If you aren’t familiar with the term viral marketing, here’s an example of how it works. You receive an e-mail from a friend asking to try out some great online shopping site, and you forward that note to two other friends. The marketing message gets spread like a virus.

You can apply the same principle to in-house training by encouraging viral training in your shop. Here are some pros and cons associated with that approach, as well as some tips for kicking off a viral training campaign.

Training trainers
Viral training is basically peer training. In its simplest form, the first group of people who receive instruction consists of a representative from each department, business group, or team that needs training. You train those delegates, and they train their teammates.

Some of the benefits you can expect from viral training include:

  • Reduced costs. If your end users can train each other, you don’t have to hire as many trainers or spend as much on a contract trainer.
  • Higher quality training. Many employees respond better to training when it’s provided by a familiar face. It’s reassuring to know your trainer is going to be working in the office down the hall if you need help later.
  • Improved morale. Although some users get anxious when you mention “training,” you can’t help but build team spirit when you work together to master a new piece of software or procedure.

Unfortunately, your viral training may not always work out the way you expect. Some of the problems that can occur include:

  • The training may be delayed. One problem with peer training is that it’s easy to put off. “Hey, we’ll get to it tomorrow,” your friendly peer trainer will say.
  • The training might not get done at all. Another weakness in the viral training plan is that the peer trainer may go on vacation, take another position in the company, or leave the company.
  • The training might be wrong. The worst thing that can happen is that a well-meaning peer trainer encourages a bad habit or disseminates inaccurate information. It’s hard to un-train end users once they’ve been told by a peer that it’s all right to do something a particular way.

Tips for kicking off viral training
How do you get a viral training campaign started? Here are some suggestions:

  • Publish an in-house training newsletter. By publishing an in-house training newsletter, you promote viral training by reminding users about what they’ve learned and encouraging them to share that knowledge with their co-workers. In each edition of your newsletter, list the names and departments of the people who’ve recently completed your training. Why? People love to see their names in print, and when their co-workers read about them, they’ll say, “Hey I saw you took that Excel class, maybe you can help me?” So the viral training campaign begins.
  • Write a column for the company newsletter. If your company already has a newsletter, the powers that be may not want you to launch a separate training newsletter. So get an in-house training column submitted for publication in the company newsletter, and get the word out.
  • Send email reminders. Follow the example set by your dentist. A few days before training is set to take place, send e-mail reminders to your peer trainers and everyone scheduled to attend. Make sure your users don’t forget!
  • Give out certificates of completion.Each time you train a group of end users or peer trainers, give everyone who completes the training a certificate. (Spend a few bucks on some decent paper.) Your viral training campaign gets a boost every time those certificates get hung on office and cubicle walls. If you’re a word processing wiz, you can probably knock out your own certificate of completion in no time. If not, you can download our ready-to-use certificate of completion here. Figure A shows what it looks like.

Figure A
You should always give a certificate of completion to your trainees. Here’s what our ready-to-use download looks like.

With our QuickNewsletter template, anybody can whip out a newsletter without a lot of setup or design fuss. Follow this link to download our ready-to-use newsletter template .
Spread the good word
To share your experiences with viral training in your organization, please post a comment below or drop us a note.