Consultants' Corner

A 3-step Approach to Tackling Social Media

Terry Golesworthy
Insurance Experts' Forum, October 16, 2012

According to Bob Thacker, Gravitytank strategic advisor and former CMO of OfficeMax, “Engagement with the customer today isn’t just pouring a message down on their head and hoping they get wet. It really is understanding that you must be present in a conversation when they want to have it, not when you want to.”

This might indeed be true, but it does present insurers with a dilemma: Who should have this conversation? Most insurers have a well-developed channel to the customer, in the form of the local agent. But social media is throwing a monkey wrench spanner into the mix by opening up a direct line. This is a classic clash between sales and marketing. Should insurers reach out to customers and prospects and engage them in conversation on a corporate Facebook page? (Marketing votes yes). Or should they use social media to bolster the consumer-agent relationship? (Sales votes yes).

So far, insurers have mostly chosen to concentrate on their own social media presence, which is not surprising, really, given that social media has mostly fallen into the purview of marketing departments. But aside from the most well-known carriers, this has resulted in some very mixed results. Just ten insurers have collected more than 80 percent of all the industry's Facebook page likes—and we can all name most of those as they spend the most on TV ads. The “if you build it, they will come” strategy does not work; just ask yourself, “We are an insurance company—who would like us?”

That does not mean you can file social media away in the “nice try” box. The lack of success is partly due to the limitations of the strategy—building a Facebook page, employing an intern or ”young person” to manage it, then sitting back and waiting for the flood of business. Now we hear that there is no ROI, and social media has not lived up to its billing. As the “young person” might say, “Duh.”

The next phase of social media use is much harder, because it involves some thinking. One new problem is that consumers are more circumspect about connecting to brands using social media. Brands behaving badly have sullied the relationship by overwhelming consumers with advertising posts. This will become even more of an issue as consumers migrate to mobile devices with smaller space for ads and to social platform vendors under greater pressure to drive revenue.

Insurers now need a three-pronged approach:

1. Maintain a corporate presence

Yes, you need a corporate presence, and on multiple platforms, if for no other reason than to allow customers to find you and complain (and they will) or even pass on a compliment (it can happen). Recommend that employees and agents follow you, contribute and post on a regular basis. But do not expect thousands of fans to show up, unless you spend on marketing ads and promotions to recruit new fans. And even if you do spend, engagement will likely be relatively low, especially if you recruit the wrong audience—as has happened to a lot of insurers.

2. Consider who wants to speak to you

As it says in the quote at the top of this story, social media is a conversation, so the topic must be interesting enough to engage an audience. And before you ask, insurance, as a general rule, is not an interesting topic. Choose a topic that will be of interest to some (but not all and probably not even most) of your customers and prospects, but that will attract an audience that you also have an interest in reaching. Show your knowledge of and commitment to that topic, and engage. Social media is accelerating the trend toward micro-marketing, and that could make for a lot more work. Look at some existing examples for ideas: Acuity Insurance hosts a successful Facebook page focused solely on long-distance trucking, and The Hartford has a blog written by its in-house team of gerontologists. Allstate’s most active Facebook page is strictly for motorcyclists, and the granddaddy of them all, USAA, speaks directly to service personnel and their families.

3. Support the agent

Until the point of sale is included, there can be no ROI for social media; agents, for most insurers, are the point of sale. So, include them. Agents are in the relationship business and social media is a relationship tool, so there is a perfect match! So why are agents so inactive? There are two main reasons. First, insurers have been paranoid about the risks. This was prudent at first, and insurers were right to be hesitant to have hundreds or thousands of agents represent the brand on social media. The risks to consistent messaging, but especially to compliance and governance, are real. But agents represent the brand every day, and we now have better guidelines and technology platforms to lessen the burden. The risks of social media once were a roadblock; they are now a road bump.

The second reason for inactive agents is that they have been told the wrong story, in part because no one really understood the true story. Social media is promoted as a marketing tool to reach people, increase brand awareness and have a conversation with your community. This, frankly, does not appeal to agents who must sell policies to feed their families. Agents want leads and referrals. Remarkably, this matches the real benefits of social media, but no one has mentioned it. Agents need to better understand what is happening in the lives of their customers so they can provide the right help at the right time. This is what social media is all about: consumers are constantly posting about events in their lives. Now finally that message is starting to trickle out, often driven by entrepreneurial agents who see the gap. The “Social Heroes” are a good example. This is a group of seven Farmers agents sharing their wisdom and success with colleagues. The training they provide, which is not free, lists the benefits of social media as: Increase Sales and Retention, Improve Customer Service and Grow Prospecting. This is a message agents understand.

In summary, you cannot simply load up a Facebook page and check off the social media box. It is more complicated and requires real thinking and planning. If you have no ROI, it is partly because you do not have a fully developed strategy, and that is not the fault of the technology.

This blog was posted with the permission of the Customer Respect Group.

Terry Golesworthy, president of The Customer Respect Group, has covered technology issues and innovations in the insurance industry for many years.

Readers are encouraged to respond to Terry using the “Add Your Comments” box below. He also can be reached at terry@customerrespect.com.

The opinions of bloggers on www.insurancenetworking.com do not necessarily reflect those of Insurance Networking News.

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