DENMARK - Danish pension provider PKA has been investigating the pros and cons of using internet-based social networking as part of its pensions communications strategy, after discovering its members talk about its services online.

However, the investigation into its potential advantages and pitfalls has found that with no ability to control information flow online, officials have to handle communications carefully and avoid signs of conflict.

Social media networking sites, such as Facebook, have a limited application as a communication channel by pension funds because they are "uncontrollable", according to PKA, the Danish pension fund. 

"Sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter live a life of their own, and people use them as they will," said Claus Skadhauge, head of communications at PKA. "Your company may end up there for good or for bad, and you can't control it. You can only cross your fingers and hope for the best," He added.

PKA is at present analysing how a carefully prepared mix of these media can be used to enhance the pension fund's effectiveness in communication.

It does not at present use social media itself for this purpose, although it does have a strategy to develop the web as the linchpin of its member communication.

"What pension funds can do via public social media like Facebook is to prime access to certain information," said Skadhauge. "In this context, social media just represents another way of distributing information."

But he also believes pension funds can and should learn from their members by setting up their own social media in order to get a feel for their members' lives and attitudes.

He says: "The most obvious way to start is to use a mix of such media in limited campaigns, for limited debate items and for only a certain length of time."

He said this could, for example, take the form of a debate forum, a chat room or (video) blogging facilities where the pension fund engages in a direct dialogue with customers or members. 

"From there, it could set up technical features making it easy to spin off the dialogue into other media," he added.

Skadhauge acknowledged that social media gives users the ability to disseminate information fast and widely - but only if it is interesting enough to its target audience.

"When it comes to providing access to basic information about your pension, you will still have to rely on a mix of media like letters, magazines, SMS, open and personalised web-sites," he said.

Similarly, he argued against using social networking tools to slavishly court the younger generation.

"Of course, we must be aware of the age-related attraction of some media," said Skadhauge. "But ‘young media' does not necessarily mean ‘young content': if your core ‘readers' are 60 years old, you should provide them with information relevant to them, no matter what media you are using. And do not forget that they are definitely a net generation with a wide experience of cyberspace communication."

He further warned: "Above all, we must avoid using new media just because they are there."

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