Looking for clever, creative, low-cost ways to reach your population? Make sure you’re plugged in. Social networks and blogs are now more heavily used than email, according to a Nielsen Online survey. If your wellness program isn’t on Facebook and you’ve never Twittered, it’s time to expand your promotion efforts beyond the confines of your intranet — into the wider reaches of online social networking. Here’s how:

  1. Do first things first. Before you dive in, consider whether your worksite culture is amenable to social networking. Some organizations block networking sites — make sure your proposed online activities don’t conflict with your employer’s at-work usage policy. Sit down with IT, HR, and other stakeholders to come up with a plan.
  2. Deliver quality content. Population health and social marketing expert R. Craig Lefebvre, PhD argues that health promoters should view consumers as participants rather than a target audience. He stresses the importance of quality content over strictly marketing. If your content is fresh, relevant, and engaging, people will come back for more and they’ll have more exposure to the programs you’re promoting. If there’s nothing in it for them, they won’t bother.
  3. Get connected. The most widely used social networking site is Facebook, with 800 million active users — and the average user has 130 friends. Every day, more than half of those active users log on at least once; the fastest-growing segment is 35 and older. Not using this tool to promote your campaigns is a missed opportunity. Create a Facebook group or page featuring your program and events, and update it regularly. Invite wellness program participants to add it to their profiles, becoming members or “fans.” Because Facebook is interactive, it’s an easy way to gather participant input and feedback. Another site worth considering is LinkedIn, a network for professionals; use it to get in touch with other health promoters, experts in the field, and affiliate groups.
  4. Generate a buzz. Create a Facebook or Twitter user identity for your campaign and submit frequent status updates. Something as simple as “Excited about the walking program kickoff on Monday,” or “Wayne’s Walkers covered 3 miles at lunch time — high five!” can help generate enthusiasm. Be sure to include a link to your program’s registration and information pages; you can also post links to blogs and sites on these platforms. Use Goodreads to create book reviews, promote recommended reading, and run a virtual book club. Invite employees to follow your posts by placing the Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads icons on your intranet page.
  5. Explore the world of blogs. Blogging is an easy, fun way to engage participants. Content ranges from formal to informal, from personal observations to commentaries on current news items. Leverage breaking news for program promotions. Use a local measles outbreak, for example, to emphasize the importance of immunizations, or use a news item on sports injuries to promote your onsite yoga class. Blogging is also a great tool for sharing success stories from your participants. Free blog services abound — Wordpress, BlogSpot, and Blogger are widely used and easy to learn. Filter user feedback so that only appropriate comments appear on your blog page, or turn comments off entirely.
  6. Keep it short. Twitter has become a wildly popular micro blogging site — with nearly 250 billion tweets/day as of October 2011. Unlike a standard blog, where space is unlimited, Twitter forces you to condense your thoughts into bitesize “tweets” of 140 or fewer characters. You already know that communicating crisp, concise health promotion messages to your participants is most effective, so why not give Twitter a try? With 100 million active users, you’re sure to get some traction.
  7. Create a podcast series. Are your participants too busy to attend a lunch ’n learn? Make it easy for them and efficient for you: deliver the message by podcast. All you need is a script, a microphone, and recording software like Audio Acrobat or ePodcast Creator. You can include video as well, but it’s not required. Treat your audience to compelling segments on seasonal produce, fitness tips, and preventive care testimonies. Get creative — interview leaders and frontline workers on why and how they make time for exercise. Employees can listen when it’s convenient — during the commute, at the gym, or while getting things done at home.
  8. Share video clips. YouTube is an engaging way to promote messages about healthy living. Videos can be accessed by smartphone and are easily shared by email or social networking buttons. A well done, humorous spot promoting a wellness campaign is guaranteed to capture more eyeballs than traditional break room fliers or table tents.
  9. Bookmark it. Want your participants to have quick access to the American Heart Association’s page on cholesterol? Save it and share it, with Delicious, a social bookmarking tool. Use it to organize your bookmarks or research popular health and lifestyle topic links. Create a public profile for your wellness program to drive participants to the best sites on the Web.
  10. Feed it. Use a Rich Site Summary (RSS) feed to deliver up-to-date content to your population. You’ll need a feed reader to get started, and there are plenty to choose from — Feedreader (Windows), Google Reader, and Amphetadesk are just a few. Add the feed reader icon to your intranet page so participants can easily subscribe.

Save money, reduce paper waste, and show you’re cyber-savvy. To hit your health promotion messages out of the ballpark, meet people where they are… online.

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