Benefits and Compensation

Don’t Be Afraid of Social Media: Smart and Simple Ways To Use These Tools for Benefits Communication

by Jennifer Benz

Social media is the buzz at every corporate communications or HR conference, and the tools are growing more quickly than anything else online. Yet few companies are effectively integrating these tools into their benefits or strategic HR communications.

Many companies are paralyzed because they don’t understand the tools, or they assume social media requires reworking their whole communication strategy. The truth is, social media tools are easy to understand and easy to use. And, they are most effective when integrated into existing strategies. Here we walk through the tools most relevant for HR communication and the four key questions you should ask before making any investments.

Understanding the Landscape

The social media landscape can be overwhelming, but not if you only focus on the tools most relevant to employee communication.

Blogs are a simple and easy way to self-publish Web content and can communicate almost anything. They give readers the opportunity to respond with comments and have a dialog with the author. Consider having your benefits team start a blog about tips on getting the most value from your programs, or get your leadership to include benefits information in their existing blogs.

Podcasts and Videocasts are simply online audio and video clips. They can be played on a computer or iPod and they have endless uses: post a short video of CEO or leadership speaking about a new program, create podcasts of enrollment meetings or new-hire orientation, review the basics of your plan through a 401(k) 101 podcast series (even better if you team it with an online forum for questions), or create a contest for the best 2-minute video about a key topic—health care, wellness, 401(k) investing—and let your employees’ creativity go to work.

Social networks, such as Facebook, LinkedIn®, and thousands of others, connect individuals around common interests and activities. Whether personal or professional, they are incredibly powerful tools for distributing information and ideas. You can help network employees hired in the same month; let them go through orientation together, even virtually, and share their experiences. Or, you could create a Facebook group for wellness events to promote online and in-person programs. Invite families to join, too.

A wiki, just like the most famous one, Wikipedia, lets multiple users edit the same Web page or content. They are ideal for internal collaboration such as sharing tips and reminders.

Making Wise Investments

Use these four questions to help set your social media plan and integrate these tools into your communication strategy.

  1. What are your objectives? Don’t roll out a new communication method or technology just for the sake of doing so; make sure it is tied to your overall strategy or it will be money wasted. Are you trying to save costs long-term by getting employees more engaged in their health care? Or do you want to improve engagement by making sure employees know what their whole package is worth? Start with your core objectives and then decide if a social media tool will help you get there.
  2. Who are your employees? How do they want to receive information? What is practical, and what makes sense given the needs of your workforce (and their families)? Make sure your communication—no matter what form—is making it easier and faster for your audience to get and use the information they need, when and where they need it.
  3. What is going to have a long-term ROI? Think about investing in infrastructure first, as it will have the most benefit long-term. Upgrading your intranet to provide blog, profile, and wiki platforms will have unlimited uses down the road and enable you to start working with those media. Investing in a series of one-off podcasts or videos will have a shorter lifespan, but may make sense if part of a high-value campaign.
  4. What is efficient to monitor and maintain? Keep in mind that what you produce must still be professional and high quality, which requires an investment of time and money. Likewise, you must read and respond to feedback—both to keep informed of what your employees are saying, but also to make sure information is accurate and complete. In some organizations, monitoring blog content alone has required creating a new full-time position. However, if that allows you to have an effective two-way dialog with your employees that furthers your objectives, the position will certainly be worth the investment. 

Jennifer Benz is an award-winning communication consultant and writer based in San Francisco. Her firm, Benz Communications, provides full-service employee communication services to 100 Best Companies to Work For and Fortune 500 leaders. She can be reached at