Consultants' Corner

Looking for Social Media Advocates? Don't Ignore the Obvious

Terry Golesworthy
Insurance Experts' Forum, April 7, 2011

Advocates are valuable for every business. This is especially true for insurers where recommendations and referrals have always been a vital aspect of success. The majority of the social media debate within the industry has been on the potentially negative consequences—complaints by unhappy and noisy customers, and company representatives not heeding regulatory compliance rules. As a result, insurance social media strategies have often centered on countering negative comments and issuing strict ‘no social media’ instructions to agents and employees. This approach, while a valid defense, means that many insurers are neglecting their most obvious brand advocates—their own staff and agents.

American Family is one insurer looking at the problem differently with an internal program called Amplify. The company collates positive news in social media-friendly formats and encourages staff to distribute this to their own social networks.

The Hartford is another insurer that tapped into employee connections to ‘kick start’ a campaign. Their goal was to increase their Facebook fan base while supporting long-term partners – the U.S. Paralympics team. They ‘fast-tracked’ the education and policies required to enable lifting an internal Facebook ban and then gave notice of the campaign to employees. In the first few days, the majority of Facebook comments came directly from employees, clearly proud of the company’s support of the cause. Employee comments circulated through their own personal networks creating a buzz (difficult to replicate with a corporate approach) and elevating fan count significantly. The campaign, since expanded, has grown the fan base from 4,000 to over 86,000.

The biggest potential advantage the industry enjoys in social media however is the agent community that provides an unparalleled local presence staffed by natural networkers. Rotary club meetings, golf outings, even summer softball games are all examples of old-school social networking. While carriers struggle to develop meaningful conversations in social media, agents are already part of their communities. Social media is most effective when there is an existing sense of community.

According to Troy Janisch, Head of Social Media at American Family, “Insurance is a relationship business; people connect with people; referrals and recommendations are the heart of the industry and Facebook is the largest referral network in the world. While referrals are hard to measure, it is easy to feel”.

The challenge for agents and social media is that it takes time; you need a steady stream of interesting and engaging content. While some agents are proficient at developing material and blogs, most are not ready to become writers or just don’t have that time. That is where the carrier can play an important role, providing a base level of content to distribute through social networks controlled by agents.

American Family has so far helped build over 2,000 Facebook pages for agents. The company provides a content library from which agents can select and adapt material and give it a local twist. American Family gets a distribution network with greater reach and engagement than possible through its own corporate presence. The agent gets a Facebook presence with a range of attractive content for a comparatively low personal investment.

State Farm embarked on a similar approach, this after realizing that a growing number of their 18,000 agents were already using social media. San Francisco-based State Farm agent David Chacon has recruited 150 friends for his Facebook page. He engages in conversations ranging from insurance news and safe driving tips based on content from State Farm to local interests such as Latin restaurants, coffee shops and the San Francisco Giants. State Farm monitors and archives the entire dialog and gets to see what works and what does not. For Chacon, his metrics are simple: he has landed four new clients directly from Facebook. Assuming Chacon has a typical network, State Farm could reach a staggering 2.7 million Facebook users through agents, far more than their 80,000 current fans.

Farmers Insurance also sees the value of leveraging the networks that agents have built up over years. Especially important are the local community and personal relationships agents had developed. Farmers provides seed content such as articles, videos, educational content, as well as a stream of attractive sweepstakes but the social aspect comes from the agent not the carrier. 

Former U.S. Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill famously said “all politics is local”. The same might be true for social media. The insurance industry has a great advantage over other industries – business has always been local – it is important to make the most of that and not just follow industries that are seemingly “more dynamic”.

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)

Social Media is often most effective when there is a sense of community and a common bond. This creates the need for conversation. One problem with social media is the vast amount of information much of it irrelevant - we have the need to separate the "wheat from the chaff".

This is why connecting to an agent or a friend that works for an insurer can be effective, there is a level of assumed validation. Equally I can see why a 401K group could be an effective community, again a common bond.

Posted by: Terry Golesworthy | April 8, 2011 12:21 PM

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Terry,
Great article on Social Media. we have seen a lot of interest from Carriers to our launch of our own social media product "tibbr"
http://www.tibco.com

One particular area of interest raised by Life carriers in particular has been to establish interactive social media sites for group plan members who have 401k or 403b retirement plans managed by the carrier.

Supporting Captive Agents has been another area of interest from our own research.

Posted by: Mark E | April 8, 2011 11:29 AM

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