Social media in payroll and pensions
25 November 2018
This article was featured in the December 2018 / January 2019 issue of the magazine.
Jerome Smail, freelance journalist, discusses the issues, identifies the benefits, and reveals how the profession can embrace this still new communication method
Although a relatively recent development, social media has completely changed so many aspects of our daily lives. In less than fifteen years, online platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have enmeshed themselves in our daily habits to such an extent that they have transformed not only the way we communicate with each other, but also the way we inform and express ourselves.
So far-reaching has the phenomenon been that ‘social’ is somewhat of a misnomer; the professional aspect of our lives has been affected just as much as any other. In fact, one of the major channels, LinkedIn, is dedicated to our working personas and communities.
Engaging with social media is increasingly a professional responsibility for leaders in all aspects of business, including payroll and pensions. According to research by web design company Go-Gulf, 82% of customers say they are more likely to trust a company whose leadership team engages with social media.
So, although payroll professionals are known for getting on with the job diligently but quietly, sometimes to the point of anonymity, it’s often an expectation, and sometimes a necessity, to reach out to employees, organisations and the industry at large via social media – especially as payroll’s role in reward, workforce engagement and workplace pensions grows in importance.
“Social media should form part of the toolkit of every payroll professional,” says Nick Day, managing director of payroll and human resources recruitment company James Gray Associates. “It is imperative that the power of social media is leveraged if payroll professionals want to achieve more.”
The benefits and possible uses of a strong social media profile are multifarious for payroll managers. As Day explains: “Social media can be a great way to amplify a message, be that internal or external, and it is free too. You would be amazed how much a payroll manager can motivate a payroll workforce with something as simple as a public announcement confirming how great their team is. Social media can be the mouthpiece for other public announcements, too.”
There are also opportunities for increasing awareness, both personally and professionally. “Social media provides payroll people with a platform to brand themselves for recruitment purposes and also to highlight the importance of the payroll function strategically to key stakeholders,” says Day.
The importance of personal branding is not to be underestimated, according to Katrina Cliffe, managing director and founder of marketing agency KC Communications. She says: “Forbes were talking about it back in 2012! If you think about how much the world has evolved since then, they were clearly predicting the future when they said, ‘Personal branding in the future workplace is a crucial skill for employees and recruiters alike.’”
Social media provides the ideal opportunity for payroll professionals to build their personal profiles, says Cliffe. “It’s a great platform to do some networking, demonstrate your expertise and raise your credibility without even having to leave your desk,” she explains.
When it comes to the most effective channels, Day says it depends on motivations and objectives, but recommends LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for payroll professionals.
Cliffe believes it is essential to think about the different opportunities presented by each channel. She explains: “LinkedIn is a business network, so it is wise to keep your images and updates to that of a business nature. Twitter can be used for business to business, but you can be a little more playful with this platform and allow your personality to come across.
“Facebook is another great platform for business to business, but it may be best to keep this for your personal life and set up a company page to do your business networking and promotion on.
“Have a think about your social profiles and ask yourself, what do they say about who you are?”
Of course, one of the key aspects of the effective use of social media is to engage your audience. Although it sounds obvious, this is something many people struggle with, according to Luke McDowell, senior account manager with Context Public Relations.
He explains: “It’s vital when building a following that you engage with current topics across your industry and the wider news cycle. Sharing opinions on current events will also help set your channel apart from competitors. This in turn can generate more of a buzz around your profile and increase your following.
“By creating several channels across different platforms, you can also tailor your brand or corporate identity, and even educate your own teams, especially if the channels are used to amplify content like blogs and whitepapers.”
Cliffe’s mantra is to “share, share, share”, whether it’s your own insights on the industry or interesting tweets, Facebook posts and LinkedIn updates from like-minded professionals. “Have a think about blogs,” she advises. “Can you write some thought-led content around your subject matter to make people believe you really are an expert in that area?”
Day agrees on the importance of sharing, emphasising that the key to a successful social media presence is keeping it relevant. He says: “Social media is built on a foundation of shared content, so I would always recommend sharing commentary that you think could be useful to others within your network.”
...benefits and possible uses of a strong social media profile are multifarious for payroll managers
He also points out that the way professionals are branding themselves is changing all the time. “Right now,” he says, “video content is shared more than any other content online, so expect to see more individual and corporate video content than ever before.”
Cliffe also highlights the importance of interacting with other content by commenting on posts covering topics affecting the industry and demonstrating an expert opinion. She adds: “It is essential to engage with others…reply to comments, recommend other people and encourage reviews.”
The language you use can have a surprising effect on how you engage with the audience, especially when it comes to technical topics. A study in October 2018 by investment management company Invesco highlighted key phrases and vocabulary that UK employees like to hear when it comes to pension communications. The research found that workers prefer language that is “positive, plausible, plain spoken and personal”.
According to the study, language focusing on “sacrifice” and fears of “pension poverty” is less motivating than positive phrasing emphasising the benefits to be gained from investing more in a pension. Seven in ten (70%) of respondents to the study said they would rather hear about an investment that maximises their gains, rather than one that minimises their losses.
Stephen Messenger, UK institutional sales director at Invesco, said: “Our study proves that in order to get employees engaged with a technical process, it is vitally important to use the right words.”
As well as valuable information and education, there is, of course, always room for self-promotion via social media. “Share your successes!” urges Cliffe. “It is all well and good getting some fantastic results, but if nobody knows about it, they won’t see the potential you have.”
It’s important not be economical with the truth, though, or it will be rumbled in no time, possibly with serious consequences, warns Day. “If you lay claim to being responsible for a task, project or job title that isn’t accurate then you can expect someone to spot it and highlight it,” he says. “Social media can become a hot house for public criticism and outrage, with nowhere to hide, so always try to be true to yourself!”
While honesty is most definitely the best policy, discretion can sometimes be the name of the game on such an open forum. Day explains: “When you are sharing content, remember that networks are often public, so if you want to change jobs and haven’t told your manager yet, I wouldn’t recommend broadcasting it publicly as it is very possible your manager will see it and won’t be very happy!”
It’s also important not to fall foul of company policy. Check to see if the use of social media is covered in your contract or your employer’s handbook. Often, there will be guidelines set out, although a survey by law firm Howes Percival in June 2018 revealed that as many of 30% of businesses don’t have a social media policy.
This, of course, can cause problems for payroll professionals in more ways than one; not only do you have to be careful about what you post on social media, but if you’re at management level, you need to be wary of how members of your team are conducting themselves online, too. There’s also the question of whether limits should be placed on staff regarding time spent on social platforms as well as the type of content they produce.
Edward Lee, partner at Howes Percival and corporate law expert, says: “To help avoid social media pitfalls, companies should put in place a written social media policy. This should be clearly communicated to staff and should outline if, and how, internet use is limited during working time and using company computers.
“Sanctions for breaching confidentially online or posting material which could damage the company’s reputation, or making offensive or discriminatory comments, should also be included.”
Despite the potential pitfalls, however, organisations should embrace social media rather than be fearful of it. Once the proper checks and balances are in place, it makes good business sense to harness the power of social platforms – because not only can they be used to enhance the reputation of individuals, departments or companies, but they can also raise the profile of the whole payroll profession.
A prime example of how this can be done comes from Revell Ward, an accountancy practice based in Huddersfield. The company uses a variety of ongoing social media content to drive engagement and website traffic, such as ‘meet the team’ profiles, Q&As and case studies. It also supplements this with special campaigns posted via individual and personal twitter accounts.
For example, during National Payroll Week in September 2018, the firm ran a campaign to encourage businesses to sign up for a free payroll audit. The initiative was fronted by the company’s payroll specialist, director Jennifer Davies, with content created to drive traffic to the website and tweets posted via Davies’ own profile to increase awareness of her professional skills.
...important not be economical with the truth, though, or it will be rumbled...
Content included ‘top tips for making your payroll more efficient’, payroll client testimonials and video case studies, and links to opinion-led media coverage where Jennifer commented on the importance of payroll in business.
The figures speak for themselves: total tweet impressions between August 2018 to November 2018 were 21,642. Profile visits increased by 163% between August and the end of September, and during the National Payroll Week campaign, tweet impressions peaked at 5,803 and profile visits went up by 85%.
Davies says: “Producing regular and timely content has been the key to Revell Ward’s success with social media. We have had to really put the effort into creating ongoing content, such as ‘meet the team’ style posts and top tips pieces, alongside mini campaigns such as National Payroll Week. This combination of tactics has helped us to significantly increase levels of engagement on Twitter.”
Davies also emphasises the importance of involving the whole company. “We’ve highlighted the role that social media plays in promoting Revell Ward and the team as a whole to our staff,” she explains. “Most of them now have Twitter profiles, and we encourage them, alongside the directors, to re-tweet and comment on content from the company Twitter account via their own profiles. This brings a personal element to what we’re doing, and also enables us to highlight individual skillsets within the team when we need to.”
It’s also important to spread the word via social platforms when traditional media takes an interest, says Davies. “Any media coverage we achieve is promoted via our social media channels,” she explains. “Editorial coverage is very powerful and ensures we stand out above competitors on social media, as well as helping us to achieve good levels of engagement.”
The power of social media for the payroll profession is clear. But if you’re not sure where to start, Cliffe provides the following seven-point action plan: get your profiles in order; find a voice; don’t be afraid to use it; be authentic; be professional; be consistent; and engage with others.
...power of social media for the payroll profession is clear
According to Day, it is predicted that there will be 42 million people on social media platforms in the UK alone by the end of 2018. “That is a huge, free, and already receptive audience that an individual or a brand can reach out to,” he says.
So, if you’re not embracing social media to promote yourself, your company or the payroll profession as a whole, what are you waiting for?