Increasingly, employers are faced with communication challenges that might suggest use of a microsite. In the HR/benefits arena, a microsite, also known as a minisite, is an autonomous website, focused on a specific topic such as retirement, compensation or benefits. It's usually separate from the organization's main HR website and distinct from sites operated by the retirement, benefits and compensation consultants.

An employer might consider a microsite when launching a new program, campaign or plan enhancement, when targeting a specific employee demographic or if there are limitations to the plan administrator's website.

A microsite is associated with an organization, but has its own separate domain, navigation, design and content. It's a focused attempt to introduce employees to a new initiative, to gauge demand and/or to meet HR-specific objectives in a controlled online environment.

A microsite is not just a subsection of the parent site so it should enjoy a different layout and navigation scheme. The site will have a limited lifespan and address a single issue, topic or purpose. This could be to communicate changes to an organization's retirement program or to provide an interactive portal through which employees can access plan documents, summary plan descriptions, answers to frequently asked questions, etc.


Control over design

A microsite can be designed to tie in with the appearance of other communication materials associated with the campaign. Whereas an HR or plan administrator's website serves many possible visitors with a variety of missions, a microsite will appeal directly to its target audience.

The flexibility of design allows organizations to closely integrate content with design. This is important when HR is eager to drive users to complete a certain call to action. Getting design and content working closely together (rather than simply dropping content into a predefined template) is the level of art direction we have come to expect from print. A microsite allows one to create a more compelling user experience.

Microsites remove distractions, such as the navigation, footers and other irrelevant elements associated with the main corporate site. The user is focused singularly on the campaign and associated calls to action.

One of the biggest problems with microsites is that they force users to adapt to different user interfaces. The design is different, navigation has changed and there may be no clear way back to where they were. The microsite will be accessible from the main HR site, yet it will present a unique user experience that separates it from the main site.

Microsites must go through a complete design process, be built and hosted, and may well need additional functionality such as election or transaction processing. Even if a microsite has a predetermined (short) lifespan, it must be maintained. This might include changes in content, new technologies and browser enhancements.



Define goals early

Define the goals of your microsite goals early. Questions to consider include:

* What objectives do you want to meet from the outset?

* What do you hope employees will do?

* What impression do you wish to make?

* Before users leave, what's the best possible outcome?

Your microsite may be a grand new initiative reflecting HR goals or it may be as simple as a modeler used during open enrollment. Setting specific goals will help you anticipate and justify costs.

It's also important to choose metrics that reflect your microsite's goals. When an employee visits your microsite, what would you consider a metric of success? What do you want users to do - request more information? Provide feedback on a survey? Take action? Link to an enrollment site?

From the start, understand how you will measure success. These metrics should drive many of the design considerations. For example, will the microsite communicating retirement plan changes lead to increased plan participation or increased contributions? Other data gathered might include time on site, page selection, time spent on a specific page and employee census information.



Mind the mobile

Another consideration is the microsite's mobile potential. How are your employees likely to access the microsite? How mobile are they? What are their platforms of choice? Is the goal of the site in line with a mobile-only campaign? Should the site function the same way on a mobile device as it does on the Web?

If you're going to create a microsite, do it right - invest the money and resources to ensure that it breaks through the clutter and achieves the desired goals. Even the best microsite must be promoted and marketed. Employees must understand that it's available, how they can access it, when it will expire and what it can accomplish for them.

Send emails and use your HR portal to let employees know it's available. You might even use traditional hard copy printed methods like posters, flyers and company newsletters. If your microsite has personalized content, provide employees with a personalized paper statement with an example of what the site provides.

The growing number of microsites in the HR space suggests that most corporate HR websites do not adequately communicate the depth and breadth of the organization's needs. It also suggests that plan administrator sites are limited in scope, personalization, flexibility and interactivity. A microsite is one way to break through the clutter to deliver a singular, focused message with a unique graphic design.

Rafael DeBaere is vice president, personalized communications services at Wealth Management Systems, Inc. He can be reached at

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