Consultants' Corner

Natural Disasters and the Strategic Role for Social Media

Terry Golesworthy
Insurance Experts' Forum, September 1, 2011

The problem for insurers is not necessarily competition from rival carriers but the general state of under-insurance in this country. Consumers, increasingly electing to self-research insurance online and cutting agents out of the loop, are often unaware of the risks they are taking by cutting costs. This is never more evident than in times of natural disasters, as experienced with the East coast earthquake and Hurricane Irene. Without expert advice from an agent, how can we influence consumers to protect themselves against risk?

Most of the commentary about social media during natural disasters has centered on its role as a news source. Certainly this is invaluable with instantaneous information available across multiple devices, critical with power outages shutting down TV stations and landlines. During the April tornado season, we recorded a significant growth of Twitter and Facebook fans for P&C companies as people craved information. We are now seeing the same as a result of Irene. The real objective for insurers however should be strategic. People need advice and information, not only in the wake of a disaster but also for ensuring in advance that they are prepared.

Disasters bring risk into the mainstream conversation as people have heightened concerns about their loved ones, and not just the ones in the path of a disaster. During these periods, there are sharp increases in the information shared about claims, preparedness tips and how-to insure for the future. Social media is a critical sharing vehicle because it already connects people and it is very easy; in Facebook, it could take as little effort as clicking a “like” button.

In these times, pressure builds on consumers to protect themselves, primarily from family and friends. A worried father or mother is more likely to convince a child living away from home to take out renters insurance than a local agent that possibly has no knowledge of them.

This effect is temporary and very soon these conversations will be replaced by end of summer vacation photos. The objective for insurers must be to provide information in the immediate aftermath of disasters but also to understand how to create and serve robust influence channels to address the long-term under-insurance problem. Data indicates that just 12 percent of Californians have earthquake insurance, how many social media conversations are now taking place following the East coast earthquake? Insurers need to seed and develop those conversations through thought leadership and education outside of times of natural disasters. Social media is an influential channel, and more than any other industry, insurance needs to develop greater influence.

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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