Social media has become an omnipresent part of American culture, but is it an effective means of communicating benefits to employee populations? The answer isn’t always cut and dried.

“The first thing we always say is, go where your employees are,” suggests Neil Mammele, director of digital strategy at PlanSource, whose benefits technology platform reaches nearly 3.5 million consumers. “What do they go to mostly in their free time?”

For many employee populations, the answer is social media. However, a mere 3% to 8% of employers use social media to communicate with employees about their benefits, according to Thomsons Online Benefits.

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There may be a logical explanation for that low number. “I think outside of work, employees want to keep social media as their personal thing, and not so much tied to their employer,” says Andrew McNeil, an adviser with Arrow Benefits Group who’s also a millennial.

Jellyvision’s ALEX tool or a corporate intranet would be a more effective way to communicate about employee benefits, he says, while social media can be used for other corporate purposes. For example, his family owned benefits brokerage uses Instagram to post photos from company events and fun things in the office, as well as highlight the firm’s culture.

“It's really meant for the outside world to see — not so much for our people,” he adds.

With a growing emphasis on providing decision-support tools to help employees make wiser choices during benefits enrollment, Mammele believes social media can raise engagement. For example, a video can be posted on how a high-deductible health plan fits a company’s workforce demographic mix. Like-minded groups can always open a constructive dialogue with their co-workers about which benefit plan options make the most sense for them to choose.

Noting the importance of year-round communication with employees, he says it has the potential to increase voluntary benefits enrollment by as much as 40%. Social media is an ideal platform for helping educate employees about the value of these plans rather than simply do cost comparisons at enrollment, he adds.

Of all the social media platforms, Mammele recommends using the popular Facebook group function — mindful that many companies have tight budgets or would rather not invest in a new technology. The message board function can enable the release of an employee poll or rating of potential voluntary benefits they’d like to learn more about with the benefit of real-time responses. He says it’s also possible to post a calendar of events or make available 1095-C forms to fill out for tax season, as well as provide more perspective for employees on timely topics.

A recent Pew Research Center survey found that 68% of U.S. adults use Facebook and roughly three-quarters of them access the popular social-media site on a daily basis. The results apply to most Americans across a wide range of demographic groups except for those 65 and older.
Another viable method involves establishing a group on Slack, which is geared toward real-time messaging, and having someone serve as a thought leader. Launched in 2014 as collaboration hub, it’s considered the fastest-growing business application in history.

“A lot of it is crowdsource, people asking questions of each other, and you really just monitor it,” he says.

Both approaches would be optional and invitation-only given that sensitive information may be shared and there could be privacy concerns. “If I’m going to send somebody to an enrollment form or remind them on the meeting, you just don’t want to run that risk of anybody joining the group or it being open,” Mammele explains.

Not everyone, of course, will be comfortable using social media to learn more about their benefits. If any social media groups formed at work serve to spark meaningful discussion and prove to be successful, he suggests recapping key points an HR newsletter or email for employees who choose not to participate.

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