Social media is the message

It’s generally accepted in the retirement industry that the more informed and educated the participants, the more engaged they will be in a company’s retirement savings plan. But the challenge continues in finding those teachable moments. For years, plan providers have used many different methods (group seminars, videos, web-based tools) to educate plan members. But history has shown that participants are rarely fully engaged in their own retirement planning after an education program. And it’s a bigger challenge to shift the entire corporate culture to one where everyone is in the game.

In the last several years, social media has increasingly played an integral role in our culture by generating awareness among consumers in ways that traditional marketing cannot. Yet few financial institutions are using it, and there’s very little data on best practices. Some U.S. financial institutions such as Morgan Stanley are using Twitter and LinkedIn to communicate with customers, but, in some cases, advisors are only permitted to broadcast Twitter messages from a pre-approved list. That’s hardly an engagement tool.

Three years ago, when Desjardins Financial Security launched its plan member education program—Your Way, Plain and Simple—it knew it needed to use a variety of communication tools, including social media. But the social media would have to fit the culture of the organization. That’s when the program team thought of Ubisoft, a video game developer and publisher headquartered in France with offices in Montreal and Quebec City.

Martin Beaudry, an education advisor with Desjardins (Ubisoft’s provider) was already a familiar face at Ubisoft. Over the past few years, he got to know Ubisoft through the group and one-on-one sessions that he presented. And, from past experience, Desjardins knew it had to be creative and avoid using the word retirement if it wanted to engage the video game developer’s younger employees in retirement planning.

Phase 1: Developing the engagement strategy
A special team from Desjardins’ strategic marketing and education group set out to explore this new way to connect with Ubisoft’s employees. With an average age of 33 among Ubisoft’s digitally savvy, it became clear to Desjardins that

Facebook was the ideal solution for the company because it was already part of Ubisoft’s corporate culture as a communication tool. The Desjardins team created a closed group designed exclusively for Ubisoft employees that could then be used to present tips and ideas about saving and financial planning. It would be an ideal conversation starter. But the concern was how to get employees into the closed group in the first place.

Desjardins needed to create awareness, which it did with an event called Design Your Future. Through various communications, Desjardins asked Ubisoft employees to depict what their future would look like by decorating computer speakers made of recycled paper. The rationale was that the first step to planning for the future is to visualize it and talk about it. (The speakers would represent the voice of each plan member.) Plan members could create their design digitally using any graphics software, or they could choose to go old school by simply drawing, cutting and pasting their vision. To encourage their participation, Desjardins told them to take a picture of their creation and post it on the Facebook group. The plan member entry with the most votes would win a bonus contribution to that member’s group RRSP account.

The launch
During the summer of 2012, the Desjardins marketing team launched the competition with an event at the Ubisoft offices in Montreal and Quebec City, targeting the company’s 2,600 Canadian employees. Each Desjardins team member wore a T-shirt that said Dessine ton future/Design your future, and, as employees entered the buildings, they were given a package of two speakers along with instructions on how to participate in the competition. In total, Desjardins distributed more than 600 speakers. Beaudry was also on-site to encourage everyone to participate. Desjardins team members also set up a demonstration craft table where they designed their own vision of the future. Beaudry, an aspiring drummer, designed his speakers to represent drum sets. At the end of the competition there were three entries and three winners.

Phase 2: Refining the strategy
After spending time with employees during the three-day launch, Desjardins learned an important lesson about connecting with gen Y: this generation values loyalty, trust and relationships above everything. Once you gain gen Yers’ trust, they will reward you with their loyalty and help your message go viral. Considering the fact that Beaudry already had a relationship with employees, Desjardins wanted to take advantage of that. The next question was how to do that if Beaudry couldn’t physically be on-site at Ubisoft every day.

Solution: Augmented reality
Within a month, Desjardins was back at Ubisoft with a special life-size augmented reality (AR) poster of Beaudry. The Desjardins team, sporting T-shirts with the poster printed on the back, showed the Ubisoft employees how to download and use the AR your way app on their personal iPads to make virtual Beaudry come alive. “Hello, I’m Martin,” he says, then asks a question or makes a statement designed to stimulate the employee’s curiosity. There were also other pre-programmed responses in French and English. At the end of the message, Beaudry prompts employees to click on a Facebook icon, which sends them to the closed group. After this second visit, the number of Facebook members increased to 90. The next challenge was how to keep the content dynamic enough to maintain interest and generate conversations. Desjardins also wanted to address some key performance indicators such as getting employees to use its retirement planning simulator

On Target Retirement and e-statements. Desjardins determined that 80% of the content should be proactive and that 10% to 20% should be reactive to address what’s happening in the industry and the kind of questions employees were asking. As the subject matter expert, Beaudry monitored the group on a daily basis, reviewing comments or questions and then responding.

Ubisoft senior management was surprised with the results from the first two phases of the Ubisoft pilot project. Once management realized how successful Facebook and the AR solutions were in creating an online community, it wanted to integrate Facebook into all of its HR communications. A link to the group was posted on the company intranet, and information about Facebook is now included in the enrollment package. Employees are encouraged to join the group to ask questions and learn more about their group RRSP.

“I was astonished to see how vocal some employees were on Facebook,” said Francis Baillet, vice-president, HR and corporate affairs, with Ubisoft. “Normally, some of them are more reserved. But on Facebook, they’re free to express their opinions. They ask questions, and they’re very much a part of the community.”

What’s next?
Another tactic Desjardins is considering is to launch a brand ambassador initiative since current Facebook group members will naturally recruit their peers. Current members can talk about their experiences and how they learned about the value of contributing early and regularly to their group RRSP. With their feedback, these ambassadors can help to evolve the education program so that it continues to meet the changing needs of all Ubisoft employees.

Jean-François Pelletier is vice-president, business development, group retirement savings, with Desjardins Financial Security.

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