Workplace Culture

Starting a Social Wellness Program

By Michelle Rafter

Jun. 3, 2012

Pick a social media tool to serve as the backbone of an employee wellness campaign before deciding what you want to accomplish and you could set yourself up for failure.

For all of their razzle-dazzle, social wellness tools—like a lot of other human resources technology—won’t do much if you don’t establish objectives and a time frame for meeting them, says Jennifer Benz, a San Francisco-based employee wellness communications consultant.

If you’re considering using social media tools for a short- or long-term employee wellness campaign, here’s what Benz and other employee wellness experts suggest:

1. Map goals to workplace issues: If you’ve got employees with high blood pressure, create a program that addresses that or other pressing health concerns. You’ll get better buy in, according to recommendations from Fidelity Investments and the National Business Group on Health published in connection with a March survey on wellness program incentives.

2. Research available tools: The number of social wellness products continues to grow, including offerings from startups such as ShapeUp, Keas and Limeade. Major health plans and wellness companies are getting into the business, too, offering internally developed platforms or partnering with startups. Some tools are better than others at integrating data into employers’ existing wellness records. Some tools can be customized, while others are one-size-fits-all—all the more reason to shop around to find the best fit for your needs, Benz says.

3. Do a price check: Many social-based wellness tools are priced per employee per month or year. Keas, for example, sells its social wellness platform for $15 a year per employee, and offers volume discounts. The year-old Limeade GreenLine product that the company partnered with Benz to offer is an all-in-one wellness package that includes program design and monitoring, incentives, health screenings, social wellness tools, employee communications and telephone-based coaching and support, and starts at $99.95 a year per eligible worker.

4. Offer incentives: Encourage employees to sign up by offering prizes or other perks. Collect feedback on what works and discontinue what doesn’t. In its first social wellness-based, 100-day fitness challenge, Chilton Hospital offered $150 cash prizes to each member of the winning team and $500 to the employee who dropped the most weight. “But we found people weren’t as interested in the prizes as they were in winning,” says Julie McGovern, vice president of human resources at the northwest New Jersey facility. As a result, the hospital is slashing what it spent on incentives for its second 100-day challenge.

5. ‑Don’t expect a quick ROI: The tools are so new that most companies can’t yet measure their effect on employee health care benefit costs. To gauge the tools’ effectiveness in the interim, Keith Messick, Keas’ chief marketing officer, and others suggest measuring engagement, or how many employees sign up for a program or campaign.

Michelle V. Rafter is a Workforce Management contributing editor. Comment below or email

Workforce Management, June 2012, p. 38Subscribe Now!

Michelle Rafter is a Workforce contributing editor.

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