In the past two years, Jennifer Benz has added 10 employees at her benefits communications firm Benz Communications, where the client roster includes such household names such as Intuit and Brooks Brothers. In a recent conversation with Robert Jones, contributing editor of SmartBrief on Entrepreneurs, Benz shared her views on using social media for communicating about health care and other employee benefits.
Social media is all the rage for communicating with external audiences, but you’re using it for internal employee communications. What is the opportunity that you see there?
Benefits and health care are complex, daunting topics. Social media helps make those topics more accessible and lowers the cost of ongoing communication. It’s the way we communicate now. Nearly everyone on the Internet uses social media in some way, so it’s a natural place to have this conversation.
But isn’t it a conversation that’s hard to control? What do you say to business owners who fear social media will turn into a kind of virtual gripe session?
There is some discomfort with social media because organizations are worried about the feedback they might get. You have to realize that conversation is going on whether you want to acknowledge it or not. You can’t put your head in the sand just because you don’t want to hear the negative feedback. … If you’re worried about negativity, it’s already there; social media doesn’t create it.
You spend a lot of time asking those questions. What trends do you see?
Wellness programs are a big issue right now, [but] wellness can have different definitions, from losing weight to spending time with kids. That’s why you start by asking questions. This is a nice opportunity to craft something that meets corporate goals of helping people take care of themselves while meeting individual goals for self-improvement.
But you have to be careful: When you’re talking about subjects like smoking and weight loss, it can seem antagonistic and “Big Brother,” rather than inspirational and motivational.
So how do you keep it positive and constructive?
You start by asking for priorities. Don’t assume that one size fits all.
Beyond the matter of benefits, what general communication advice can you give to companies that are looking for employee buy-in in other areas?
My No. 1 tip is to focus on what matters with your audience. Why should employees care? Why is it good for them? So much communication focuses on the company’s needs, priorities and goals. When you turn that around and focus on why something is valuable for the individual, you can totally change the dialogue.