Ready for Prime Time? Using Video in Benefits Communication

In the YouTube age, employees have high expectations of benefits-related video

By Joanne Sammer May 31, 2017

Thanks to YouTube and smartphones, video has become ubiquitous on the Internet, in social media and, increasingly, in employee benefits communication.

A compelling video can go a long way toward getting employees to respond to benefits-related communication. A 2017 study of employee benefits video response rates conducted by Houghton, Mass.-based Flimp Media found that:

  • 78 percent of the more than 173,000 employees who received a video e-mail "postcard" related to benefits viewed the video at least once.

  • 94 percent of the employees who viewed a video took some action after doing so, including logging into the online enrollment software and accessing benefits information.

However, simply creating one video or a series does not guarantee this level of response and activity. "There are one billion hours of YouTube video available to watch," said Vern Oakley, creative director with Tribe Pictures in New York City. As a result, many employees are sophisticated viewers and will have high expectations of any benefits-related video.

The good news is that employees tend to be motivated when it comes to learning about their benefits. "Video is great for explaining complex topics," said Jon Stuckey, director of creative technology and innovation with Benz Communications in San Francisco. "Many people would rather watch something than read something."

Video meets many of the needs of employees when it comes to the very personal decisions involved in making benefits choices. This is particularly true when communicating with employees who have varying degrees of literacy. Not everyone is able to absorb information by reading it. "Video is also a great medium for conveying empathy and making a human connection through style, humor, voice and nonverbal communication, such as expressions, tone and passion," said Stuckey.

ShoreTel, a telecommunications firm based in Sunnyvale, Calif., used this 2-minute benefits video during open enrollment (click below to view).


Is Video Always the Right Choice?

Of course, just because employers can use video, doesn't always mean they should. "Videos are most effective when they are used to explain complex topics that can be greatly aided through the use of animation, illustration, narration or when needing to convey emotional-type content," Stuckey said. Video testimonials, for example, can be much more compelling than written ones.

In general, when deciding whether and how to use video, Stuckey suggested employers consider a number of questions, such as:

  • Will the content translate well to video?

  • How long must the video be to communicate the desired message?

  • If the employer is featuring current employees in the video, what does the employer intend to do if/when those employees leave the organization?

  • How will the employer convey the message if viewers can't access the audio or video portion of the presentation because of lack of equipment, a disability or another reason?

  • When and how often will the content in the video need to be updated?

Little Big Business Solutions in Midlothian, Va., used this 5-minute benefits video to explain its benefits package (click below to view).


Benefits-related videos are generally focused on helping employees understand their options and make sound decisions about their benefits. That can be a tall order. "You have to be able to deliver a lot of information in a short period of time, two to three minutes," Oakley said. When a video does not achieve that goal, it can be frustrating for employees. However, "even homemade video can work when it is thoughtfully done … and people can understand it," Oakley noted.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Managing Organizational Communication]

The Right Story at the Right Time

While benefit videos can be posted for viewing throughout the year, used to attract job candidates and incorporated into new-hire orientation, their time to shine is open-enrollment season. Here, the sequencing of benefits communication materials matters, enrollment specialists point out.

As part of an open-enrollment communications campaign, employers often begin with an initial e-mail and postcard announcement about approaching enrollment-period dates, followed by a print and/or online distribution of a benefits brochure. This would be the time to promote access to one or more benefits videos to help employees make their selections.

A group meeting with vendor representatives is often held at this point, and that presentation also can be video streamed to offsite workers and archived to be viewed later by employees and family members. HR should provide opportunities for questions to be asked and answered privately before the campaign wraps up with e-mail and other reminders that the enrollment end date will soon be at hand.

Tips and Traps

Kim Buckey, vice president of client services at DirectPath, a Birmingham, Ala.-based strategic employee engagement and compliance advisory firm, suggested that employers using video would be well-served by:

  • Engaging employees with a series of short videos rather than one long one. Each video in the series could address a different topic.

  • Avoiding getting too "cutesy." Any animation should be high-quality.

  • Ensuring videos are housed where people will actually see them. Employers might consider embedding the videos as part of an interactive enrollment guide or attaching them to tweets, Facebook pages or text messages.

Keep in mind that even the most effective video cannot communicate everything an employee needs to know, so make sure the video is backed up by supplemental communications that offers information consistent with what the video presented.

Since video viewers are already online, "direct employees to additional resources via interactive links," Buckey advised. "This means fewer materials need to be distributed by HR and fewer questions that benefits staff need to field from employees."

Many employers also are introducing a level of interactivity into their videos that allows employees to participate in the video by answering questions or inputting data at various points. And employers could see virtual reality become a viable option in the coming years.

When determining whether a video is effective, employers can focus on the number of views and how many viewers watched to the end. However, watching the video is just one part of a broader process.

"Viewers must learn enough through the video to take action—to choose a health plan and complete an application," Oakley noted.

Joanne Sammer is a New Jersey-based business and financial writer.

Related SHRM Articles:

2018 Open Enrollment: Targeted Communications Address Differing Needs, SHRM Online Benefits, September 2017

2018 Open Enrollment: Using Social Media and Decision-Support Tools, SHRM Online Benefits, September 2017

Open Enrollment Tips for the Coming Season, SHRM Online Benefits, September 2016

8 Best Practices for Open Enrollment Communications, SHRM Online Benefits, October 2015

Related SHRM Resources:

2018 Open Enrollment Guide & Resources Page

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