Admit it. You’re probably not in the mood right now to read about communications planning. In fact, you’re most likely buried in meetings making sure your open enrollment comms plan is ready to roll this fall.
But stay with me here, because you’ll want to glean these strategies for making your benefits communications more effective, not to mention less overwhelming. How’s that possible? By front-loading your communications planning, you can help employees be healthier and use those programs you’ve worked so hard to put in place. The key ideas are simple: Plan your communications calendar before you lock and load all your programs, and boost your investment in tools that improve your communications.
Check out these six key strategies for better-quality benefit communications.
Start your comms planning from the get-go
The best time to plan your benefits communications is when you’re planning your plan. In other words, your comms strategy should be an integral part of your benefits planning, not just an afterthought. You should have a good idea of how you want to talk about that new program before you make the final decision to buy it or build it. Determine how the communications for your programs, incentives, and policies will work together as a single integrated plan.
For each program, follow this general framework: Audience > Message > Channel. Consider whom you’re speaking to, what message will resonate with this segment, and how best to deliver the message. Then consider how all of your programs will fit together.
As you put together incentives for the new year, set aside some time to work on the communications piece as well. Focus on your messaging audience by audience early and often. You’ll be rewarded with more engaged employees because they’ll get the right message for them, and a clearer sense of what’s in it for them.
If you’re struggling to build a communications strategy around a benefit you’re thinking about introducing, that’s a red flag. If you don’t know how to talk about it, or can’t find a spot for it in the calendar, is this something that your employees will need, want, or understand?
Consider your audience before doing anything
The first rule of benefit communications is you don’t talk about benefit communications unless you know your audience.
Our Audience > Message > Channel framework begins with having a good understanding of your audience. Hopefully, you have access to reliable and fairly granular employee data so you know whom you’re speaking to, as well as their top concerns and questions. Consider combining hard data (demographic information) with qualitative feedback (surveys) to get the best of both worlds.
From there, you need to decide what will be the most effective messages to craft, and how to best deliver them, whether it’s through e-mail, intranet, social media, live events, or some combination of all of these channels.
Set yourself up for successful communication by considering your employees’ interests, and segmenting your audience according to those interests, as certain content may resonate more with some audiences than others. This can be as easy as creating two versions of an email subject line to better appeal to employees varying interests.
Even very limited segmentation can increase engagement – and that’s the name of the game. Technology and third-party partners can make it easy to deliver customized messages to your audience segments.
Think about quality — and quantity, too
While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to benefit communications, there are some universal best practices. First the don’ts: Don’t be boring. Don’t make it complicated. Don’t overwhelm employees with a ton of information. Now the do’s: Do speak in a human voice with some personality. Do make your messages purposeful and beneficial. Do make the information digestible in small bites. Do segment your communications so people get messages that are highly relevant to them.
There’s a strong case to be made that you should be sending out more communications more often — but making your messages shorter, snappier, and more useful. In a 2016 survey conducted by Harris Poll, just 4 percent of employees said they would describe their company’s benefit communications as “too frequent.” Yet, in that same survey of 2,108 workers, only 52 percent said they would describe these communications as “informative” and even fewer (45 percent) agreed that they were “beneficial.” What’s worse, 10 percent of employees called them “boring” and another 7 percent dismissed them as “a waste.”
Clearly, we all have some work to do. Start by simplifying the details. Avoid a lot of unnecessary jargon. Watch those acronyms. Use bullet points, charts, infographics, catchy images, and other visually driven techniques to get your point across in a more engaging way. Think about how you can break up the communication so that employees get the headlines, and can dig in deeper if it’s relevant to them.
Decide on your overall themes
Everyone’s heard this rule of thumb: You need to hear or see something seven times before it sticks. It’s a cliche and it’s also true. You need to maintain a steady drumbeat of content to ensure that your employees get the message, understand it, and act on it.
But your campaign won’t be very effective if your messaging is scattershot. Put a stake in the ground, identify a few priorities, and plan to reinforce them all year long. A simple exercise is to get in a room with your comms team and determine what the company’s biggest “content themes” will be for the next few quarters or year ahead.
You might decide as an organization that you need to emphasize three major benefit themes: financial well-being, the value of vacations, and biometric screenings. Now you can map out your communications calendar to make sure you’re regularly hitting on these topics in various formats and channels.
Which leads us to our next tip ...
Create an editorial calendar
Steal a page from the content marketer’s handbook and create an actual editorial calendar for your communications. An editorial calendar lays out what messages you’ll be pushing when, and on what channels.
For example, you might publish an e-mail newsletter on the first Monday of every month. Every Wednesday, you release the rankings for the month’s health challenge. On Fridays, you try to inject a bit of fun into the workplace, maybe by hosting some games and an ice cream social.
You’ll want to start by determining your “publishing cadence,” or how often you should be reaching out to your employees. This will vary, of course, depending on the complexity of your benefit offerings, the time of year, and the size of your company, among other factors. Then decide what communication is going out on what channels. Think about creating regular “features” that will get your employees in the habit of hearing about specific benefits topics or incentives every week or every month.
But don’t feel as if you need to have a completely packed calendar to make this work. The purpose of an editorial calendar is to keep your content organized, anticipate important dates and seasons (open enrollment, holidays, flu season, back to school, etc.), and to make sure your communications are consistent and consistently delivered.
Get creative with your touchpoints
As you ramp up the cadence of your communications, explore ways to engage with employees beyond obvious channels such as email, newsletters, and office posters. Think about tools that allow you to really measure the effectiveness of your marketing efforts.
For many companies, using social media for internal employee engagement is new territory. But this is where workers are congregating and having conversations, so it makes sense to try to reach them on their own turf. As an added bonus, it’s easy to measure engagement on social media platforms. Social media also lends itself to engaging visual media such as videos, GIFs, infographics, and images.
Finally, be as data-driven as possible. Modern marketing requires knowing your most important metrics and tracking them closely. As you create a strategy around your Audience > Message > Channel, also be sure you know what success looks like and how to measure it.
Get Open Enrollment help from Rally
We’ve put together a nifty Open Enrollment Toolkit just for benefit leaders. You’ll find some great content to help you drive up engagement with employees, such as pre-made marketing slides for presentations, well-designed ads, a poster and flier, and more.
And if you want help with your communications during other parts of the year, check out our Marketing Success Toolkit for a library of campaigns. Each campaign contains plug-and-play content to help promote Rally®, including social media content, text messages, intranet content, emails, fliers, posters, and more. Request the kit at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eric Mann heads up marketing efforts for our key partners. He has more than 20 years of technology and health care marketing experience, leading browser marketing for Netscape and product marketing for Oracle Health Science.