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Embracing Social Media and Mobile Technology in 401k Communications

By Rick Meigs, President, 401khelpcenter.com


The participation in social media and the use of mobile technology among 401k plan participants has increased exponentially according to a new report from the Spectrem Group. Their report, Plan Participant Social Media and Mobile Technology Usage, highlights the activity levels and demands of plan participants regarding technology.

Spectrum writes, "As we continue to see the expanded use of social media and mobile technologies among the general population, retirement plan participants are no exception."

They note that 401k plan participants have continued to integrate social media and mobile tools into their financial, investment, and retirement planning activities.

Here are some of the key findings:

  • More than 60 percent of plan participants own tablets and eight-in-ten DC retirement plan participants report using a smartphone with Internet access and apps.
  • Sixty percent of plan participants said they would use video-chat capabilities on their personal computers to talk with financial professionals.
  • Almost 40 percent of plan participants research financial products and services online.
  • Eighty percent of plan participants get news updates from websites.
  • Smartphone usage among DC plan participants is up significantly from last year (71 percent), which PC/Mac usage has remained basically unchanged (79 percent). Tablet or e-reader usage is trending upward from 57 percent in 2013.

A recent Prudential Insurance research brief, Delivering the Benefits Message, noted that plan participants exhibit a preference for communication vehicles in the digital realm with work email (47%), personal email (28%) and online avatar (19%) being named as the top three. Group meetings (19%) and individual meetings (18%) rounded out the top five. For participants, the trajectory of benefits communications is clearly moving towards digital: Over the last year more employees have enrolled, obtained plan information and used financial planning tools on computers and mobile devices. Plan participants also feel that a majority of benefits-related activities will be available via smartphones or tablets in the next five years.

Although traditional benefits communication vehicles have not yet become obsolete, plan sponsors need to take a multichannel approach to benefit communications by factoring in social media and mobile technologies.

To get a better perspective on participant communications strategies, I talked with Sheri Fitts, President and Founder, ShoeFitts Marketing.*

Meigs: How important is it that plan sponsors factor social media and mobile into their participant communications strategies?

Fitts: The demographic span in the employee base in America encompasses more generations than ever before. A single employer could have individuals from the Silent Generation through Millennials. Addressing how each generation receives information is a critical component to the 'action' part of the retirement plan equation.

Meigs: Are there any common myths plan sponsors have about social media and mobile use?

Fitts: Absolutely. The one I hear most often is that only young people are online. Wrong! Generation D [Digital] spans multiple generations. In every social platform, the growth of many online communities are coming from people over 40!

social media and mobile use by age

Meigs: What are some steps or action items a sponsor should take to meet the challenge of this new world of communications?

Fitts: Plan sponsors should be asking their employees HOW they want to receive information. More seminars? Self-paced learning? Newsletters? Lunch and learns? Investment clubs?

First: Survey employees. Second: Don't just send them the survey!

The best avenue to garner attention and collaboration is to answer the "what's in it for me question." A clearly outlined purpose for the survey, supported via senior leadership outreach is the best starting point.

You must also ensure that the information you are providing is meaningful and valuable to your workers -- based upon where they are in their life and in their career.

Meigs: What are a few examples of "meaningful and valuable" information?

Fitts: Most often people make decisions about their finances as a result of shifts and changes in their personal lives. Linking education and outreach to specific life stages can help employees see the connection in their own lives and answer the "what's in it for me question."

Use a variety of content addressing a variety of life stages and lifestyles such as, expecting a baby, single parenting, navigating parental care, etc. Perhaps test out the Amazon.com approach: "People like you tried this approach to saving…"

Remember that adults learn best when they can:

  • Relate learning to past experience
  • Are challenged, but not overwhelmed (fear motivates no one)
  • Use previous experience to solve current puzzles
  • Learn by doing and practicing
  • Connect goals with personal values

For more on how adults acquire information, I've produced a short piece titled, Six Principles of Adult Learning.

Meigs: What role does the plan vendor play?

Fitts: There are so many talented and passionate people working in the vendor community. Including these folks in the planning of a communications and outreach program, can only serve to strengthen the effort. And hey! Get your full payroll data to your recordkeeper. With that information they can create some highly targeted, and awesome outreach to your employees.

Meigs: Excellent point about payroll data. Can you expand on it a bit?

Fitts: Imagine knowing if your employees are contributing 6% or 25% of their salary. Since the salary information isn't always included in the payroll feed, targeted communication surrounding stepping up savings can sometimes miss the mark.

Or perhaps consider a custom message that is sent on an employee's birthday. Celebrate another year and celebrate yourself: Save 1% more in your retirement plan.

By having access to all of the data in a payroll file, your plan recordkeeper can create even more nuanced outreach. Outreach that is more targeted, more specific, and, most importantly, more meaningful to your employees.

* Ms. Fitts is a financial industry influencer, popular social media speaker and a creative force in financial services marketing. And it all started when Sheri Fitts was five, selling her very own homemade rose-petal perfume in baby food jars, door-to-door. Today, Sheri infuses ShoeFitts' educational programs, marketing packages and speaking engagements with plenty of that early entrepreneurial flair. With 24 years of industry experience in her pocket, Sheri collaborates with retirement plan advisors, third-party administrators, and financial service organizations to help them leverage marketing tools, social media strategy tactics, and meaningful connections. More information at www.shoefitts.com.

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