NU Online News Service, April 8, 3:58 p.m. EDT
The growth of social media over the Internet is something insurance agents can embrace and learn to use as another tool to help grow their business experts in its use said.
Their comments came during a webinar panel yesterday led by Jeff Yates, executive director for ACT (Agents Council for Technology), that included independent agents and consultants discussing the uses and potential of social media for producers.
Despite all the concerns agents may have about "sticking their toe in the water," when it comes to social media pages, it is now time for them to take a leap into digital social networking, said Rick Morgan, chairman of ACT Social Web Work Group.
Social media, despite its vast number of Web sites, needs to be demystified, and while it might "sound scary," "it is not a whole lot different from the brick and mortar community" we are used to, Mr. Morgan observed.
He said it is nothing more complicated than what people have done for generations, which is social networking--meeting, talking and engaging other people in ideas and conversations.
While some argue that social media--such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and MySpace, for example--is a fad filled with useless conversation, Mr. Morgan said these were the same arguments used to debunk the development of current technologies.
"It is not about technology, but about how we communicate and buy stuff," Mr. Morgan remarked.
The social media content is a whole new set of tools for building business, Mr. Morgan explained, and it will allow agents to get their message out about their business "in a way they never could before."
Jason Hoeppner, a member of the Westbrook, Conn.-based consulting firm B.H. Burke & Co. Inc., said social media can play a direct role in an agency's strategies and operations.
What agents need to consider is what their base is and how they want to go about driving prospects to their business. They may want to concentrate on a niche or expand from one, but they need a strategy before embarking on that course, he advised.
Whatever the direction, Mr. Hoeppner noted, once they have figured out who they want to direct their message at, agents need to make sure the message is consistent across all types of social media they may use.
Ryan Hanley, an independent agent at the Guilderland Agency in Albany, N.Y., discussed his own use of social media where he has established a blog (www.ryanhanley.com) and utilizes Facebook and Twitter, among some of his social media outreach.
The cost for establishing his own domain name and the blog page runs $130 a year, and he was able to create the page himself using WordPress, he explained.
Utilizing links through other social media contacts, his agency's message is seen by thousands. He maintains short articles for these contacts of current and local interest to his readers, Mr. Hanley said.
The main objective of a blog page, he noted, is that there is enough content there to keep people interested and allow them to get to know you. His page includes a YouTube link introducing himself and his agency.
Chris Jordan, an independent agent who established Atlanta Insurance Live! in Atlanta, is a stay-at-home father who does the bulk of his agency marketing through the Internet. He doesn't do direct calling or mailing, he said, because "it's not in my budget."
He described the site as a virtual meeting place with video content concerning insurance, that extends to other social media (www.atlantainsurancelive.com).
While he has a personal reason for his marketing decision, Mr. Jordan said, he believes advancement and penetration of technology makes it the emerging tool for independent agents.
He said agents should not overanalyze their Web pages. Instead, the major focus of social media should be socializing and building relationships.
Mr. Jordan explained he has built a very strong local network and during the month of March he wrote more than $5,000 in premium online, adding that he does still have traditional insurance business. But, he said, this number illustrates the potential that Web-based social media business can garner.
"This is just one person's effort," Mr. Jordan said. "If you integrate an effective, systematic strategy into an organization, I think you are going to see some phenomenal results over time."
A rebroadcast of the event is available through the social media link at www.iiaba.net/act.