Twitter is everywhere. The micro-blogging platform, that asks you “What are you doing?” and only gives you 140 characters to respond, gets more press lately than celebrity mishaps. It is growing crazy fast, CNN loves to integrate it into the newscast and it gives even the biggest celebrities a chance to seem like real people.
Often dismissed as “fluff” in the social media landscape, Twitter is actually an invaluable tool for business, letting you quickly interact with a huge group of industry thought leaders, grab news headlines and even see what your competitors are talking about. The uses of Twitter have surprised even the founders themselves. It took me a little while to really buy in to the power of Twitter, but now I’m officially hooked.
But, can this platform be effective for employee benefits communication? Can it handle the complex needs of communicating to employees and their families about health care, 401(k)s, stock options, wellness programs, EAPs and all the other crazy and complex programs that are out there?
I asked that on Twitter, and here are just a few of the replies:
So, it is a resounding YES. And, I agree completely. Here's why.
Four Reasons Why Twitter Works for Benefits Communication
Short and sweet. Twitter forces you to keep things to 140 characters, or about 20 words. That means you have to get to the point fast and entice your audience to link for more information. This is precisely the way effective communication should be structured, especially in our media-saturated world. And, this works really well for benefits information, where each individual needs to quickly find the information that is relevant for them and go. Too often, benefits communication is delivered in a one-size-fits-all package that has so much technical information and detail that the actual message is lost completely. There is a place for that (in your Summary Plan Description, for example) but the majority of benefits communication should be about engaging employees and families so they take action and make good decisions. Twitters’ quick to-the-point format would be great for delivering those action items in clear and simple terms.
On the Internet, for everyone to see. There’s nothing private about Twitter, as some have learned the hard way, but that is a good thing for your benefits communication. You want to get information into the hands of your employees (and new hires!) and their spouses and families as easily as possible. Unnecessary passwords are just an opportunity for your audience to get distracted by YouTube or Facebook and never return to your site or the important task they meant to do. There are Twitter-esque tools for the enterprise, like Yammer, that can live behind a firewall, but sequestering your benefits info behind all that security keeps it out of the hands of the spouses and families who are driving the largest portion of your costs. Not convinced? Here’s a full article on this topic alone.
Interactive. The @ feature on Twitter makes it easy to send a quick question or direct a reply at an individual. This makes the platform incredibly interactive—and efficient. The vast majority of benefits questions that are handled either by self-service websites and costly call centers are simple, simple, simple. “What’s the phone number for our health plan?” “Where do I submit claims for the FSA?” “What’s the deadline for the stock plan enrollment?” “Can I get reimbursed for salsa dance lessons as part of our fitness incentive?” All of these are simple less-than-10-word answers that could be handled by a benefits team member or a call center rep with minimal effort. I’d love to see a company roll out Twitter help as an adjunct to their call center. (Yes, obviously, there must be some common sense training that goes along with this but call center reps and benefits pros who are sophisticated enough to handle HIPAA regulations and FMLA rules are also smart enough to know when to say “we can’t answer that in a public forum—call us at this number.”)
Twitter can come to you. I know someone is thinking “but our employees aren’t on Twitter yet, why would we use that?” and that is a valid point. You have to go where your employees and families already are. And, you can do that with Twitter. All of the applications and widgets and add-ons that make putting a Twitter feed into another website easy are part of the reason the platform has grown so quickly. So, yes, you have to go where your people already are—is that your Intranet, your benefits website, Facebook, LinkedIn? Or, is it their mobile phones? Twitter can work anywhere and I think the mobile applications are going to become even more interesting and useful.
BUT, (there has to be a “but” right?), I do have a few cautions before you drop all your current communication channels and hire someone to man Twitter 24/7.
If you use Twitter for benefits communication, it MUST be part of an integrated campaign. Twitter is just one tool and you have to give employees and families comprehensive resources and frequent updates in other media, of course. The ideal communication strategy is going to have a mix of online, print, interactive and hopefully face-to-face communication. And, just like any website, you can’t have an “If we build it, they will come” mindset—you have to consistently remind employees about the resources out there and why they should bother taking a look. (And, no, I don’t think good old-fashioned print communication mailed to homes is going away anytime soon—especially among companies who do not have completely wired workforces.)
Jargon alert. Benefits has enough jargon and silly acronyms already without throwing a new language of “Twitter” and “Tweeting” in the mix. If you use Twitter for your benefits communication, you must be very cautious not to further confuse employees or forget to define acronyms. It is no fun to spell out "high deductible health plan" when you’ve only got 140 characters to work within, but chances are pretty good your employees are not going to know HDHP, at least not the first time around.
Understand the time commitment. An investment in any social media takes time and you need to accurately understand the commitment required, which could be significant. If you have someone on your benefits team monitoring Twitter and answering questions in real time, it might make sense to say “We respond between 10am and 2pm PT Monday-Friday. We’ll get back to you as soon as we can” so that you set appropriate expectations with employees—and so that individual can actually get some work done outside of those hours.
I'm convinced Twitter holds tremendous promise to help engage employees and their families and get them taking action with their benefits. What do you think? Please comment below or let me know on Twitter.
Editor's Note - Jennifer Benz is founder and chief strategist at Benz Communications, a boutique consulting firm that focuses on employee benefits communication. She helps companies, large and small, connect with their people so that those people (and their families!) understand all the confusing, but oh-so-important, benefits programs that are out there. She's located in San Francisco.