The Legend of Pied Piper of Hamelin

As the legend goes, the Pied Piper of Hamelin used his magical flute to remove all the rats from the city of Hamelin to stop the plague from spreading. He had great success. However, the town of Hamelin refused to pay him for his services, so the Pied Piper acted in vengeance and used his magical flute to lure all the children out of the town as well. The lesson here is to pay for your services or the cable guy will screw with you, but that is not the point of this blog. That is just a life lesson we all know. For this blog, I will focus on the role of social currency in an organization’s wellness initiative, or, the “Pied Piper Effect.”

Organizations create a culture of health in part but not exclusive of a wellness program. It is my belief that a strong branding campaign is needed for a program to succeed. Going beyond the regular email blasts, flyers in the break area or a Facebook/company wellness page is not enough. To understand how the flow of social currency around wellness can impact engagement and wellness brand equity is a significant step in developing a deeper understanding of the organization. Thus, using the Pied Piper Effect, let’s first define social currency, and then investigate six dimensions that impact the social currency and builds brand equity toward your wellness program.

WHAT IS SOCIAL CURRENCY: Social currency is the power of a network that is based on the presence of significant linkages between parties, resources to share and receive meaningful information, and the strength of personal relationships. Stated another way, social currency heightens one’s sense of community, provides access to information and knowledge, reinforces an individual’s identity, and provides a level of prestige and gratitude. The outcome of a strong organizational social currency is higher brand equity of your wellness program, which leads to greater engagement.

The Art of the Conversation: Conversation refers to the overall amount of positive information that an employee receives across all forms of communication mediums. This conversation is characterized by the overall importance of the wellness program’s social currency in the organization. Stated another way, the conversation is best viewed as, how often, how frequently, how

relevant, and how important it is to me, the employee. Like traditional advertising, the more you hear, the more places you see it, the more likely it will be at the top of the mind. Consider this a ‘talking to the employees’ approach with an emphasis on positive communication, or a top-down approach. Thus, it is one dimension of social currency.

Image courtesy of Unsplash

The Espousing of the Good: Advocacy is when the employees actively promote, sponsor, and espouse the values that reflect the personal impact of a wellness program. This is in contrast to the art of conversation, which focuses on the general positive aspects of a wellness program that employees experience across the organization (top-down). For example, an employee may approach many of their colleagues and evangelize the benefits they received from partaking in a particular initiative. The advocacy approach is more akin to a bottom-up approach. Thus, this is the second dimension of social currency.

The Exchange of Content: Whisper down the lane is a great game when the content shared is consistent, clear, and meaningful. Thus, word-of-mouth is an ideal tool for increasing the social currency of the program. Consequently, the exchange of information around organizational wellness from employee-to-employee will generate shared meaning around organizational well-being. An important distinction here is when employees enjoy sharing and receiving information about programs. The enjoyment is strengthened by the relative ease for employees to obtain the knowledge and receive reciprocal support in solving problems around engaging in wellness initiatives. Thus, this is the third dimension of social currency.

Wellness Community Affiliation: One of the major tenets of Self-Determination Theory is the individual’s need to have personal and meaningful relationships. Using this fundamental tenet, creating an environment that fosters ‘connection’ is critical in developing an emotional attachment to the overall well-being of the organization. Thus, wellness community affiliation is the feeling of being connected to other employee participants and serves as the fourth dimension of social currency.

Personal Motivation: What is your drive to engage? Personal motivation is

the drive that an employee has to interact with others within a group or activity to enhance a personal emotion. Personal motivation differs from exchanging content (information) in that exchanging content is predicated on getting and receiving information from an employee around a particular program, whereas personal motivation captures its values based on its influence on employees’ personal development (e.g., improved self-esteem). Thus, this is the fifth dimension of social currency.

The Mirror Effect: In marketing, there is a concept called ‘self-concept in brand engagement’. The premise of this concept is rather simple. Individuals consume products and services that they perceive best reflects their personal self-concept. Quick, take a look at what you own, and what you don’t own and where you like to go out to eat and go on vacations, etc. The chances are that if you see yourself as innovative and like all the newest gadgets, you are more inclined to engage with wellness programs that use cutting-edge technology. Consequently, developing and communicating wellness initiatives that are seen as congruent to one’s self-concept increases the likelihood of employee engagement. Thus, this is the final dimension of social currency.

Social Currency = Wellness Brand Equity: Put these dimensions to practice by the dedicated focus of using social currency. By doing so, there is a direct impact on the brand equity of the wellness program. Like Apple, Google, and the like, active social currency has a direct influence on brand equity. Thus, having employees that learn, see, and hear about your wellness program over time will only increase the likelihood of stronger wellness brand equity and, more importantly, brand engagement.

I am not trying to suggest that this is an easy and short-term fix. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and developing strong social currency around your organization’s wellness program will take time. The most efficient way to create social currency is to begin with a particular initiative and focus on using the six dimensions. Like any new approach, there will be tweaking and adjusting, but patience is needed to find the right cocktail of ingredients to build social currency. Once the receipt is perfect, begin to focus on the next initiative. There will be a tipping point when your organization’s social currency is the Pied Piper of Hamelin, and your employees will follow by their own will.

Dr. James Kelley

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com on June 2, 2016.

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