Consultants' Corner

The Benefits of Social Media Dialogues Are Not All Talk

Terry Golesworthy
Insurance Experts' Forum, May 12, 2011

Social media is a new way of thinking because it is less about one-way marketing and more about two-way conversations with customers. However, let’s be realistic, who really wants to hold a conversation with their insurer; the majority of products just don’t lend themselves to casual chat. Adding to the problem, social media, conducted in public as it is, is a poor forum to discuss individual cases or promote products.

So why bother? Maybe it’s better to pump out soft sell messages, which a few people will read, maybe take note sometime in the future and even pass along a good word. Indeed, many insurers have this business plan. But neglecting social media dialogue reduces the benefit and not just because customers dialogue is inherently a good thing.

Take Facebook, the biggest platform, as an example. Facebook seeks to improve the “quality of life” of their users and applies an algorithm to put the most relevant information on message walls. In order to do that, some information must be considered irrelevant and insurance news can fall into this category. Relevancy is based on many factors but critical is ongoing dialogue between poster and reader. Unless you successfully create dialogue, all of those carefully crafted insightful messages you post might be going straight into the ‘e-bin’.

Another reason to create dialogue is to expand reach. When a fan comments or ‘likes’ one of your messages, Facebook lets their network of friends know. This provides a glimpse into a conversation between a ‘real’ friend and insurer, which at the very least will intrigue. This is especially important with positive messages. If a customer says they love your customer service, a simple “thank you” will maintain the conversation on the wider network. The majority of Facebook clicks on insurers’ content come not from visiting the insurers Facebook page, but from a post appearing on their message wall.

As for enhancing engagement, there are many techniques; Wednesday and Thursday are best for financial services, short posts are better than long, messages ending with a question increases comments and getting fans to comment is worth more than a ‘like’. One of the most obvious techniques is to ask; customer read posts as information unless you ask for an action. This could be a request to “like” a message to show support or to add their opinion.

Techniques aside, what about content? There is a lot of variety but common topics include general financial education, natural disaster news, favored charities, sweepstakes and topical events. Developing topical and fresh campaigns is critical to developing regular interaction. In April, we saw industry-wide posts on April Fools, Poetry Month, Earth Day, Autism Awareness, tornadoes and “Insure your Love” campaign.

There is an inherent dilemma with content; engagement is often greatest with the more trivial messages. For example, Flo from Progressive recently queried “I love my mom because she still cuts the crusts off my PB&J. How about you?” Nearly 4,000 people responded. If we assume an average friend network, the discussion reached over a half a million people beyond Progressives’ network. This will also enhance the link between Progressive and 4,000 fans. While this can make you wonder about the quality of some people lives and the value of social media, this type of dialogue keeps the channel active.

A potentially greater reason to engage is to identify brand advocates. While not possible to have a dialogue with every customer, it is possible to develop programs to identify, enable and encourage customers to supplement company resources in social media. Engaged customers are more likely to become advocates, speaking on behalf of, and possibly in defense of, the organization. By clicking the ‘Like’ button on your page, they held up their hand to say they could be an advocate. Recently, USAA experienced a degree of discontent on Facebook and other social platforms about one of their products. USAA customers were more active than staff posting rebuttals by a factor of ten to one. Social media brand advocacy programs are in their infancy but critical, how to recognize advocates, what makes them speak on your behalf, how to reward them.

Social media does build upon dialogue but it will not go away and the growth of comments about your company and products will increase whether you like it or not. Dialogue strategies and techniques including developing brand advocates are vital.

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.

Comments (2)

Thanks Lee, social media is indeed a complicated beast and will play a role. It is interesting the lack of deep analytics for an industry that understands statistics and data better than any. Fans buy and recommend more, but is this all fans? Engaged fans are more likely to be advocates but what engagement? Which channels are most productive? Are blog readers the most loyal customers?

Too often social media is seen as a monitoring problem or handed to an intern because they have 700 friends on Facebook. Social media will be a strategic path - make no mistake.

Posted by: Terry Golesworthy | May 13, 2011 4:45 PM

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Terry,
Kudos to you. I just attended a very informative two day junket focusing on this very subject, across all verticals. The inherent risk of broadcasting through social media within the highly regulated and visible insurance and financial marketplace demands Standard Operating Procedures. Buy in from the highest executive level, legal, marketing, and customer care is mandatory. Ownership of this effort within the enterprise must be defined and mapped. Not only Facebook, but YouTube and other social media are leveraged for branding while the most immediate "tweets" need to be addressed in a consistent and compliant fashion. Creating the advocate is an exponential asset, yet all social media needs monitoring to offer guidance for your fans, while discovering those benchmarks of your competition.

Posted by: Lee R | May 13, 2011 11:09 AM

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