During the Spring 2022 semester, social media marketing students in the school of Journalism and Mass Communications partnered with OCDfeat. The partnership aimed to develop a social media marketing strategy to help reach communities critical to the app's initial launch, which aims to help children and families manage and overcome the challenges of living with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
"I was curious to see what the students would come up with," said Jason Niosi, founder of OCDfeat. "Especially from those not a part of the OCD community."
Student's developed three different plans, which provided direction about post type, frequency, and foundational principles to help the startup establish a social media presence.
"I got way more than I expected," Niosi said. "And a lot more intel that makes it easier for me to move forward with confidence about how to move forward."
One of the teams provided insights about marketing primarily to women that Niosi found surprising.
"My response was this was more than just moms," Niosi said. "Being a dad going through it, I was like, oh wait, what about the dads? Well, 125 people have signed up so far, and only three are men. The students were absolutely right in terms of the audience, which changed some of the communications that I had in mind."
Students also worked to provide competitor audits and analysis of 'top content' strategies to help connect OCDfeat with crucial audiences.
"What was really beneficial for me to learn was what was considered a successful post versus one that wasn't, along with where the engagement was happening," Niosi said.
"It was a great experience, and honestly, there wasn't too much involvement from my end," Niosi said. "For startups with a lack of time and resources, I would definitely recommend a partnership with the University of Iowa."
As a result of the community partnership's initial success, Niosi began recruiting an intern from the class to help continue the work of growing social media and sign-ups for OCDfeat.
Niosi previously worked with Laura Kivlighan, adjunct professor and marketing manager for the University of Iowa College of Law, at an agency in Madison, Wisconsin.
"Laura worked on social media, and I was in public relations, so we worked on several accounts together and stayed in touch," Niosi said. "I later asked if she could help with OCDfeat initiative from a social media standpoint since that's not my expertise."
Kivlighan suggested that Niosi consider being a community partner for her community engaged social media marketing class.
"I jumped on the opportunity because I went through a similar exercise when I was in college with live clients," Niosi said. "So this was a great opportunity to be on the client-side and get different perspectives from students."
Niosi founded OCDfeat during the COVID-19 pandemic in response to his son Dexter's challenges adjusting to the virtual treatment of his OCD.
"Dexter was not engaging with his therapy, and I noticed a bunch of different gaps when researching what parents with children with OCD could do," Niosi said. "I discovered necessary tools that didn't exist."
Dexter was diagnosed with 'scrupulosity' or religion-based OCD when he was eight years old after five years of struggling to get a diagnosis.
"He feared dying and wouldn't go to sleep at night because he feared he wouldn't wake up in the morning," Niosi said. "That turned into prayers, and then prayers took over his life, and he lost focus, which led us to go to some of the most severe treatments."
The name for OCDfeat came about when Niosi asked his son Dexter to describe his OCD in one word, which was 'victorious.'
"We were pretty happy about that," Niosi said. "Because we have our good days and bad days. The 'defeat' in OCDfeat came from that, along with the sense of accomplishment. The whole mantra of the company is 'live victoriously,' while helping families get OCD under control."
Niosi created the OCDfeat home management app to fill those gaps by helping parents and children track behaviors and communicate with healthcare providers between therapy appointments.
While a few competitors are offering similar services, OCDfeat's unique approach is to meet the unmet needs of other apps in the market.
"What makes us different is what happens in-between visits to the doctor's office," Niosi said. "We are increasing exposure response prevention, which generally only happens when you are with a therapist, whether it is in person or virtual."
OCDfeat aims to combat the many stereotypes associated with OCD, which manifests differently among individuals.
Different subcategories of OCD include' contamination' - the most common one that people think of - which contains obsessive hand-washing.
"It might not just be about hand washing, Niosi said. "It could be a nine-hour shower because something touched their arm."
The more data that OCDfeat generates from users on the app will help therapists develop effective treatment programs across the spectrum of OCD.
OCDfeat is in the process of developing a product and will be launching the initial beta next week. So far, 125 people have signed up, of which 40 parents and ten therapists will be beta testers before making the app available worldwide.
"It's exciting to see the pilot come to life," Niosi said. "It's fun."
OCDfeat wants to have the app available to families and therapists by July 2022. The initial target audience is parents who have a child diagnosed with OCD who are struggling at home or at a point where they have nowhere else to turn.
"That's who those first social media posts are targeting," Niosi said. "Those families who are the most in need."
Following the initial launch, OCDfeat will offer assessments and tools for families who think their kids might be on the spectrum of OCD, whether mild or severe, to help families in that 'early journey' of diagnosis.
"At the same time, we will be reaching out to therapists and having them offer it to their patient base," Niosi said. "They would offer it as part of their experience through the clinic that they work for."
The long-term vision is to educate pediatricians, who often don't know how to recognize OCD when they are not experts in the field, by providing resources to be shared with patients.
OCDfeat also wants to help siblings and relatives understand and support those struggling with OCD.
"One of the gaps in the market is that there is no help for siblings of a brother or sister with OCD, so we are developing those resources," Niosi said. "Even for those external family members who don't live in the household, we will provide resources and access to help them better understand their niece, nephew, or grandchild."
OCDfeat will begin serving English-speaking countries, starting in the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom, with plans to expand services to assist adults before moving into non-English speaking communities abroad.
Those interested in participating in the launch of the OCDfeat app can join the notification list at OCDfeat.com.
Story by James Dykeman