Elefriends: Mind’s online peer support community

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

Now the UK's most successful online peer support community, Elefriends has an in-house team of trained moderators. It has 45,800 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 and how it helps its members.

A Lean, Agile approach

Three years ago, we began helping Mind 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've iterated using Agile development sprints to add new features incrementally. Feedback from user testing has been a key part of the process, as has monitoring the platform's performance metrics.

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

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

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

Scaling up

We've recently expanded the platform by developing and Elefriends Android app, iOS app and implementing an API. We continue to work in close partnership with Mind, supporting the platform as it grows, providing hosting and continuing Agile development.

Technically, it's been 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 is both a safe place for its users but also reliable and robust behind the scenes.

Elefriends currently has around 50,000 members. Over the next couple of years Mind plan to scale this to 100,000 using the tools we have developed.

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 has grown to become an extremely successful platform that has well achieved its original objectives.

Every month, members publish over 400,000 posts, comments and likes, and the platform processes a new transaction every six seconds. Each day, over 3,000 private messages are sent and at least 50 new people join the site.

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

Related reading

Mind often write and talk 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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