5 reasons to take employee wellness social

May 5, 2010

in health communication,social media,wellness

note: this piece and other free resources are available for download on context’s website.

i’m writing an article for the APA’s june newsletter about ways to make your wellness efforts social (sign up so you get it). in preparation for it, let’s talk now about why you want to go social.

as people and as consumers, we’ve numerous social networking sites for many of our health concerns: weight, fitness, chronic conditions, and disease. the number of health sites has grown from 35 to nearly 500, estimate the officials of the health 2.0 conference. one recent survey found that 40% of online consumers use social media for health information. another, by pew research center, noted how online social networks serve those with chronic conditions, providing not only information but also a social outlet and support during very rough times.

this rise in popularity isn’t surprising when you consider the trends in social media overall and the quest to improve health engagement. what is surprising is how few companies are making use of online social networks as part of their health and wellness efforts. with that in mind, here are five reasons to take employee wellness social:

1. it’s where we spend our time. the way to capture people’s attention is to be where they are, and clearly, we’re online and on social networks, in particular. nielsen reported that our time spent on social networks has nearly tripled in the past year, and i’d suspect that’s continued its rapid ascent since this was captured in september 2009. social can also be mobile. with smartphone ownership skyrocketing, reaching employees through that medium is going to be advantageous and a necessity.

2. our social networks influence our behavior. the framingham study is one of the more famous studies of how social networks influence our behavior. from 1971 to 2003, researchers looked at the influence of social networks on tobacco and obesity and determined that your network has a powerful influence on what you do and provides necessary support for changing behavior. since then, we’ve continued to dig into how this works. social networks provide companies a new channel for spurring and cementing positive change by making it the norm and widening the ripple of positive change that starts with a few committed individuals.

3. engaged patients take charge. individuals who take an active role in their health—understanding their health risks and habits, researching their options, and making informed decisions—have better outcomes. sites like curetogether, patientslikeme, healthunlocked, and other patient communities have popped up to help people with specific conditions share information and provide recommendations. in some cases, as with curetogether, they’re even pushing research forward through their data sharing. while i’m pro-transparency when it comes to conditions and what we call “disease management” as a way to destigmatize disease, i can understand there being reluctance to participate in these sites at work. by creating social networks for interests and prevalent lifestyle risks and increasing their value with on-tap experts, companies provide the means for employees to take charge. they can point employees toward condition-related networks where they may feel more confident about sharing.

4. social networks amp up trusted peer-to-peer communications. edelman recently came out with an updated trust barometer report that suggested peers are no longer our most trusted resource. when you dig into this surprising fact, it turns out that peers include casual acquaintances on facebook, linkedin, and so forth—not your peers, neighbors, and friends who continue to be a major source for recommendations and advice. granted, in a big organization employees aren’t going to know everyone; they will, however, have shared circumstances and access to the same (or similar) benefits and programs. in this way, company-delivered social networks connect employees to peers with similar concerns who can speak from experience about what works for them.

5. you can eavesdrop your way to better design and communications. online conversations—whether on twitter, forums, or blogs—let HR and corporate communication understand where people are confused, where they have questions, or where there’s a lack of understanding. it’s a nonstop, unbudgeted focus group with unvarnished information about how companies can improve their program design and communications.

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