Let's talk

TikTok and pensions – the communications channel you didn’t know you needed

Pensions & benefits
David Millar Head of Communications

Last year Ofcom reported that, for the first time, Instagram was the most popular news source among young people in Great Britain.

29% of teens used it as a news source which is an extremely high proportion of that age group. Furthermore, the number of people consuming news content on TikTok – a Chinese-owned social media channel – increased from 800,000 in 2020 to 3.9 million in 2022. And there’s no sign of that growth slowing.

Why is this a pensions communications issue? At risk of drawing upon stereotypes too strongly, consider the average pension trustee board. These are the people who make decisions about what communication should be given to members and the various channels that should be used. Habits are hard to break – if you’ve always done annual presentations and a newsletter, you’ll probably always do annual presentations and a newsletter. But should you? If your membership includes younger as well as older members, there’s an argument to be made to review the media you’re using very regularly. And to consider if the board’s personal experience is the best place to decide on the kinds of media that should be used. If your board represents a diverse cross-section of the audience, this may not be an issue. But with the challenge of recruiting trustees, diversity is often a problem.

“But David”, I hear you cry, “why does TikTok matter to me? I’m never going to use it as a communication channel and it contains no pensions information.” Well, that’s where you’d be wrong.

Pensions has come to TikTok. But not perhaps in the way we’d want it to. It’s not a channel that trustees use and isn’t one that the big providers are using yet for pensions comms – and there’s good reason for that. But that doesn’t mean no one is talking pensions on that channel. They are – but perhaps not with the messages you might want to see. ‘Why pensions are a lie’ is a short TikTok video explaining why company pensions are a terrible investment for the young, including the alarming news that - and I summarise broadly here - if you retire in your mid sixties you’ll be too old to enjoy the money you’ve saved and as you’ll like be dead in five years anyway why not spend it now while you’re young enough to enjoy it? And that video isn’t alone. There are several others from ‘advisers’ who seem intent upon casting aspersions on company pension schemes, perhaps with a view to ‘helping’ members to transfer to other investments.

Would anyone fall for a video on TikTok? No. At least, I doubt it. In isolation.

But no communication is in isolation. We bring with us our experiences and biases and apply that to what we hear and learn. And that’s the concern – if you engage with a short, compelling video that offers you an enticing option at a time when you are open to this suggestion, it just might start to influence you. And social media is all about influencers.

The good news is that ‘influencing’ isn’t just something that is reserved for those who use social media – trustees, employers, governance groups and pensions managers can all influence too. The ‘brand’ of the pension scheme, the corporate sponsor or even the well-regarded face of HR all have power that can be used to influence employees and members to develop good habits, continue saving, read future communications and understand their pension benefits at least well enough to protect themselves from scams. How? By communicating effectively, which probably means little and often, in different ways to different parts of the audience and using different channels to reach different personalities.

Three top tips to take away:

  1. Don’t stop communicating. There’s always something to say and if you aren’t talking pensions, someone else is (and you might not like what they are saying).
  2. Work out your key message and say it clearly and often. Repeat it across all media and channels. Ask the question ‘what one thing do I want people to know’ and focus on that.
  3. Use multiple channels and vary your tone-of-voice to suit. Long-form content tends to be slightly more formal, whereas you have more permission to be light-hearted in a blog or a short social media post. Different people will engage with different content so try to reach them all.