Facebook Engages Younger Workers in Benefits Discussion

If there’s one thing Americans collectively know about health care, the Affordable Care Act and company-provided benefits, it’s that they are complicated. Because of this, Diane Leary and her company, Buck Consultants, help employers communicate benefits to their staff in a way that is clear, concise and fun.

“Employees usually don’t seek information until they actually need to use the plans. Let’s face it: health care information is technical and can be dry, and people don’t have time to wade through tons of information,” Leary said.

Even with the huge demand for clear explanations of health care, will employees ever actually seek out information and excitedly share it with their peers? Buck Consultants thinks companies that use social media to explain benefits have that effect.

Aeropostale Inc. employs a young, healthy, predominately female workforce. Patricia Goodwin-Peters, vice president of compensation, benefits and HRIS, was facing an issue with unhealthy pregnancies that resulted in premature births and cesarean births higher than the national average.

“Typically cesareans happen with women who are older, so we couldn’t figure out why our average was higher,” Goodwin-Peters said.

Wanting to do more to educate the staff, her team looked at different maternity programs to help them have healthy pregnancies and inform them about the birthing process so they would be able to make their own choices rather than going along with doctor recommendations.

“When we started to look at some of the existing programs that are provided by Caremark or Optum, we knew right away that the language they used would be lost on our population,” Goodwin-Peters said.

She was also concerned that the staff might feel suspicious of the intent of the maternity program: Would they think the company was too involved? Would they not trust the advice because it was trying to save the company dollars?

Finally, Peters and her team developed a Facebook page that they would use to direct the staff to Optum, the pregnancy program. If they were enrolled in the program all the way through, they would be reimbursed for their hospital co-pay. The Facebook page gave them three unique advantages:

1. Approachable and interactive environment: The Facebook page was far less intimidating than an outside program, and there was no extra work required except for liking the page. They wanted to use a platform the staff was already using, so it was very important for it to be easily accessible on mobile devices and in an environment the staff already occupied.

“We didn’t want to them to have to log in to something new that required them to be active, and this required them to be passive,” Goodwin-Peters said.?

Additionally, the page is interactive. Peters and her team host virtual baby showers, free giveaways, birthday parties and other ways that new moms can show off their kids and relate to each other. This interactive element is what’s often missing in employee communications, Buck Consultants’ Leary said.

“Instead of sending out a printed piece and hoping that employees read and understand it, social media is interactive and engages employees. By definition, communication is a two-way process in which people exchange information, and social media is a great way to do so,” Leary said.

The Facebook page allowed the staff to share with the company what they needed and liked out of the program, and that feedback was helpful and never disparaging.

“It’s no secret that Facebook really works well for that mom population. It gives employees a platform to share a common experience,” Goodwin-Peters said.

2. Trusted source: Most importantly, Aeropostale had an outside expert manage and update the page. Shari Criso, a former nurse, speaker and baby consultant, interacts with the staff, answers questions and also helps direct staff to Optum, the real maternity program.

“With this third party, her goal was healthy babies and supporting new parents. Having that arm’s-length distance between us and them really worked, they really gravitate towards her,” Goodwin-Peters said.

While Goodwin-Peters and her staff are benefits professionals, it is out of their realm to be advising on health care issues — and a liability. It was important to have an expert in the field who also knows how to manage conversations so there is not a privacy issue.

“We didn’t do a private group intentionally because it’s an extra step they would have to take, but Shari makes sure there are no HIPAA issues. She knows what she should be communicating and not disclosing anything personal,” Goodwin-Peters said.

3. Rebranding: Instead of using the typical pregnancy terms, Peters and her team did some rebranding to help the staff feel more comfortable with the idea of interacting with their employer on Facebook. The page was called “Aero Baby,” the Optum program was known as the “maternity program” and the consultant as “the baby expert.” Wherever possible, they toned the language down to plain phrases to help their staff understand what they were communicating.

Goodwin-Peters says she will use social media again for another benefits issue, but cautions that with Facebook it’s important to have free stuff to get people engaged.

“In the beginning it was a little bit slow, so we threw a virtual baby shower — that’s what gets them excited and it goes a little viral,” she said.?

The lesson: Health care can go viral, as long as it’s accompanied by a free giveaway.

Mary Camille Izlar is an editorial intern at Talent Management magazine. She can be reached at editor@talentmgt.com.