Elefriends: Mind’s online peer support community

by Andy Mayer
Posted on 19 August 2016
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Elefriends was an online community platform we designed and developed with Mind, the UK's largest mental health charity, from initial concept to launch and scale up. It provided a safe online space where people struggling with their mental health could support each other.

Elefriends grew to become the UK's most successful online peer support community, It had an in-house team of trained moderators. It had over 120,000 members, with around 50 new joining every day.

In a recent survey, 86% of people who use Elefriends said they now felt better able to manage their mental health. Many said they felt more confident talking about their experiences and getting access to the right support.

The video below, narrated by Stephen Fry, explains more about Elefriends:

A Lean, Agile approach

In 2013, we began a long-term relationship with Mind, helping them use Lean Startup principles from Silicon Valley to test their assumptions about whether a new online community would work. After paper prototyping, we built a Minimum Viable Product using Ruby on Rails to make a responsive website.

Since then, we iterated using Agile development sprints to add new features incrementally. Feedback from user testing was a key part of the process, as was monitoring the platform's performance metrics.

We were also responsible for the platform's user experience, where safeguarding and privacy were vital. We helped Mind overcome the challenge of designing suitable user journeys that were safe and met the needs of extremely vulnerable people.

Our approach is to always meet users and collect direct feedback whenever we can. With Elefriends, we carried out regular user research through facilitated testing sessions and interviews.

It's also how we added new features to the platform. Through co-creation design workshops and contextual enquiries, we were able to learn and better understand what new features users really wanted.

Scaling up

Once the concept was proven to work, we expanded the platform by developing an Elefriends Android app, iOS app and implementing an API. We continued to work in close partnership with Mind, supporting the platform as it grew, providing hosting and continuing Agile development.

Technically, it was a challenging project due to the size of the community and volume of posts. We handled the increase in traffic and usage by scaling up the platform's hosting service through Heroku. Elefriends was both a safe place for its users but also reliable and robust behind the scenes.

Keeping users safe

In a community of vulnerable people sharing content and supporting each other with mental health issues it's important to keep people safe from potentially harmful content. To do this we used Artificial Intelligence to understand the meaning of images before allowing them to be posted. You can read more about this in detail on our blog here.

Thriving community

Elefriends grew to become an extremely successful platform that more than achieved its original objectives.

Every month, members published over 400,000 posts, comments and likes, and the platform processed a new transaction every six seconds. Each day, over 3,000 private messages were sent and at least 50 new people joined the site.

We optimised the user experience to encourage new members to engage with the platform, which saw a fantastic 36% of people new to Elefriends post on the site. Only 0.1 percent of all comments were removed by moderators.

Related reading

Mind often wrote and talked about Elefriends on their blog and at events around the UK. Here are some links to pieces that explain more about the platform and how it was built.

Posted on 19 August 2016 - By Andy Mayer
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