Social media promising for plan communications

Social media and technology are creating new opportunities to communicate with plan members, according to Kate Nazar, assistant vice-president, client relationships, group retirement services, with Sun Life.

Nazar told delegates at the Benefits & Pension Summit last week that mobile technology would play an increasingly important part in plan enrollment. More than 60% of Canadians have cell phones and a growing number of those are web-enabled smartphones. Studies in the U.S. have shown that use of smartphones during a plan information session can increase on-the-spot employee enrollment to as much as 90%. Nazar said member sign-up rates in recent Sun Life plan information sessions that have incorporated the use of Research In Motion’s new PlayBook tablet have been as high as 100%.

The combination of social media and mobile technology is creating new opportunities for plan sponsors and administrators to communicate key messages and interact with members in more effective ways than ever before, said Nazar.

“The principles of why you should use social media—namely to be in the space where your audience is, spending time communicating in a format they can relate to—are fairly timeless,” she said.

Nazar discussed how companies can also tailor traditional social media technology to their own use for plan education by incorporating elements such as video and chat into custom-designed microsites that offer plan members important information on how their plan works and how to save effectively.

She said Sun Life has designed microsites for its group retirement clients which have incorporated live or computer-generated avatar “hosts” who walk members through important steps related to their plans. Response from plan members to these microsites has been largely positive, and the reduction of paper-based information has also led members to pay closer attention to the few pieces of plan communications they receive on paper.

But Nazar cautioned that even the best communications technology can fail to meet objectives without an effective communications strategy that clearly outlines objectives, target audience, key messages and what communication channels should be used.

“There’s so much information to share, and so many great ways to get our message out. As a result, we get tempted to ignore the rigors of traditional communications planning and act on our urge to act on the new, cool or wow,” she said.

Nazar outlined the four elements that need to drive any successful communications strategy, as follows:

  1. Understand why you are communicating. This involves identifying your organization’s main objectives.
  2. Know to whom you are communicating. It’s important to understand your workplace demographics—age groups, education levels, work environments, language challenges, etc.—since these will play a role in how messages are communicated and via which mediums.
  3. Identify your key messages. Even with a sound understanding of your organization’s objectives, the problem of “scope creep” can arise, where individual messages contain too much detail and are therefore ignored by your audience. Simplify messages to ensure they achieve your objectives.
  4. Determine how to communicate. This takes into account demographics and message scope, since certain messages for a particular audience might be best communicated online, while others might have more resonance on paper.

Read more coverage from the Benefits & Pension Summit.