In this Master Class session, we dive into the rules of engagement for communicating on the web. Learn all of the do’s and don’ts for online benefits communication, including:
Hello, everyone. Thank you for joining Likes, Tweets, and Clicks: The do’s and don’ts of online benefits communication.
When you download this webinar, it will include a link to this video with a news report from 1981. One of our favorite ways to illustrate just how far technology has come in a very short period of time.
Can you imagine:
It’s absolutely amazing to see how technology has evolved over a couple of decades.
Ok—if you’ve travelled lately and paid for inflight wifi, you’re probably thinking $5 / hour is cheap, but I digress. It is simply amazing at how technology has evolved over the years and what we take for granted.
Heck, we can rebroadcast a news clip from 1981 on demand, anytime we want, even on our mobile phones! We can watch this news clip on demand, on our phones anytime we want and we have been using this technology over the past 20 years to help solve HR and business problems.
While we can’t accurately predict how technology will transform our lives 30 years from now, we’ve been leveraging technology for the past 20 years to help solve HR and business problems. We’ve learned a lot along the way—what works, what doesn’t—and we’re delighted to share our insights with you today.
The latest stats from Pew show that:
When we factor mobile access in, the gaps are even smaller.
And, what’s most exciting for us, mobile Internet access has closed the gaps in traditionally under-served demographics. It is helping lower-income and minority Americans get online faster. So, if all of your workforce isn’t online yet, they will be soon, and you can meet them there. 58% of Americans have a smart phone that they are using to access the Internet.
Of course this translates to how people want their benefits information. More importantly, employees are saying they want you there.
This is no surprise. Our whole lives are online—benefits should be too. The nice thing is, educational benefits information is not proprietary and it is not confidential—so putting it out there on the Internet doesn’t have the same concerns as other company info. Smart companies have all of their benefits info online—with no password protection at all.
But, even though the Internet is so pervasive in our lives, in some ways, it still feels relatively new for benefits communication.
We’re going to run through the do’s and don’ts for a variety of channels and follow up with lots of our tips with time for Q&A at the end.
First, all of our thinking is rooted in our proven three-step approach to success with employee benefits communication.
To keep up with year-round communication, you have to use a variety of channels. And, while we are focused on online and interactive channels today, that is not to discount the importance of all others, particularly those that are off-line. Sophisticated and demanding audiences always require a multi-channel approach. The reality is that one media type is not going to resonate with every single person in your organization, and that is ok. If you’re being effective, it shouldn’t. What you want to do is leverage each media type for it’s individual strength and have all of the channels working in concert for an integrated campaign. And, that probably means producing print materials and still doing in-person communications in some shape or form, no matter how sophisticated you get with technology.
Even for our most tech-savvy and wired workforces, there is often a very real need for print communication. For all of our clients, we send print materials home. In fact, the right kind of print materials can be incredibly effective at driving traffic to online resources. And, that is key because one of the misconceptions about online communication is that you just have to build really nice resources and people will use them. The reality is, you have to promote everything all of the time.
That’s where your strategy comes in. And, our first DO: start with strategy.
Strategy leads us to our next do: Get the data.
This is one of the best things about online communication—you have so much data at your fingertips. Make sure you’re using it and also talking to employees through focus groups, surveys and ongoing feedback channels like social media (more on that soon).
There are many ways to look at data.
Another tip that goes for all channels: write the right way.
Don’t think there is one trick or a silver bullet to get you there. As much as I’d love to be able to share the one trick or tool that will solve all of your communications challenges, there’s no such thing. True engagement takes strong, effective communications, delivered in multiple channels, all year long.
So let’s look at those channels. We’ll start with the one we recommend most: a company-branded benefits website.
Let me show you a couple examples of what these sites look like.
We know there’s a complex ecosystem of plans, programs, carriers, and administrators in benefits. You need one destination for employees and their family members to go to for all of their benefits information. Instead of communicating multiple websites and resources, you always send people to your one website. This creates a cohesive employee experience and gives employees and family members 24/7 easy access to benefits information. To make your design truly user-centered, you should get feedback and do user testing. And, then, continuously enhance your site based on data and feedback.
Don’t password protect your website.
Let’s talk about your intranet… The vast internal website your company has that you’re likely managing for your benefits communication and communicates everything about the organization and all HR programs.
Especially when you use your tools on the intranet…
Another channel that nearly all organizations have is email. Email can be extremely effective—or, it can be a waste of your team’s effort—all depending on your organization and how you use it. We included a couple of sample emails here from commercial sites because if you look at consumer marketing, they should be your model for email communications.
Do: invest in perfecting email.
The most important thing with email is don’t try to say it all. The biggest mistake we see with emails is using it like a dumping ground for content.
Videos are wildly popular and one of our favorite methods for communicating complex benefits information. Here are several animated videos that we have created for clients on topics such as health savings accounts (HSAs), healthcare reform, upcoming benefit changes, and resources—truly, unlimited topics you can cover in a video.
The key is: make them count. There are a lot of formats—from animation to talking heads to live action—and all of them can work within your organization and have their time and place. For all of them:
Don’t think quantity over quality.
Webinars are also a great format—and relatively easy for your team to produce on your own. In fact, they are a nice way to build a library of video content at an affordable price if you do them well and the right way. Here are a couple of screen shots we created for a client this week. It was a short webinar covering 5 benefits for your Health and Family.
Next up: social media.
You all know this has long been a favorite topic of ours for years and we are big fans of using social media benefits communication and one of the best ways to keep your benefits website fresh. Here are a couple of screen shots of our 2 favorite tools: blog posts and Twitter. These are two easy ways to keep your website fresh ad updated throughout the year.
You can start small if you’re going to start with social media. The simplest way to get started is to use a blog for news and updates. Remember: low frequency is better than nothing. And, you don’t have to be aggressive with publishing or think of it like a consumer blog where you need to be using a lot of different tools at one. A modest frequency is better than nothing. You can do something that your team can keep up with and be a better tool.
So check that out if you’re going to dip your toe in or make sure what you’re doing is effective as it can be.
Don’t stress when it comes to social media. Don’t worry about getting in trouble. Most of the risks are overblown. There are still lots of old rumors about all the risks, and they really just don’t play out. Especially not when you use social tools on your own website or intranet. Common sense and technology can remove virtually all risk from social media. Lots more details are in our starter kit, which we hope you’ll download from our site.
The next channel I want to talk about is tip sheets and infographics. Here is a simple tip-sheet we created for the University of California about healthcare reform and how it’s impacting the plan. Simple, visual, easy-to-read content that can be distributed online or through email. When it comes to tip sheets and infographics:
Only don’t: Just like emails, don’t try to say it all.
Mobile is important but it isn’t a channel on its own—but it’s very much how people access resources, whether it is your website or a vendor’s site. Have to remember that websites and email are likely to be viewed on mobile devices.
When it comes to mobile, go responsive.
Don’t: try to build your own app.
Final medium to talk about: QR codes are images that you scan to pull up a web page.
Despite the fact that they have never been used by a few % points of the population, they still make their way into benefits communication all the time, and often, in very inappropriate places. For example, using them in emails and billboards doesn’t make sense. Only use in handouts.
Do, our advice is simply: don’t bother.
They have never gotten enough traction to be valuable. They are clunky and take up precious print space. It is just as easy for someone to type in the URL to your benefits website even if they are on their phone.
So, that is a quick run-through of our favorite channels. To recap:
Even though the Internet is so pervasive in our lives, in some ways, it still feels relatively new for benefits communication. A lot of companies have resisted communicating online for a long time.
Others have been under the constraints of very conservative and protective IT or corporate communications departments. And, even those who have been making big investments for many years make common mistakes. We’re going to run through the do’s and don’t for a variety of channels.
We will be providing copies of the slides after the event and you’ll be able to access them on our website with a recording of the webinar anytime. You can also access the recording of our first webinar right now on our website.
We have lots of questions that have come in already. You can type in your questions in the questions module in the GoToWebinar.
Q. What is the right frequency for using a blog for benefits communication?
A. The right frequency is what your team can manage and what your team can keep up with. If you are using a blog on your own benefits website, if you publish on it just 2-3 times a month that’s usually plenty to make your website fresh and to keep up with different news and different updates for the benefit program.
If that’s too much for your team to keep up with year round, go to an even more modest publishing schedule throughout the year and then times (like annual enrollment) you can post more frequently.
Q. What kind of risks are there in having information outside the network/firewall?
A. This is a big misconception still. A lot of companies think that the general benefits information – so think what you have in your OE guide or the publications that go to employee’s homes – that the information needs to be protected. But the reality is, anything that you would put in an education site about your benefits program can be outside your company firewall. It doesn’t need to be password protected, it’s not confidential information.
There is really no risk in having that information outside the firewall. The only risks that are involved with personal transactions and personal data which of course you want to keep on the administrators websites where they have all the security and so forth in place.
For some organizations there might be sensitivity around something very specific like rates for a specific population or detailed policies around something like leaves of absence (LOAs). If there are couple of areas where your organization isn’t comfortable with having a large group of people having access to that information, than leave that on your intranet but put the 95% of educational information about your benefits outside the firewall without a password.
Q. Are there any differences in using these tools for health communication and wellness versus retirement topics?
A. There’s really no difference in how you access and use these tools. Whether it’s healthcare, retirement, or wellness, your work/life benefits; all of these can be used in the same way. Just put all of them back up to your overall benefits communication strategy and what you’re trying to achieve with your benefits program overall.
One thing that we see quite often right now is companies are focusing almost all their attention on healthcare and wellness programs because that’s where all the changes are and where people are trying to drive better behaviors but in doing so, a lot of organizations are neglecting the other benefits and really important topics like retirement and financial security. So using online channels can really give you a way to have a holistic strategy that covers all of your benefits, even if your focus right now is on a lot of change in healthcare.
Q. Who can develop a benefits website?
A. Firms like Benz develop customer benefits website. All of the large HR consulting firms that have communications practices also develop custom benefits websites. There are a handful of other boutique organizations—just like Benz—that do this type of work as well and I would be happy to give anyone who is interested the names of the other boutiques in this work space.
If you have internal resources, often your internal resources can develop a website like this for you as well. We have seen a handful a times teams using their IT department or marketing department to build a website like this. More often than not though, the internal teams don’t have the resources or you can’t use those resources in a timely manner and organizations end up with a firm like ours or another benefits communication firm to build them websites.
Q. When you are building a benefits website, what is the suggestion for different employee populations (union, non-union) where you don’t want certain employees to see the other employees benefits package and perks?
A. This is, again, a bit of an old mindset when it comes to benefits. The idea that you can actually keep information away from different populations of employees is really not true anymore. A lot of time has been spent in the past keeping one union’s population communications very separate from another union’s population’s communication and hoping that no one every sees them. The reality is that people can just trade enrollment guides or can get their hands on the other benefits guides.
So our recommendation is to really get as much information as possible on those sites. If you absolutely need to differentiate by populations, there are few ways to do that from a technology stand point so that it’s simple and easy for people to find information. Or if it’s something sensitive like rates, you can put only the rates behind the login. So that you’re putting all of the key information, particularly about how to use and access the programs ahead of the login and perhaps you are putting some level of protection in front of just a little bit of information whether its rates or some nuance of the plan design.
More often than not, with the organizations that we’ve worked with, once they see the value in having that information out there and the difference that that’s going to make in how people use and access the programs the concerns about having access to different folks just really go away. The concerns don’t justify the rewards.
Q. Question about some of the tools that you can use to build and maintain an email distribution list.
A. Whether that’s for personal emails from the company and we will actually do a list of some of these tools – most websites, you can build in blog or opt in functionality. One way to simply build an email list is to let people opt in to blog updates. And that is a very common thing on benefits websites that’s built into the content management systems on a lot of websites and you can have them opt in to it.
You can also use readily available email platforms whether it’s VR or mail chimp and so forth. Or use consumer CRMs to maintain email lists and maintain contact information. Chances are good that your marketing team is already using some sort of tool for customer communications or internal communications in some way. Our first question when we start looking at tools is what tool are you using within your company and how can it be used or leveraged for benefits communications and to build those lists. But absolutely, building those email lists and giving people a way to opt in to email communication is a great way to go and it’s something that we will see more and more demand from employees in the future.
Q. Do you mean tweets like in using Twitter? Don’t people have to have a Twitter account and is there something else like Twitter that can be used?
A. I’m being a bit general when I talk about tweets. You can use them on Twitter or you can use an internal platform like Yammer and lots of other intranets have a short micro-blogging platform built into them. Twitter is nothing more than a way to post short little bits of content. The nice thing about Twitter is you don’t really have to have a Twitter account to use it. Anyone can go out and look at Twitter account. You can go look at my Twitter account, which is @JenBenz and you don’t have to have an account. You don’t have to sign up. You don’t have to do anything. The nice thing about Twitter and other apps like it is you can pull those tweet as a feed into your website. So you use Twitter to post content, but then you can publish it or display it on your website. So it’s a nice way to keep a website homepage fresh at a very, very low effort and cost. It would be the same if you pulled in your blog feed and displayed it on your homepage. Tools like that don’t require someone to go out to a different site, you can use them to keep your own website fresh. You can even do the same thing with a Facebook page. You can display that on your benefits website so that people don’t necessarily have to go to Facebook to view the page, but can look on your website.
So, that’s our favorite way to use social media is to keep websites fresh and to make them an interactive experience.
[audience comment] another nice platform to use is Yammer. We use Yammer at our firm and has been a fantastic resource for communicating internally.
Q. What kind of follower statistics do you generally see for a company benefits Twitter account?
A. That question is very much connected to the way we recommend the way for you to use Twitter. It’s not about getting a lot of followers. It’s about having a simple way to keep your website fresh. So we do not see a ton of followers on company’s benefits Twitter accounts. Nor do we see a ton of followers or likes on their Facebook pages. But if you want to use that as a resource on your website we do see people clicking on the links even if they never go to Twitter to actually follow that account.
Q. Question about the range of cost on a benefits website or a benefit micro-site.
A. I’m afraid I can’t quote any good numbers because the question of “what does a website cost” is similar to the question “what does it cost to go on vacation?” or “what does it cost to build a house?”
You can do something that is very simple and very budget conscious or you can go to the Four Seasons. You can build a little shack or you can build a palace. The same is true with websites.
You can do a very, very simple micro-site with just a few pages–really–yourself. There are a lot of tools out there that you can do it almost for free with very limited costs for hosting. Or you can build a very robust, comprehensive, big website that has all the ‘bells and whistles’ and lots of video content and lots of interactive content and that would be more like the Four Seasons or palace. So there’s just a huge range of ways to approach websites and different resources that are out there.
I would say, if you have under 1,000 employees then talk to your broker/consultants and see what resources they might have available or look and see what you can do yourself or with internal resources.
If you have more than 5,000 employees, than you should make a significant investment in that website and use an external firm to build something that’s really robust and really meaningful for employees.
If you are in that in-between (1,000-5,000 employees) – it’s tough to justify the investment, but what we see is somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 employees. Organizations really see the amount of money being spent on benefit programs and start to invest significantly in the communication aspect of them because that’s the only way you can really make sure that employees are appreciating the value and appreciating the amount of money that is being spent on the program.
Q. How do they coexist with a benefits administration system that sometimes also provide a lot of benefits content? And why would a benefits website be beneficial if there’s a strong administration in place?
A. If you had 1 benefits administrator that touched all of your programs and had rich, easy to understand content for every single program you offer, then there would be no need to have a separate benefits website.
The reality is, most organizations have many, many administrators in the mix. So you’re going to one place for health & welfare benefits, another for retirement, another for stock purchase plan, another system completely for time off, maybe you have a whole set of work/life benefits that are provided by one-off vendors, you might have a robust wellness program that has a whole administration platform of its own.
And for that reason, it’s very important and a huge enhancement to the employee experience to have all those resources consolidated into one place. So when we build sites, we look at that whole ecosystem where all of the places people need to go for information and of course when you’re on the benefits website that talks about open enrollment (OE) you push people to that benefits administrator to go make that transaction. When you’re on the page that talks about wellness, you push people to that program and encourage people to go out and use them. When you’re talking about 401(k), you do the same thing. All of that is a way to create a more cohesive experience.
The other aspect to keep in mind is that many administrators put content behind very complex logins (as they should) because we’re talking about transactions and personal data. But that prevents people from going out there on an ongoing basis and you really want a resource that folks are going to access on their mobile phones any moment that they have a question.
And finally, spouses often don’t have access to all of the administrators’ websites or if they do, it’s kind of with a clunky experience of logging in as the employee. So even with really, strong administrators – and administrators, we love seeing that they’re sites are getting more user friendly and with better user design all the time. They’re building really robust resources but you don’t have control on how frequently they’re updating it. When you want to get information out and when you want to really talk about your programs, having your own resource is a huge, huge benefit.
Q. Do we also recommend that the open enrollment (OE) process be outside of the firewall? And is that an important aspect to employees as well?
A. We would absolutely prefer that open enrollment (OE) process is available outside the firewall so that spouses – who often are the decision makers – can access it and use the tools, and often the very robust and helpful decision support tools. But, enrollment being a 1 time year affair, it’s not as critical for that experience to be outside of the firewall.
And you see this with populations that have very, very large groups of folks that don’t have computer access at work. You can get a huge retail population, you can get 95% or 98% of people to enroll online 1 time a year – but it’s more challenging to get them to use web resources weekly and daily all of the time. That’s the difference. With an OE experience, often you are getting people to do that once a year or maybe once every few years. But with the rest of the resources and driving ongoing usage of programs, you want to make that easy for folks to access it all the time.
Q. Question about a channel we didn’t cover – e-guides or e-magazines. How popular are e-guides and e-magazines and is it becoming more and more popular to take printed guides and deliver them in an online and interactive way through an e-guide?
A. E-guides or e-magazines are a way to make a pdf of a printed piece look better or look more enticing or more engaging but they’re not cheap to produce. And they’re most often not something that someone is going to back to time and time again. They are kind of a one-time experience channel.
So they’re not terribly popular for benefits communications, at least as far as I’ve seen and they’re not really the best investment. They’re kind if taking a print piece or a print experience and putting it online.
What you want to do is make an online experience online. So when you look at the cost of producing an e-guide or e-magazine versus the cost of investing that into a website, the website is always going to win and that website is always going to be a good long-term investment.
The other piece on e-guides, they usually don’t work on mobile phones. They’re just not meant for mobile phones. So it’s a good reason to invest that money in a responsive website.
Q. A couple of questions about finding copies of slides on our site.
A. You can go onto our site to the master class page. It’s linked on the homepage and it’s linked on our blog page and so forth. So look for the master class and on that page is a list of our whole webinar series and you can download and grab the slides of the first presentation as well as this presentation, including the audio. This presentation will be posted shortly after.
Q. Have you seen creative uses for mobile to reach employees who may be difficult to communicate with because they aren’t in front of a computer at work?
A. There are lots of ways to use mobile to reach employees who might not be in front of a computer all day long. And I think one of the misconceptions about benefits communication is that if an employee isn’t in front of a computer that they don’t have access to the Internet. And that’s just not the case. We have seen very successful campaigns with text messages pop that have broad access. You have to give people a good reason to opt into text messaging. So those text messages have to valuable and easy to use. It’s not something that is the first thing to invest in for most populations. And then building a robust resource or responsive website that has all the information at your finger tips and is a good way for folks to access information, that is a great way to engage a population that don’t have computer access at work.
When you give people a valuable, robust resource it will be something that they go back to and will be something that they really use. So getting information outside the firewall on a user friendly website is the best way to reach those populations that don’t have computer access at work.
And then you can use a lot of creative ways to get people to that that site. You might have a contest or you may use some sort of incentive. You may send some postcards to their homes or put posters at the different work locations. Then your strategy becomes about getting people to that site and not about communicating everything possible in print.
Q. What is the best way to manage and communicate when every carrier has its own website for claims and resources and every carrier has a different look and feel?
A. And this is again why it’s really key to have your own resources that you have control over. All of your carriers have their own brand, they all have their own resources and if they communicate directly to you’re employees, you’re kind of losing out on that branding opportunity. The opportunity to say what we provide is really valuable and we as a company are providing you with this benefit from this expert carrier or expert administrator.
So the best way to manage an environment – which every company has that has multiple administrators – is the have things consolidated into your own resources and then branded and then push people to different vendors when they need that information.
Now, a lot of times – especially for smaller organizations – you can get a lot of value out of using – whether it’s through co-branding or repurposing the materials that your carriers and different vendors will provide (and I fully encourage you to do that). It’s part of our work smart tip and the third step of our process. You don’t have to go at it alone, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Use what your carriers are providing when it’s valuable but brand it yourself or co-brand it so employees know that you’re the ones that are providing that resource.
Q. Can you speak to the safe harbor or electronic distribution also?
A. Electronic distribution of compliance materials is an area where we absolutely need more clarity from the Department of Labor. This is a topic for all of us to get engaged with. Encouraging the Department of Labor to make the electronic distribution and safe harbor rules crystal clear.
Every company should be able to do all their compliance material electronically. And that should be 100% clear from the Department of Labor (DOL). But right now, that clarity on the regulation is not there. A lot of organizations do fully online distribution and their lawyers are very, very comfortable with that.
But at this point, my recommendation has to be that you talk to your lawyers and you talk with your legal team about what's right for your organization. And what others in your space are doing. But, electronic distribution, we have to remember it is not communication. Compliance documents do not really help educate or engage folks. So cover the compliance, make sure that your company and your lawyers are comfortable with what you’re doing for compliance and then make sure you’re making that additional investment in building resources that can really communicate and really engage with employees and family members because that’s the way we’re going to get them to really understand and appreciate the value of benefits and also the way you are going to be able to drive them to make good decisions and change behaviors around healthcare and financial issues, and so forth that are really going to result in better outcomes for them and for your company.
Thanks for joining out Master Class. We hope you’ll be able to join us for an upcoming Master Class, or the rest of the series. As a reminder, you can go to our website and replay this webinar and you can sign up directly for future webinars.
So with that, we will wrap up. If you have additional questions after or as you review through the materials, please reach out to us. We are happy to answer any questions and happy to continue the dialogue. This is the second in our benefits communication master class series. As a reminder, you can go to our website to the master class page to replay this webinar and the first webinar. You can sign up for the future ones and be able to download the slides there. The next one is Building Engagement: Making HDHPs and HSAs a success. We know that almost all companies are launching or trying to increase engagement in HD plans and we have lots of tips for you there.
The webinar after that, Data Drives Decisions, is all about segmentation and targeting benefits communication. Much of which you can do in online channels we talked about today. And then of course it wouldn’t be a benefits communication master class if we didn’t talk about annual enrollment. So our last class in the series will be Beyond A Two-week Window: 10 ways to make annual enrollment a success in an era of health care reform.
We hope to see you next time and thank you for joining us today. Please let us know if you have any questions and feedback. We are always delighted to hear from you.