During a webinar hosted by Benz Communications, “Likes, Tweets and Clicks,” the firm’s CEO, Jennifer Benz observed that even though the Internet has become so pervasive in our lives, it still feels relatively new for benefits communication. She noted that some companies have resisted communicating benefits information via the Internet for a long time, while others have been under the constraints of conservative or protective IT or corporate communication departments.
“Eighty percent of Millennials and Generation Xers want their benefits information on the Internet and nearly 70% of younger Baby Boomers say the same,” said Benz. This should not come as any great surprise to employers. All of our lives are online, so many feel their benefits information should be there too.”
Benz said it is important for employers to have a strategy for benefits communication. She suggested the strategy should be written, and said it doesn’t have to be complicated. “Your strategy will let you focus on specific and measurable behaviors, and will also help to push people to online resources and tools.” Employers should look at all the data they have available when developing a communication strategy and when establishing ongoing assessments of their efforts, she added.
The first step is getting material online. It should be someplace outside the company’s firewall, and it should be easy to use, Benz suggested, adding that employers should use their existing resources to get things done and boost communications efforts.
Benz encourages employers to keep talking. “Engage with employees and their families year round, reaching them when they’re making daily decisions that affect their health and financial security.”
To maintain year-round communication, she said, employers need to use a variety of channels, including offline ones. “A single type of media or channel is not going to resonate with everyone in your organization and that’s okay.” What employers need to do, according to Benz, is leverage each channel for its strengths and have the different channels working in concert to create an integrated communications campaign. This probably means still doing in-person communications and producing printed materials, no matter how sophisticated you get with your communications technology, said Benz. “The right kind of printed material can be effective at driving traffic to online resources.”
Benz pointed out that a misconception of online communication is “if you just build a really nice resource, people will use it. The reality is that you have to promote everything all the time.”
Online content requires the same precision and attention to detail as printed materials, perhaps even more, Benz said. “People have limited attention spans and are constantly bombarded with information, so channels like websites, emails, videos and infographics that are carefully crafted will get better results.” She also recommended making sure content isn’t bogged down in legal jargon; however, employers should make sure they have the necessary disclaimers posted and are covering compliance issues.
It is important to have a single destination where employees and their families can find their benefits information, said Benz. “Not only does it create a cohesive experience and give employees anytime access to benefits information, but it’s also a valuable resource for recruiting and new hires.”
Benz recommended getting feedback from employees about the design of their benefits website and performing user testing to continually enhance the site based on such feedback. She also recommended that while employers should password protect confidential or personal information, general marketing and educational materials should be in an area of the site that is public and not password protected.
Posting benefits information on intranets (i.e., company internets), creates a barrier and prevents employees’ families, as well as some employees, from viewing this material. Benz suggested, as long as the material is not confidential, it should be publicly available on an external website.
If material is featured on both an intranet and an external site, efforts between the two sites needs to be coordinated. Benz cautioned that content should not be duplicated on both, since it would confuse users about where to go for information. “Employers need to make it clear where to go for information and create a cohesive and simple experience between the two sites,” said Benz.
Benz recommended that email content be kept short and sweet, especially when it comes to the subject line. Avoid using emails as a dumping ground for content. Let people click on a link for more details. Also, emails do not have to be one size fits all, but can instead be targeted to certain employee populations.
As with online channels, Benz suggested employers track the open rates and clickthroughs to see what types of emails get a better response.
“Videos are wildly popular online and a favorite method for conveying complex benefits information,” said Benz. “There are formats such as animated, live action and talking heads, and all have their time and place.” Whatever format is chosen, the video needs to be kept short and sweet, said Benz, with a running time of two or three minutes. If an employer has a lengthy topic that needs to be covered, Benz suggested not covering everything in a single video, but creating a series of videos.
Benz recommended that companies get their leaders and experts onscreen for creditability, but added that these people should be coached to make sure they both look and sound good on camera.
“Webinars are a nice way to build a library of video content at an affordable price,” said Benz, adding that the most inviting webinars are ones with a short format and very specific topics, as well as an enthusiastic and compelling presenter and time at the end for questions and answers.
“Social media is one of the best ways to keep the content on your benefits website fresh,” said Benz, especially through blogs and tweets. Benz advised employers to start small, using a blog for news and updates on their benefits website. She also recommended that employers not worry if they don’t post frequent updates. “Remember a low frequency of posts is better than no posts at all.”
Benz Communications offers a starter kit about this topic, which can be requested here.
Tip Sheets and Infographics
The aim of a tip sheet or infographic is to “tell employees what they’re missing out on or on ways they can get more value from your benefits.” As with emails, do not try to say everything but focus in on key points, pushing people to online resources via links, Benz suggested, adding that the point of such pieces is to entice the reader to find out more, not to explain every single detail of a subject. “Use simple, visual, easy-to-read content that can be distributed online or by email,” said Benz, recommending that employers use a professional designer who can incorporate images and graphics into the piece.
Benz said employers should take note that many employees will access websites and emails on a mobile device. She recommended using responsive web design, which responds and adapts the display to conform to the type of device on which the content is being viewed. Benz advised against employers building their own applications. “Leave apps to your carriers and administrators.”
She also advised against using QR (quick response) codes—an image that can be scanned and leads users to a web page—as a communication channel for benefits information. She pointed out that only a small percentage of people ever actually scan and use them. In addition, they are often reproduced in technically inappropriate media such as on billboards or in emails, where they cannot be scanned. “QR codes have never gotten enough traction to be valuable,” Benz said. “It’s just as easy for someone to type in a URL or click a link.”
Online tools can be a valuable part of employers’ benefits communications and help them create better employee benefits results overall, Benz concluded.