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June 16, 2010 | Volume 4 | Number 6
June 16, 2010
By Fran Melmed
I recently wrote about 5 reasons to take employee wellness social. It was the preface to this article, knowing that companies must first believe social conversation will add to their efforts before they’ll take the plunge and start using the tools. After all, the media’s merely the channel. It’s the behavior we want.
Without going in-depth, the five reasons I identified were:
1. It’s where we spend our time. Use of these social tools continues to skyrocket. It’s no longer a matter of whether companies should use them. It’s how.
2. Social networks influence our behavior. Whether it’s the Framingham study, Connected, or some other body of research, we’ve become increasingly aware of how our networks affect us. And companies and the communities within which they live are networks.
3. Engaged patients take charge. Health care consumerism is the Holy Grail for many organizations. Social media builds health engagement because it leads with the individual’s interests and needs, and individuals opt in.
4. Social networks amp up trusted peer-to-peer communication. Social media facilitates referrals, recommendations, and the exchange of other valued information, employee-to-employee—a more trustworthy source than many corporate documents.
5. Companies can eavesdrop their way to better program design and communication. Through the online exchanges that take place, companies can learn organically and continuously what’s working and what isn’t.
I’m sold, but how?
Once you subscribe to the idea that social conversation can help build your culture of health, the follow-up question is, “How?” Here are 5 tools and 20 ideas to get you started.
Unlike formal corporate communication, successful blogs are candid and personal. They’re a conversation stream that builds relationships and trust. They’re low (no) cost; if public, they can be accessed by all family members. And they’re very democratic: they can be written by someone within your HR department, by health partners, and by employees—or by all three.
1. Write blog posts that explain new, underused, or misunderstood benefits and services.
2. Ask a leader to blog on his or her health efforts—employees aren’t the only ones who struggle, and what a powerful and relatable way to highlight a leader’s support for the program.
3. Interview experts from your health partner organizations about conditions and health risks unique to your workforce. Invite individuals to ask their own questions or respond to yours.
4. Host a video interview with an employee or an expert (internally or externally) on a subject and invite comment.
5. Embed a widget that calculates food alternatives for your vending machine and cafeteria options or more generally.
Twitter is an underrated, multipurpose employee health and wellness communication tool. It can function as public forum, a customer service center, a ready resource, and a referral directory. For individuals, Twitter makes getting answers as easy as shooting off a 140-character message, and its convenience and accessibility can’t be beat.
6. Add Twitter to your communication strategy for health challenges and observances, annual enrollment, and other deadline-driven health events.
7. Link to the company’s or health partners’ online articles and tools with tweeted teaser headlines. Connect employees to these same partners by creating Twitter lists by topic (e.g., general health, health care reform, financial security).
8. Inspire routine exchanges and camaraderie through tweeted questions about fitting in exercise at work, making healthy food choices, reducing stress, and so forth.
9. Respond to direct questions or “overheard” misunderstandings (migrating to offline or other platforms when the conversation requires it).
10. Conduct regular tweet chats as a virtual, boundaryless, and interactive version of the “brown bag” seminar.
Podcasts serve as both “on-the-go” kernels of information and acknowledgment of different learning styles.
11. Use podcasts to dissect a condition, ways to approach a behavior change, or how to plan for retirement, and to explain new services.
12. Profile individuals, a department, and businesses — bright spots that can be learned from and replicated elsewhere.
13. Using products like blogtalkradio, host a live radio show for a more lively discussion about health, work flexibility, stress management, and other hot topics.
Forums are online discussion boards with a give-and-take between comments and responses that simulates real conversation. They’re often moderated.
14. Establish forums for HR, employee wellness champions, and managers to help those pivotal linchpins get and share tested advice and innovative practices.
15. Create forums around company-provided services so employees can review and rate them, helping to direct other employees to valued solutions. (Aside: These provide great input for vendor selection and contract negotiations.)
Networks have to be the most untapped tool in Corporate America’s current approach to workplace wellness. As with Facebook, social networks offer individuals a way to connect through time, geography, and organizational boundaries. Other networks or networks “plus,” such as Qwitter and TuDiabetes, create communities for individuals seeking guidance and encouragement on a specific topic.
16. Link your employees to existing networks simply by educating them about what’s available.
17. Include health communities, whether disease or lifestyle-related, in existing company social networks so employees can meet up, share triumphs, and seek advice. And let employees create their own.
18. Use a Facebook group to reach beyond the office walls to create awareness, involvement, and enthusiasm with family members, potential recruits, and the general public.
20. Incorporate a data-tracking element to see individual and collective progress toward goals.
Of course, these aren’t all the social tools (or all the ideas) at our disposal. Allowing comments and rating of wellness articles and news items is a simple way to go social. Video, wikis, and other social platforms let companies define and celebrate health with their employees. Other tools, like health games and data-tracking devices, may not fall strictly into a “social” category, but no one can deny their social aspects. To choose which are right for your organization, start with the basics: What are your workforce obstacles, who’s affected by them, and how can you support them?
To continue this social conversation, look for me on Twitter, LinkedIn, my blog, free-range communication, and social networks. And join me during Cohealth’s monthly tweet chat about workplace wellness.
See you out there.
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