An adviser’s ultimate goal when it comes to helping clients improve their benefits communication through technology should be to provide them with options that they will actually use. While traditional avenues such as email, paper and employee meetings still work in some respects, “it’s easy to create a better model,” Jeff Hill, president, eTekhnos, told attendees at the benefitsCONNECT Benefits Technology Summit in San Diego.

The standard options create a gap in communication, as they get lost in the everyday work shuffle, Hill said. Advisers who encourage employers to leverage other mediums, such as social media, mobile-friendly websites, text-based communications and other content creating platforms “look like a rock star to your clients,” he said, because they are “bringing great content they can just turn around and use.”

Social media and mobile communications in particular are unique because they embed into peoples’ everyday lives, both through work and after hours, and thus do not feel like “workplace to-do items,” Hill said.

“There’s a seamless blend whether they’re at work or at home,” he said. “We’re not shifting worlds like we used to.”

Facebook is a fantastic place to leverage this change, Hill said, as 74% of adult users access it on a regular basis. Additionally, 47% say Facebook has the greatest impact on their purchase behavior, compared to just 24% in 2011.

“We have a really well-rounded workforce of ages where people are on Facebook,” Hill said, adding that the age 35-54 demographic has experienced 41.4% growth. The biggest growth has been among adults age 55 and older, where the social media powerhouse has added 12.4 million new users from this age range — 80.4% growth, according to a 2014 report from iStrategy labs.

Embracing Facebook “is a great chance to say let’s do things a little differently,” Hill said. For example, he will help his employer clients get their employees to like their company Facebook page and share content through incentives.

However, due to the fact that Facebook’s algorithm is increasingly keeping business pages out of peoples’ newsfeeds, Hill recommends companies create a closed, private group on the site. Companies will often ask their adviser to be an administrator of the group, Hill has found. And groups often show up at the top of a person’s newsfeed.

Overall, Hill recommends embracing social selling. “The biggest thing we do [on social media] is employee spotlights,” he said.

Web technology

Meanwhile, even though websites are a company’s “online business card,” as many as 45% of small businesses in the U.S. still don’t have one, Hill said, and of those that do, only 6% are optimized for mobile phone usage.

Mobile optimization is a must-have these days, as 47% of smartphone users visit websites from their phone regularly, he said. To know if a site is mobile optimized, Hill said to keep minimizing the screen on a computer and the elements of the website should shrink and stack up as the screen gets smaller. If they don’t, the site is not optimized.

“Your best client, go check out their benefit portal and look at it as an employee,” Hill said. “… It’s important to know what they’re going through.” This is because people will only give a site around two to three seconds. If it doesn’t load, contains fuzzy images or difficult navigation, “they’ll move on.”

In this age of search engine optimization, it’s also crucial to keep a website regularly updated, as Google’s and other search engines’ algorithms look for fresh content.

Websites that serve as benefit portals “are one of the most underutilized” ways to increase communication to employees, said Jeff Franklin, director of business development at benefitsCONNECT, during the session.

Brokers can own and control the portal, which will have content such as a video library, summary of benefits and coverage, links to wellness plan information, payroll, 401(k) and social media links, Franklin said.

Video utilization in particular “is amazing,” he said, noting that “employees will watch a five, eight minute video outside of open enrollment,” often when directed there weeks before the event.

Employers should keep most of the site outside of their firewall, Franklin said, to keep it as assessable as possible to employees. Setting up a portal is easy and affordable, he added, and companies can use it to send new hires and recruits to the page for more information. Advisers can also use it for their own marketing.

“It’s a great demo tool,” said Hill, and a “great tool for prospects.”

“There’s nothing better than suggesting a great idea to a group,” Hill added, and text messaging is part of the new communication package as well. Business-related texts are “getting more and more common,” he said. “We know employees are on their phone.”

One person sends and receives an average of 100 texts each day Hill said (noting that that number includes notoriously texting teenagers), which makes text message communicating “a great one, and its highly unutilized.”

GroupMe is one vendor that will offer such services. Examples of group texts that would go to employees include, “Hey, open enrollment is in three weeks,” or reminders to spend FSA spend money before it expires, Hill said.

Content creation ideas

Advisers are not on their own when leveraging technology for content creation. There are many inexpensive vendors available, Hill said. For example, a company called VideoScribe will assist with the creation of whiteboard animation videos. “People will watch video far more than they will read,” he said. “Imagine posting this to your groups on their closed Facebook pages.”

Whiteboard animation can be built for as little as $25, and doesn’t take much more than bullet points in a simple Word document and stock images. “You’ll get better at it … this software is meant for any of us,” Hill said, adding that the first time he did video on FSAs “we got more responses, more clicks” than any other form of traditional communication.

GoAnimate.com  is another video vendor that will create animated video shorts for less than $100, Hill said. Companies like fiverr and Freelancer offer services starting at $5, with reasonable buy-ups for more intricate work, he said. Looking for a company jingle? In two to three days, you’ll have one, he said.

Then there’s 99designs. For $299, it will utilize crowdsourcing to bring you around 100-150 options when you’re looking for a logo, flyers, banners, infographics, HR/benefits related communication.

Another option, although more expensive, is a company called Brainshark. Hill also uses a site called BombBomb to create video email messages that can be done with a smart phone and have an 85% open rate over traditional email.

“I encourage you,” he said, “to think of other ways that are out there.”

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