Ten Strategies for a Successful Virtual Benefits Fair

Going virtual. A guide for HR teams to get started.

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Introduction

If you’ve struggled to engage employees in the benefits and programs your organization provides, you’re not alone. Even during annual enrollment season—when benefits should be top-of-mind for everyone—HR pros still find themselves wondering how to get their employees to pay more attention. When COVID-19 hit, suddenly there were new hurdles to contend with, the biggest being how to engage employees in a remote or socially distanced environment.

We want to help, especially with that old standby, the annual benefits fair. With so many HR teams now considering a virtual approach to this important event, we’ve collected 10 strategies for a successful virtual benefits fair.

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What is a Virtual Benefits Fair?

At organizations with multiple worksites, those with a significant portion of remote employees or those with workers on different shifts, virtual benefits fairs are not new. In fact, they’ve been around since the technology began to support the delivery of benefits information in multi-media formats through interactive applications. Just like an in-person event, a virtual benefits fair aims to:

Educate employees about their options
Connect employees to carriers and employer sponsored programs
Create a sense of urgency before and during annual enrollment
Provide employees a safe environment for asking questions
Instill confidence in taking the next step—enrollment

What does a Virtual Benefit Fair look like?

Good question! There isn’t one magic formula; each organization must determine what works best for them and their organization. That said, it helps to remember that virtual benefits fairs are not a “thing.” They are an experience—an experience designed to meet employees when and where they like, and empower them to make the most appropriate choices for themselves and their covered dependents. As such, today’s virtual benefits fairs are delivered through a central digital hub, such as a website and/or mobile app.

The most successful hubs have the following attributes:

A theme that reflects your employer brand and your employees’ values

Easily accessible and easy-to-understand content

Videos configured to highlight your benefits, programs and consumer account offerings

Live and on-demand webinars

Online connections to carriers and service providers (e.g., live chat options)

Social channels for employees to engage with one another

A direct link to your benefits enrollment platform

 

Getting Started

Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro, there are some strategies you can adopt to ensure that your virtual benefits fair meets your employees’ needs while achieving your unique business goals. Below, you’ll find ten such strategies to keep in mind as you plan your next event.

Interested in the full guide? Download here.

Strategy 1: Imagine what your fair might look like.

There are a number of ways to approach your virtual benefit fair. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  1. Socially driven, where the focus is on replicating a live event by helping employees connect with one another through social channels, speak directly with carriers, and earn prizes by participating in games or other fun activities.
  2. Education-driven, where HR teams are primarily interested in providing employees with an interactive learning experience (e.g., webinars, FAQs, videos, etc.) as they explore things like coverage options, costs and carrier support.
  3. The hybrid approach, which incorporates components of the other two models based on employee expectations and strategic HR goals.

Strategy 2: Establish SMART objectives

Like many HR projects, success starts by establishing SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timebound) objectives. This allows you to have productive conversations with your partners (e.g., IT department or external vendor, participating carriers, team leaders, etc.) and decision makers within your organization.

Your primary SMART objective might look something like this: By the close of annual enrollment, fewer than 2.3% of employees will have missed the deadline for selecting benefits—an improvement of 0.5 percentage points over the previous year.

Strategy 3: Make the business case to leadership.

As you make your case, advocate for your employees at every opportunity. Even if you’re not introducing any new plans next year, recognize that employees are facing a great deal of uncertainty these days.

From May to June 2020, 44% of employees said they “did not know” how they would pay for a large, unexpected expense, compared to only 16% the year before. And, among those who responded they would “use cash savings,” only 34% claimed this was an option in the first few months of the pandemic, compared to 63% the previous year.

Leadership will, of course, expect some budget numbers, especially if this is your first virtual benefits fair. To facilitate this, prepare a side-by-side cost comparison of a virtual solution versus the expenses associated with an in-person event, such as HR staff time, travel expenses, event space rental, printing, etc.

Strategy 4: Avoid shiny object syndrome.

With so many options to engage your employees in new and different ways, it’s easy to get excited about today’s technology. Just make sure to avoid “shiny object syndrome.”

The last thing you want to do is spend money on features that don’t add value to your event or that you don’t have the time or support to leverage. In the wake of the pandemic, virtual events vendors of all stripes have been aggressively marketing their technology and services.

Your challenge is to find the one that helps you best achieve your vision for your virtual benefits fair, as discussed in strategy #1. To avoid shiny object syndrome, work with a vendor who knows you because they know benefits.

Need help with questions to ask? Download the full guide here.

Strategy 5: Plan and pivot around the employee journey.

Just as you have done for in-person benefits fairs, the focus for your virtual event should be on those you serve—your employees. As you develop your SMART objectives, put yourself in your employees’ shoes. Think of this as an employee journey. It begins when annual enrollment is the last thing on their mind, to curiosity about their available options, to participating in your virtual benefits fair, to finally enrolling.

Keep each of these stages in mind as you think through your questions related to the employee journey:

  • Content Planning (two months prior to enrollment) > What are employees’ most consequential gaps in understanding and how can we address them?
  • Event Build Up (7 – 14 days, four weeks prior to enrollment) > What do employees need to know about the transition to an online event
  • Fair Duration (21 – 28 days, two weeks prior to and throughout enrollment) > Are employees paying attention to the right content? How much time are they spending interacting with the content?
  • Enrollment Window (2 weeks) > Which content on the event hub can best motivate employees to enroll today?

Strategy 6: Call your partners to greatness.

Virtual benefits fairs are not new; they’re just being applied more broadly. That’s good news for two reasons:

  1. Your carriers and vendor partners probably have significant experience with virtual benefits fairs already. And, they might even have an idea or two you could borrow to ensure the success of your event.
  2. Considering the massive shift from in-person to virtual benefits fairs, these important partners are very eager to participate.

As you plan your event with your carriers and vendors, make sure they can help you achieve your SMART objectives. You know how they ladder up to your organization’s overarching business goals. And, you know your employees far better than your partners do. You are in the best position to call your carriers and vendors to greatness.

Need a checklist to get you started? Download the full guide.

Strategy 7: Get interactive.

Just as each of us prefer certain county fair attractions over others (e.g., the ring toss, the tilt-a-wheel or cotton candy) we all have different ways of learning. Because the topic of benefits can be so confusing—and let’s face it, dry—interactive content is a good fit for virtual benefits fairs.

Here are some ideas:

  • Live webinars: In addition to asking your carriers to conduct a webinar introducing their offerings, your HR team should consider one as well, especially if you’re changing plan contributions, introducing an active (vs. passive) enrollment, or aiming to increase participation in employer-sponsored programs such as wellness challenges.
  • Social media: Using social media prior to, during and after your virtual benefits fair helps keep your event top-of mind among your employees. Consider scheduling regular updates every day or two to announce new content on your hub, remind employees about upcoming webinars or recognize recent prize winners.
  • Live chats: Live chats offer employees an opportunity to efficiently ask carriers or HR representatives questions and get answers in real time.

Strategy 8: Promote, promote, promote.

To stay relevant in today’s hyper-connected world, HR pros must provide their employees with the same compelling and targeted messaging during their 9-to-5 that they experience during their 5-to-9. This is especially important when delivering information that impacts the benefits they and their covered dependents rely on every day.

Consider the following:

  • Use your employees’ preferred communication channels. Today’s benefits technology solutions allow employees to select whether they prefer to receive benefits information through their personal and/or work email address, via text messages or through printed materials.
  • It’s not a one-and-done proposition. Be prepared to send multiple messages before, during and after your event to influence the behavior you want to see during each stage of the employee journey.
  • Offer contests or door prizes. Consider alternatives to the swag employees are used to picking up from vendor booths at in-person benefits fairs.

 

Strategy 9: Ensure you have strong analytics and reporting tools.

A huge advantage of virtual benefits fairs over in-person events is data—lots of data. By keeping an eye on certain metrics during your fair, you can make small adjustments to your event hub and communications efforts to ensure your employees are getting the right information in the right place and at the right time.

Data can also help you plan for future events. But, you need the right tools to make the most of that data. As you evaluate virtual event vendors, social media channels, and your marketing/IT departments’ capabilities, use the checklist in our full guide to ensure you have the data gathering and reporting tools you need to evaluate the success of your event.

Strategy 10: Report and celebrate your achievements.

As the old saying goes, nothing succeeds like success. That’s why it’s so important to celebrate your achievements, share your results and capitalize on opportunities for improvement. This is especially important if you suspect you’ll be asked to hold your benefits fair virtually the following year.

  • Ask for feedback.
  • Be transparent.
  • Recognize your champions.
  • Keep the conversation going.

 

Interested in learning more about how Businessolver can support you with a virtual benefit fair?

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