). It's thankless, frustrating, and wears on my spirit. If not for the small handful of people who have expressed gratitude, and who have found what they needed to be successful on their journey, and the fact that I passionately believe in the team focus, I'd just abandon it altogether (like all of the previous leaders who found it equally disheartening have done).
Even more disheartening, is that this team and my experience is not at all unusual.
I know of many, many, MANY teams across a wide variety of interests and focuses that are in the same position, and I've heard many people sadly commenting on how quiet their teams have become. New Spark members often assume that the fault lies in leadership, and they go off and start new teams (further fragmenting the potential active membership) to equally disheartening results.
Today I ran across a blog by a member very upset, upon having returned after being away for some time, to find that SparkPeople is just not "what it used to be... supportive... people checking in with each other daily... brainstorming solutions when asking for help." I then noted that nearly all of her attempts to interact at this juncture were on the Community Feed, and something suddenly clicked for me.
Here's my response to her observations as posted to 'my' (rolls eyes) team feed... I thought I'd offer it here, too, in the hopes of reaching a wider audience, and perhaps even SPARKing a change in how SparkPeople functions (shift member focus/energy to teams/individuals... perhaps fewer points for Community feed comments/posts, and more for team participation and reading blogs? I don't know why there's a limit to how many points you get in a day for reading blogs and posting to teams anyway... is there some sort of shortage of available points? I also really don't know what would help... maybe I'm just old and see/value community differently):
To all of our faithful, participating, supportive team members THANK YOU for being here! You are what makes this team AWESOME! We may be a very small group (12), but we are accomplishing so much together! Thank you, especially, for continuing to invest your time and attention even though some days it seems a bit pointless because no one else is here.
To everyone else (all 4,450 of you, LOL), listen up (especially you lurkers who show up throughout every month to take away what you can, yet never contribute even so much as a thank you):
I've been recently hearing from many that SparkPeople isn't the supportive place it used to be... and for too many members it really isn't, and I feel very badly for those who need the support but aren't getting it (I try to encourage as many as possible, because I remember what it meant to me, and find active teams to suggest, but that's really hard to find now). I've been watching, and asking myself why that may be so.
(Anybody else besides me notice the huge numbers of feeds that haven't been updated in literally years... or all the private SparkPages, and the people who comment on the blogs of others yet disable any avenue of response to their comments, and an increasing number of members who don't even have SparkPages and have disabled private messaging... yet they're interacting on the threads and leaving blog comments, but you can't get any sense of with whom it is that you're actually interacting!)
Here's what I've come to understand:
The support you miss and are looking for is still here, but you won't find it on the Community Feed. The feed primarily represents Spark App users, and isn't really conducive to forming the relationships that generate sincere connection and support. Posting to the Community Feed is largely a self-serving activity. Everyone simply and primarily drops in to post about themselves, their needs, their moment, to get their attention fix, and then they move on... it's a quick pay-off for virtually no investment. There is no consistency with regard to who is looking out for whom... yes, someone almost always responds (but not always), and never the same "someones" so there are no connections or relationships growing out of the interaction.
For sincere connection, support, and SPARK you have to INVEST: interact on teams, consistently support specific others on their journey, and get to know people as individuals. Blogging helps somewhat, because your blog does get you noticed on the team feeds, but unless you make an effort to also personally interact with and support others on those teams, people do eventually stop paying attention. Relationship and support are a two-way street. The more active I am in supporting others around here, the more support I receive in return... yet very little of that comes from the team I lead and take great pains to support.
Yes, I realize that many many SparkTeams are largely inactive... shockingly so in the last couple of years. That's because everyone is waiting for someone else to be the 'spark'... or is focusing on the short-term gain of interacting on the Community Feed, and not considering the long-term impact of neglecting to invest in the larger COMMUNITY.
(Ironic because Community 'Feed' implies that the Community is being fed, when it really isn't.)
September is coming up. It is a time when many people re-commit to crafting a healthy, inspiring lifestyle, and SparkPeople sees an influx of new members, and members who are regrouping.
I invite each of you to consider how you can get more out of this amazing resource that is SPARKpeople... especially if your own journey seems to be lacking in some way.
Ask yourself how much of your own SPARK are you offering to others, and consider making some changes.
Pick a team (and while we'd love to see more of you here, it doesn't have to be this one) and invest a little. You may be surprised at how quickly your own journey takes on new life, and you begin experiencing the true connection and support for your journey that you came here to find... or pick a half dozen people and commit to consistently taking notice of their daily ups and downs. BE the change you want to see.
Remember, if you don't use it, you lose it... and that doesn't just apply to your muscles!
P.S. A huge THANK YOU to all of those who continue to steadfastly support me on my journey here without "strings attached". It means the world to me. I also seem to blessed to have found a number of people who are less attached to the immediate gratification of the Community Feed, than they are to sincere connection of community and relationship.