Thought leaders 2010: The year ahead: Channel-hopping gets the message across at IBM

Key Points

  • High take-up for benefits schemes is down to good communication using the latest technology
  • Employee engagement can be achieved more effectively through multi-media channels than traditional media
  • Using media such as SMS (texting) and Twitter forces benefits managers to create short, clear messages

Using all the latest communication channels boosts engagement, says Louise Phillips, HR benefits manager at IBM

IBM has an impressive record for employee take-up of its voluntary benefits schemes – 73%, compared with a blue-chip company average of about 50%. This impressive take-up has been driven by a comprehensive, well-thought-through communications plan using the latest technology. We have linked new technology availability and the realisation that modern social media experiences are changing expectations in how, why and when our employees receive information.

IBM’s voluntary benefits scheme, IBM Rewards, was introduced at the beginning of 2008 and it gives employees access to discounted items from 1,300 different retailers. Staff who shop online are entitled to cash back on items they buy instead of a straight discount. The cash back is paid into an online account, from where it can be withdrawn as a cheque or bank transfer.

Multi-media channels

So why have we been so successful in this area? We believe employee engagement is imperative and can be achieved more effectively with multi-media channels. Staff are looking for authentic, timely messages that address and engage them in real time and fit with their timelines, for example, making purchasing decisions throughout the year.

An effective communications campaign positively addresses the perceived value of benefits and has an impact on satisfaction.

IBM has a diverse and mobile workforce. This means continuing to revisit the communication channels required, and paying attention to how employees use technology.

IBM Rewards is increasingly being tailored to suit employees’ lifestyles and affinity with online media. Regular feedback is received from our provider on usage patterns and focus groups are held in IBM to ensure benefits are understood and to identify opportunities.

Twitter has also been included. This allows us to increase direct interaction with our employees in a format they want. It offers access and flexibility. Instead of making assumptions about how your employees want to receive information, Twitter’s multiple access points enable you to put the information in several places and let employees decide how they want to interact with it. Twitter forces you to keep messages to 140 characters; you have to get to the point fast, and this works really well for benefits information, where people need to quickly find the information that is relevant for them.

Two-way dialogue

This has given us a mechanism to engage with our workforce and creates a two-way dialogue. Twitter is an effective and fun way to send fast, frequent updates and keep employees thinking about benefits far beyond their first experience with IBM Rewards.

IBM has set up a page to update staff on the scheme. It uses daily news alerts to tell them when new providers have been added.

In November 2009, we launched a tool for our community pages that enables staff to add comments, share ideas and make suggestions about what they want to see on the site.

Another channel of communication we have introduced is SMS to utilise in-store offerings. A text message can be sent with an offer code that can be used in-store to redeem against a purchase, offering flexibility and convenience.

After employee feedback, we launched a new version of the website permitting staff to fully tailor and personalise their homepage, categories and email preferences. The year ahead will see us enhance the scheme further by introducing an ‘offer finder’ that will remind employees, when browsing the internet, of the saving they could make if the product was available in the voluntary benefits scheme.

New technologies and social media help to streamline and simplify the management and communication of employee benefits.

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