Should employers use social media to communicate pension, benefits?

As social media becomes increasingly pervasive, employers should consider adding the tool to their communications arsenal.

Indeed, David McArthur, principal and creative director at Morello Communications Inc., says it’s too big a phenomenon for plan sponsors to ignore.

“It’s something we’re certainly seeing a lot more of,” notes Cameron McNeill, senior vice-president and Canadian business leader at the Segal Group. “But I think pension and benefits plans should be looking to employ social media because it’s the right thing for their members, and not because it’s trendy or cool.”

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Social media is more often used in pension com­munications, he says, since employees tend to be more familiar with their benefits plans. “When you’re 33, you’re not engaged with your pension,” he says. “Social media is a much more useful tool for pension plans to achieve engagement.”

As well, traditional pension communications can be complicated and difficult for the average member to understand. To resolve this, the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System reinvented its digital newsletter, rolling out content on its social media accounts on platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn in early 2019. “We saw Facebook as a nat­ural extension to repurpose and expand the reach of our newsletter,” says Jordan Ostapchuk, the pension fund’s vice-president of pension communication and innovation. He says the integration has been positive for employee engagement.

“The stats don’t lie. Our overall digital engage­ment numbers are going up quarter over quarter, in part driven by social media.”

Age is just a number

Around 93 per cent of all Canadian adults use the internet, says McNeill, noting this includes people aged 65 and over. Most seniors are active online and are more likely to use sites like Facebook.


1 in 5 Canadians said they haven’t gone more than 8 hours without getting an online fix.

Nearly 3 in 4 Canadians spend at least 3 to 4 hours online every day.

60% of Canadians engage on social media.

57% of baby boomers are surfing the web using mobile devices in 2019, compared to 24% in 2015.

Source: Canadian Internet Registration Authority, 2019

The idea that retirees aren’t technologically savvy isn’t true, says Ostapchuk. For the OMERS, going digital was aligned with its focus on accessibility and aimed at the entire employee population. “We have people who are 17 and people who are 107 in our plan,” he says.

Read: How Microsoft uses social media to improve employee collaboration

Employers need to be aware of who they’re con­necting with via these platforms, says McNeill, because messages don’t reach everyone with just a post to Facebook. “This only connects you with a single subgroup of the plan. Organizations need to figure out how to use other forms of social media to ensure a joined-up strategy.”

Further, what’s the protocol when plan members respond to social media posts? It can be difficult for a plan sponsor to figure out rules around engage­ment. McArthur encourages his employer clients to consider how they cope with negative feedback, add­ing the best approach is to monitor what’s being said, but not to respond.

Better communication

Social media can also help break down some of the most complicated aspects of a pension or benefits plan. For instance, says Ostapchuk, most employees aren’t aware of the supplemental elements of their plan, including disability and survivor benefits. “It’s about communicating to members that the value of their pension plan doesn’t start when they turn 65. It starts the day they join.”

It can also be difficult for plan sponsors to com­municate with members in a way they understand, says McNeill, noting social media gives plan spon­sors a fresh opportunity to properly engage with employees, and also forces them to be more concise.

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“For instance, let’s say a company has a new edu­cational webinar. Something like Twitter is a great way to get that out — craft a tweet and send mem­bers a link. This also has the added benefit of driving people to the organization’s website, so they get used to going there. Social media is an excellent way to make employees aware of that.”

Both plan sponsors and members are likely to visit social media accounts first if they have concerns or require extra information about an organization’s benefits or pension plan, says McArthur. If a com­pany isn’t putting the information out there, it’s not joining the current conversation, he adds.

“Social media allows members to learn valuable insights into what’s going on; to learn about the ques­tions individuals are asking related to the pension plan and benefits system a company has in motion.”

Cassandra Williamson-Hopp is a conference editor at Benefits Canada.