OK, OK, I admit it. For the last couple of years, Biggest Loser has been my guilty pleasure. I know I’m not alone! There’s something about the show – particularly the weigh-in segment at the end, that really keeps me interested, even though most Wednesdays you’ll here me say how stupid the last episode was. As I was watching a compressed version last night (it was shortened to an hour to make room for the premiere of The Voice) I realized that actually, you can learn a lot of profound lessons about online engagement just by thinking about the intricacies of this silly reality show. Here are five lessons that came to my mind.

1. Alliances are important: Especially this season, people have stayed on the show because they created close relationships with other people. When the person is on the chopping block, those friends come in handy. In fact, this is a trait most reality shows share. The role of alliances online is woefully under-appreciated. Alliances mean that you have people who will stand up for you when someone is trying to bring you down. Alliances mean you comment on their posts and they comment on yours. Alliances mean you help each other out. I’d be off this online “show” were it not for the alliances I’ve formed.

Are you building alliances out there? Are you valuing the ones you have?

2. Alliances can break down: People are people. That means they can be endlessly loyal, endlessly fickle, or a bit of both. Sometimes, a person who you thought was an ally can turn on you. It’s a sad fact. The online world, like Biggest Loser, is extremely competitive. While it’s not as clear what the prize is for the online game, we all feel like there is one. If that prize starts to seem too glittery and too precious, your ally may move on to other (I won’t say greener) pastures. Hopefully, you will not abandon other people who look to you as an ally!

What would you do if one of your allies turned on you today? How would you continue to interact with that person? Would you?

3. You aren’t REALLY competing against other people: On the Biggest Loser, contestants aren’t compared with each other based on the number of pounds lost. Rather, they are compared against each other based on the percentage of weight loss. That means a person who loses just three pounds could beat someone who loses 7 pounds. In the online world, you’re competing for attention or for “wavelength,” but because everyone has different objectives and different means of measuring success, you can’t really compete against people on a one-to-one basis. This is important to keep in mind as you engage with other people. If they achieve a certain amount of success, that doesn’t mean they’re “beating” you. It just means that for them and their standards, they’re having a good moment.

Do you have your objectives clearly in mind? If not, it will seem like you’re competing against anyone who comes along.

4. Motivate and inspire the people around you: One of my favorite things about Biggest Loser is that the players begin to look to each other for guidance. They don’t just depend on the “experts.” In the online world, it seems easy when you first begin to find the “ninjas” and just look to them for advice. However, as you dig in more and more, you find people who really seem to be on the same wavelength as you. Their actions inspire and motivate you, and when they’re feeling kind of downtrodden, you can inspire and motivate them. Sometimes that means tough love and harsh talk. Sometimes that means a hug or a pat on the back.

Are you sharing your knowledge with others as you learn. Are you letting others share your good days? Are you asking for help when you need it and giving help when others need it?

5. Lose the weight: Obviously, the key point in Biggest Loser is that the contestants need to lose the weight. But you learn something as you watch the show. It’s not just physical weight these folks need to lose. It’s all of the emotional baggage that got them there in the first place. When you engage with people online, you need to remember that they don’t live inside your head. They don’t know that this time of year is tough on you. They don’t know that this is the anniversary of your divorce or of a death in your family. They just know they’re talking to you online. When you engage with people, you need to lose that weight you’re carrying with you. They can’t see it. They don’t know it’s there. However, it’s extremely easy – so easy – to take offense during hard times if you lose track of that fact.

Are you reacting to people out of feelings that have nothing to do with them? Are you looking for reasons to feel offended or hurt because something in real life is not going well for you? To engage with people online, that all needs to fall by the wayside, at least until you get to know them better.

So what do you think? How are you doing in the reality TV show known as the online world? Are you building up your alliances, keeping your eye on YOUR prize, and inspiring or motivating others?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

This is post #42 in The Engagement Series. Don’t forget, you can always hit that subscribe button if you’re worried about missing a post!