Does Social Media Work for Retirement Systems?
In the past few years, “social media” has gone from a buzz-word known by few, to a communication tool used by many. Facebook and Twitter dominate as channels for timely and effective communication for hundreds of millions of users across the globe. These individuals represent various industries, interests, hobbies, organizational affiliations and other relationships. While most of us see the value of social media in our personal lives and have embraced it, leveraging social media for our organizations and companies is less prevalent, especially in the public sector.
The team from Design For Use has often heard from our retirement system clients that they “looked into” having a Facebook page, but determined there wasn’t enough relevant information for daily consumption by users. Although some members may be interested in the board of trustees meeting schedule, certain job postings, or keeping their address up-to-date, one common reason some retirement systems avoid Facebook is because there is not enough pressing information for a majority of members and users to find status updates worthwhile.
New Reasons to Keep Members Informed
The landscape for pension systems has changed considerably in the last few years. Increased healthcare costs coupled with pressure on federal, state and local budgets have affected significant change for retirement systems and their members. A new need has emerged to educate members and retirees about changes (or potential changes) to their retirement accounts and insurance plans.
For this, social media provides the perfect tools. Facebook and Twitter can be used to update members quickly and easily about changes to pension legislation, and how they’ll be affected. The short, punctuated length of a status updates (Facebook) or tweets (Twitter) can alert the members about developing news; and, the user can easily learn more by clicking through to more detailed explanations and articles at their convenience. While historically there has not been much of a need for retirement systems to provide daily or weekly updates to members, the times are changing and many pension organizations with a reasonable effort can keep their members and retirees in the loop.
Getting it Right
Two retirement systems that do an exceptional job leveraging social media as a communication channel and educational tool are the Maryland State Retirement and Pension System (SRPS) and the Employees Retirement System of Texas (ERS). Both organizations update their Facebook status regularly with topical information and legislative developments.
While some of the updates for these systems pertain to job postings and reminders about updating address information, there are also many posts that explain upcoming changes to retirement plans and union information. Both organizations include links to articles that explain local legislative voting, as well as national articles about the overall state of public pension systems.
In a tumultuous time of budget cuts and deficits, public employees need a way to stay on top of the news that will affect them, without being overwhelmed by the legalese that generally accompanies most explanations of government action.
Judging by the comments and responses from members of the SRPS and ERS pages, their social media strategy is working. Users are leaving comments in response to articles and using the Facebook wall as a “Q&A” board. In one recent posting, a Maryland user needed help reprinting a 1099 form, and a representative from SRPS replied with the correct method. This type of interaction shows how an active Facebook page monitored by an engaged staff can have an immediate impact on the members’ overall online user experience. In the
case of Maryland and Texas, maintaining a relevant Facebook page is merely an extension of the their member services.
The ERS of Texas takes their social media strategy a step further by expanding the content of the Facebook dialogue to include tips for National Nutrition Month and healthy living. Although initial comments were posted by employees of ERS, members and retirees eventually chimed in too. If an organization sets the expectation that the posts are intended to be interactive and foster a dialogue, users will respond with their own comments. Once the example is set, the conversation will eventually branch out to public users as well.
Making it Work for You
In this time of economic transition and rapid legislative changes, members and retirees will rely on their retirement systems now more than ever to ease their confusion and frustration over changes in pension accounts and insurance policies.
Maryland and Texas have been proactive in expanding their online presence to include Facebook as an educational outlet to reach members, making it more than a public relations tool, and more of a community forum. Kudos to these systems on their successful efforts with social media!