Lights. Camera. Action. 5 Steps to Building and Engaging the Retirement (k)ommunity

Building, developing and engaging an online community is a significant undertaking. The new retirement (k)ommunity is no different and it will take careful and thoughtful preparation to ensure that messages are received and acted upon. Here are 5 helpful hints for (k)ommunity building:

1. “You’re building a what?” Get the “buy-in”. Before you start building and engaging your (k)ommunity, you need to make sure that core organizational constituencies believe in what you are trying to achieve.

First and foremost, the retirement committee and plan fiduciaries need to be informed and educated so that they can be advocates.  Many committee members are leaders within their respective business units and can help with messaging and driving the goals of the project. Expect some push back, especially if employee-participant engagement hasn’t been a top priority in quarterly meetings. It may take time and effort (and several committee meetings J) to ensure that everyone is on board with the path forward.

Once you have the retirement committee on board, it’s time to enlist the assistance of human resources (HR already may be on board given that you went to the retirement committee first), legal/compliance, communications and information technology staff, as well. These individuals are critical to achieving success and their input and support is very much needed. Who will own this function? Are there individuals within each business unity who can work together in a cross functional group to achieve this objective? Who will be responsible for drafting messages to the (k)ommunity? Is there employee data like email addresses that may or may not be able to be shared?

Note: In light of recent data breaches, data sharing is a very important topic and one that should be carefully vetted to make sure that your organization stays true to all federal, state and local laws and regulations to ensure protection of all employee information.

2. Lean on your Partners. Building a community is not a “go-it-alone” initiative. Certainly an organization can achieve its success by using its own resources, but when you observe the attendees at the due diligence meeting, you’ll find willing and able partners to assist with this initiative. The retirement plan advisor/consultant, third-party administrator/recordkeeper, asset manager(s) and outside counsel are all potential partners either in vetting the idea itself or in sharing what other clients may be doing in terms of (k)ommunity outreach. Let’s be clear, this is an ever changing and quickly adaptive initiative and so it is necessary to have ongoing conversations with the committee and your partners to make sure you remain on the path to success.

3. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Ok, you have number one and number two achieved. Everyone has bought in and you are ready to go develop messaging and send it out. Not so fast. Like the story of the Tortoise and the Hare, a slow, methodical approach is the path forward. This is where the partnerships emphasized in number two above, really becomes handy. It takes time to get a (k)ommunity up and running, and it takes even more time to develop thoughtful content. Therefore, it’s important to establish clear and obtainable goals both monthly and annually. By the way, as your (k)ommunity develops, you will receive feedback from your internal and external partners and employees that may alter tactics and/or strategies. Flexibility is going to be key, as will your organization’s willingness to “piggy-back” on various messages such as health-care or voluntary benefits or corporate/organizational events can have a positive impact.

4. Evolution not revolution. Similar to number three, above the pace at which you move within the (k)ommunity is going to be based on its make up. You will need to thoroughly study the demographics and activity to ensure that messaging and the mediums being utilized are clear, concise and driving action – e.g. contemplative deep thought about a particular event, asset allocation/diversification change or beneficiary change. Unlike “traditional” social media, you will want to use a variety of adaptive tactics that include target messaging with a variety of mediums. In your tool belt needs to be the written – e.g. email, postcards, letters, placards, you-name-it – video and audio – podcasts with a variety of messages to engage. This is where the partnership comes in. You don’t need to rely on just yourself and your team to generate the messages, your partners can help you with that and with the various mediums to use. This is really a balancing act and how fast you move will depend on what feedback you get directly from the (k)ommunity, either directly or indirectly e.g. “water-cooler talk”, phone calls to the 1-800 call center, emails, etc.

5. Measure Twice and Cut Once. Benchmarking your plan is an essential fiduciary responsibility. Not only should you benchmark your program against others in terms of fees, funds and share classes, you should also benchmark your (k)ommunity effectiveness, as well. Now, first and foremost there isn’t an active database that tracks this information for all healthcare, higher education or corporate programs, for example. But you can and should measure your results year-over-year to ensure that you are achieving success. Reporting this information – whether its derived internally or through your partners, should be tracked and shared with committee members at least annually, but quarterly is preferable This allows the committee to understand actions being taken and provides the opportunity to adjust tactics/strategies along the way.

Jeffrey H. Snyder is Founder and CEO of The Morning Pulse, Inc, a digital technology and media platform focused on aggregating, organizing and delivering retirement and financial services industry information daily and weekly.