5 Tips to Spark Word-of-Mouth

You’ve probably heard that word-of-mouth is the best form of advertising. That’s true, but it doesn’t materialize out of thin air; you have to make it happen.

I’ve taken well-being programs from “busted” to “booming” using 5 word-of-mouth techniques. No matter your current level of success, these techniques are like a fuse you can light to make your program pop:

  1. Mobilize well-being champions
  2. Create meeting kits for leaders
  3. Get participants to bring a friend
  4. Capitalize on special events
  5. Delight employees with program surprises
Well-Being Champions: Sparking Word-of-Mouth

When I led a team of well-being champions for an employer with locations throughout the US, I emphasized that their primary role was to create buzz by talking positively about the program with their coworkers.

If you have champions, they may not feel fully prepared to spread the word in the course of their busy day. Here’s how you can help:

  • Remind them periodically that word-of-mouth depends on them
  • Provide a few memorable talking points, like “Register for Keep America Active, our most popular campaign” or “Attend next week’s stress management program to get an instant lift”
  • Encourage them to share the talking points, in their own words, on any social media platforms your program uses
  • Suggest other ways for them to start conversations even if they aren’t natural networkers, like making announcements at meetings or emailing team members to encourage them to participate and spread the word.
Meeting Kits: Equipping Your Wellness Leaders

I led the roll-out of a major initiative to integrate a wellness program with benefits; it would affect every employee in the company. Our branch managers held regular all-hands meetings. I knew they often didn’t have enough content for their meetings, and I was concerned that, left to their own devices, they’d have a hard time accurately explaining our extensive program. We packaged a meeting kit that contained:

  • A DVD with upbeat videos introducing the program and narrated screencasts demonstrating how to get started on the health portal
  • Handouts for employees
  • Manager talking points and FAQs
  • Giveaways — imprinted with the intranet resource web address that had more information — for managers to hand out to attendees
  • A slick brochure walking the manager through the process of how to use the kit.

The kits made me a hero to leaders throughout the company; employees received the message with appreciation and excitement, rather than confusion and the suspicion that often accompanies it. By managing the message as well as the medium, we got everyone talking about it positively — including the all-important middle managers — and, not coincidentally, made inroads toward our shift to a culture of health.

Bring a Friend: Getting Back to Grassroots Promotion Tactics

Health clubs and other membership-based businesses use bring-a-friend tactics all the time, but we don’t use them nearly enough in well-being programs.

A few years ago, to infuse some fun into a program, I organized a Hula-Hoop® class. Signups for this oddball offering took off slowly at this buttoned-up workplace, as I knew they would. So 2 weeks before the event, we announced that if a registrant recruited a coworker into the class, they would each be entered into a drawing for a free “professional-style” Hula-Hoop.

It worked. Registration exploded — we had to create 3 more sessions of the class — and years later employees still talked about it.

Bring-a-friend promotions necessitate some logistical planning to track eligibility, but it’s the ultimate embodiment of word-of-mouth, and it’s sure to boost your numbers.

Events: Creating a Buzz

Live events are perfect opportunities to get the buzz going. On the first morning of a team-based challenge that encouraged more fruits and vegetables — along the lines of HES’s popular Colorful Choices campaign — I stationed champions at the entrances of our largest sites handing out apples as employees arrived for work. We decorated each entrance with banners and balloons and had little signs with our program’s hashtag that people could display as they took selfies together, which many posted on our companywide social media platforms.

Employees were wowed. Champions didn’t even need to say anything about the program as they busily distributed the apples. Everyone at those worksites was talking about it, and it generated enthusiasm on the social platforms, too. Registration spiked, and the program launched with a bang.

Once, when organizing a team for a charity bike tour, I recruited an executive to ride a stationary bike just outside the cafeteria during lunchtime. We promoted that he’d be there and solicited donation pledges based on how long he rode (he didn’t last as long as we hoped!). Champions wearing our team race jersey stood ready to register new members from the crowd that gathered as word spread that an out-of-breath VP was sweating up a storm for a great cause.

Staying within your organization’s boundaries of what’s acceptable, the more outrageous the event, the more chatter there will be.

Elements of Surprise: Keeping Them Guessing

Predictability is a word-of-mouth crusher. Why would anyone tell a colleague about something if they both knew what was going to happen? Embedding surprises is an effective variation of the outrageous event dynamic.

Surprises run the gamut, from a prize drawing announced in the middle of a campaign (“It’s Week 5, and all participants are entered into a drawing for an Apple Watch®!”) to a video message of encouragement from a popular personality (a celebrity, local hero, or your CEO).

Delighting participants with unpredictability is a unique feature of HES campaigns. Each week in Yo Ho Ho, teams gain access to a bonus challenge that everyone on the team must complete that day to earn an extra point. (There are lots more, but if I told you, they wouldn’t be surprises, would they?)

Find out more about why HES loves surprises and how they engage participants in the new white paper, The Science Behind HES Well-Being Campaigns.

If you ever feel employees aren’t as engaged in your program as you’d like them to be, or you just want to be sure everyone knows about the offerings — including those who aren’t tuned in to your usual communication channels — don’t overlook the best form of advertising: word-of-mouth.

Now, make it happen.


Bob MerbergBob Merberg
Bob Merberg is an independent consultant with 20+ years in managing employee well-being programs. He specializes in helping employers increase engagement and health outcomes through innovative programs, communication, workplace environment, and organization development strategies. Bob’s well-being program evaluation results have been featured at wellness conferences and in various media outlets.

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