Steps to Networking – Step 88: The KickSugar group

Written By Rick Frishman Published April 14th, 2010

STEP 88: The KickSugar group

When journalist Connie Benesch discovered that her health problems, bouts of moodiness and other erratic behavior were due to severe hypoglycemia and sugar intolerance, she eliminated all sugar from her diet. A few years later, she decided to write SUGAR SHOCK! (Rodale, 2004). Like millions of other Internet users, Benesch also began exploring the world of networking online by joining several discussion groups. On the Internet, Benesch found a way to instantly connect with other hypoglycemics and sugar addicts grappling with similar problems.

Realizing the tremendous potential of networking online, Benesch founded and began moderating her own discussion group, the KickSugar group (Subscribe: kicksugar-subscribe@yahoogroups.com). Her goals for both the group and her book were the same—to inspire, educate and help those who were also suffering from sugar intolerance. Benesch wanted to support sufferers who were enduring the same mysterious symptoms that had tormented her for years and to let them know that they were not alone. The group, in turn, gave Benesch direct access to her target audience, fellow sugar intolerants, who by voicing their concerns enabled her to discover the type of information they wanted in a book.

Benesch started the KickSugar group in November 2002 and an average of 20 new members have joined each month (including those who have dropped out). Its members are from all over the US, Canada and several foreign nations. The questions group members ask have identified their major concerns and their comments are filled with revealing insights and valuable information.

“In my mind, this KickSugar group has been a mutually rewarding experience. I like to think that members of my virtual community have been inspired, nurtured and supported in ways that they haven’t found in the ‘real world.’ I could be wrong, but, in my opinion, we can network online in a way that doesn’t seem to exist in real time. Members of my group have said as much to me and to the group,” Benesch noted.

”In part, the anonymity we have online allows us to share in very deep, meaningful ways. Both shy and gregarious people alike can discuss topics easily – with no fear of people frowning at them or looking at them askance. I suspect that it’s easier for most people to reveal their fears, worries and suspicions in a supportive, online home than it would be in a room full of people.”

Benesch makes it clear to everyone that she is not a physician, but she did bring in a registered dietician to work closely with her group. Benesch believes that her lay status and personal history of sugar problems are actually a bonus because the group would not be as open and forthcoming if she were a physician or a scientist writing a book about the dangers of sugar.

Like any relationship, the KickSugar group had evolved and its nature has changed. It was originally designed to be small, but now has well over 100 members because Benesch didn’t have the heart to turn away suffering people who came to the group for help.

A smaller, private group has spun off from the KickSugar group. It consists of seven members who write to each other and to the group’s consulting dietician each day to report what they eat and what affect these foods have on how they feel. The dietician analyzes their intake and she and the subgroup make suggestions and observations. Benesch also belongs to a hypoglycemia group as well as to a private group composed of authors and experts who network and share information.

Why members join

Members join the KickSugar group to receive help, support, encouragement, information and inspiration. They form deep, intricate and supportive relationships with each other and Benesch. Members seem to like the on line camaraderie and enjoy being a part of a sharply focused virtual community.

The biggest benefit, according to Benesch, is that members realize that they are not alone in their struggles, which gives them enormous relief. They also benefit greatly from having a knowledgeable, non-stop, ever-present, support team as close as their keyboard.

In their battle against sugar, group members are at all different stages. They range from struggling beginners who want to learn more about symptoms that plague them, to those who need support in staying off sugar to others who have been off sugar for a while and want to help others. Members also include people diagnosed as hypoglycemic and diabetic as well as obese and overweight individuals. Benesch stresses that the idea that only overweight people have sugar-related problems is totally false.

How to start a group

A number of sites host discussion groups in addition to Yahoo. Starting and joining a group on Yahoo is free. Founders of groups can choose to open them to the public, as Benesch has or keep them private. Public groups are listed at http://dir.groups.yahoo.com/dir. Private groups are for members only and are unlisted. Many people find out about groups by word of mouth.

To start your own Yahoo group, you need to get a user ID. After signing on, you simply go to http://groups.yahoo.com/start. Yahoo has a few requirements, but none are onerous. Since Benesch was writing a book and wanted people to remember her, she used her own name as her user ID. In addition, to start a group you must create a group description and set the group’s parameters.

Rules

KickSugar has few rules.

• Attachments were outlawed after some attachments to postings inadvertently contained viruses. Most discussion groups ban attachments
• Postings must stick to the topic, but Benesch tries to give members a little leeway
• If a member mentions a study or a news article, he/she has to state who conducted the study or the publication in which the article appeared. This last rule helps confine the group to credible studies and keep discussions at a higher level
• Members cannot make medical claims and each posting contains a medical disclaimer

Moderating a group

The moderator has to set the tone for the group. Benesch doesn’t try to convince members to kick sugar completely unless they want to. However, she hopes that they will cut down considerably and find what works for them. The purpose of the KickSugar group is to raise awareness about the dangers of sugar and the decision on whether to stop, cut back or continue is up to each member. Benesch tries to be accepting and encouraging of all points of views and all paths to get there. However, she discourages members from whining because she wants them find the group to be an empowering, if not liberating, experience.

Benesch confesses that she had to learn to be an online leader. When conducting an Internet discussion, you don’t get immediate feedback and emails can be misconstrued.

To keep the group lively and relevant, Benesch posts tips and topics for discussions, many of which relate to subjects she addresses in her book. People new to the group often post questions that have been well covered, so Benesch has developed and posted articles that answer these questions and she informs new group members about the availability of this material when they join.

The KickSugar group knows that Benesch is writing a book about the dangers of sugar. When members post pithy or eloquent remarks on topics that the author is covering in her book, she will send them a private email to obtain their permission to use the quote and to explain that it could help others.

Yahoo group members can read group email in three ways. In: (1) separate, individual email, (2) one or more daily digests that lump together all email to the group or (3) on the group’s Web site.

When you set up a group on Yahoo, you can have email sent automatically. For example, Benesh has created an introductory email that is sent to people who express interest in joining the group. In that email, she asks would-be-members to briefly explain their goals for joining the group. Although it’s an extra and time-consuming step, it gives her a sense about the prospective member. Benesch has also created a number of other emails that are sent automatically: one welcomes new members and another is sent to all members every two weeks asking for ideas to improve the group.

Benesch recommends

Making sure that you have profound dedication to group’s mission and the members’ goals. “Moderating a discussion group is very time consuming. You have to have a passion and total commitment to your topic or subject matter. It must drive you,” Benesch points out. She also notes that moderating a discussion group is a responsibility. “People rely upon you and look up to you and you really need to set a good example.”

Benesch also suggests finding a partner or co-moderator to help divvy up the work. “It’s a huge commitment of time and you might want to have someone administrate the group.”

Benesch finds that the online forum encourages members and allows them to show their vulnerabilities. I find the nature of networking and sharing is different in cyberspace. “When we communicate online in my group, we tend to share intimate thoughts and concerns. Even the most shy will reveal his or her concerns. And we know, without a doubt, that no matter what we say, we’ll be unconditionally accepted,” Benesch said.

Action steps

1. Identify the three target audiences that you would like your Web site or discussion group to attract.
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2. List the information that your target audiences would need.
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3. Set forth the best ways to reach your target audiences.
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4. State what you, as a discussion group member, would you want the group to provide for you.
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(Excerpted from NETWORKING MAGIC: Making Connections That Will Change Your Life By Rick Frishman and Jill Lublin With Mark Steisel)


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