Social media 101 for DC plans

This is the second of three parts of our coverage of the Vancouver Benefits & Pension Summit. Part 1 was published on Monday and Part 3 was published on Wednesday.

Whether powerfully good or virally bad, social media is here and it’s time for plan sponsors to figure out how to use it to enthuse, educate and encourage members to boost their financial prowess.

That’s the message Susan Cranston, assistant vice-president marketing promotions and communications for Manulife’s Group Benefits & Retirement Solutions, delivered during her presentation at the 2013 Benefits & Pension Summit held in Vancouver on September 24.

“Social is a new tool that can be leveraged by our industry,” she said. “This is a revolution that resonates particularly strong with the next generation so we need to prepare for the future now.”

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Statistics alone make a good case for making social media—Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or LinkedIn—part of any communications strategy. As Cranston noted, there are seven billion people on the planet, six billion with cellphones, two billion connected to the internet, more than one billion with smartphones and 900 million active Facebook users.

“YouTube home videos of cats and live tweets from a honey badger get millions of hits,” she said. “People may not look at a poster anymore in the lunchroom but a digital campaign can grab attention and call members to action.”

As an example, Cranston described a communications initiative called “Hero Squirrel” that uses augmented reality. Rather than looking at a static poster, people can use Layar, a free mobile application that allows for a digitally enhanced view of the real world, to learn how to have claims paid directly to their bank account and to get alerts when their statements are ready.

“How you engage the audience matters,” said Cranston. “Not only is the right information needed at the right time but it should be presented in an engaging and fun way.”

She admitted that, although social is still in its infancy, it can play a powerful role in helping financial literacy. According to a recent Harvard Business Review survey of 2,100 organizations, 71% were already using social media channels. Business benefits of using social media range from increasing awareness of the organization and increasing traffic to the website to improving customers’ perceptions of a brand, monitoring conversation about the organization and improving insights about target markets.

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“It is time for plan sponsors and providers to find new ways to communicate because the messages are not resonating so far and don’t reach key audiences,” Cranston said. “There is a space in social to drive home messages to members. Social should be seen as part of an integrated communication plan that builds community.”

Integrated websites can provide general financial literacy information, regular blog posts inviting comments, Twitter feeds that offer reminders of new blog posts, and YouTube videos with plan member testimonials.

With the millennial generation poised to dominate the workforce by 2020, DC plan sponsors need to be ready to engage this digitally savvy group through social media.

“Social media allows storytelling in a way that grabs and holds attention and allows a two-way conversation that you can’t get with paper,” Cranston explained. “As an industry, we can’t bury our heads in the sand because this is a revolution. Social media provides an opportunity to teach financial planning in a fun space that can use games and share testimonials that engage and educate.”