Do you tweet? If not, you ought to think about it. Chances are a lot of your employees are either tweeting or are following tweets of friends, newsgroups, or other organizations. You yourself may be following any number of firms that work in the HR consulting space: @towersperrin, @hewittnews, @watsonwyatt, etc. And if you’re reading this blog, you probably follow the tweets of various bloggers, as well. Why, then, would you not consider tweeting to your employees about their benefits?
Think about it. Annual Enrollment is just around the corner for most employers. And setting up a Twitter account couldn’t be simpler. All you need is a name and an e-mail address, both of which I’ll assume you have or can scrounge up. Then, in your more formal communications to employees, simply add somewhere, “Follow me on Twitter @inserttwitternamehere”. That’s it. Interested employees will subscribe, and those who aren’t won’t. The initial investment outlay is almost nothing.
I know what you’re thinking: “How could I communicate, in 140 characters or less, enough information about our benefits to be of value to employees?” Well -- you could use it as a mechanism to point employees to articles posted to your intranet about benefits changes for the new plan year, remind employees about that start and end of Annual Enrollment, and direct employees to resources they can use to make intelligent benefits decisions.
This is going to be a hard sell for some people. Even as social media has grown so explosively over the past several years, Twitter seems to be the medium that’s received the least attention. Facebook and MySpace are easy to explain to not so tech savvy people. They’re simple applications that allow you to connect with and follow the lives of friends, colleagues, bands, movie stars, etc. Your grandmother may even have a Facebook account.
Twitter, on the other hand, generally requires some explanation. When you tell your vice president of compensation and benefits that you think tweeting during this year’s Annual Enrollment could help drive active participation and facilitate effective benefits communication, you may be met with a blank stare and/or glazed eyes. S/he is going to ask the same question you were thinking earlier: “How could I communicate in 140 characters or less enough information about our benefits to be of value to employees?” The real investment here may be the time spent garnering support from management to implement Twitter as a communication mechanism.
Full disclosure -- I’m not an attorney. There may be legal implications to using Twitter to communicate with employees in your organization regarding benefits. You should consult with your own legal counsel before doing so. You may also be opening yourself up to employee responses to your tweets with how they really feel about your company or its benefits offering. These responses can (and likely will) be read by people outside of your organization. There are two ways to view this. On one hand, it’s good to get candid feedback from employees. On the other, most of us would rather not air our dirty laundry for the viewing public. You’ll have to weigh the risks and benefits of this before taking any action. If you ultimately decide that tweeting leaves your organization too exposed, you may want to consider private microblogging networks like Yammer. I think the primary issue with these private networks will be adoption by employees, since they won’t already have accounts setup.
Can Twitter replace your formal benefits communications materials? Of course not. It’s impossible to explain all that needs to be understood about your company’s benefits in 140 characters or less. And I suspect employees would be less than receptive to receiving multiple 140 character tweets in consecutive order that, when combined, communicate a cohesive message. But using it as a mechanism to point employees in the direction of more formally developed communications, sending reminders about key dates during Annual Enrollment, and guiding employees to resources that help them make educated decisions about their benefits would be useful.
So let’s hear it. Have you used Twitter or other forms of social media to communicate to employees about their benefits? What were your biggest challenges in rolling it out?
And, if you’re interested, follow me on Twitter @g_dagley.
Editor's Note - Greg Dagley is a Benefits Consultant for a large multinational employer in Houston, TX. While his company has employees all over the globe, his job keeps him focused on US benefits and spending a lot of his time managing external vendors. Is there any doubt his Excel skills are more advanced than yours?