From the April 2011 issue of American Agent & Broker • Subscribe!

Social Media Success

Safeguards and common sense keep agencies safe in Cyberspace

Social media is gaining the attention of businesses, including insurance agencies—and with good reason. According to Pew Internet & American Life Project, 79 percent of all adult Americans go online, and the numbers are even higher for young adults (95 percent of those aged 18 to 33).

Research shows people access the Internet to use social networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn; read blogs; purchase products and services; conduct online banking; download podcasts; rate products, services and people; get news; make travel arrangements; use search engines to conduct research; and e-mail friends and family.

For agents and brokers, this means they can no longer ignore social media as an outlet to reach consumers.

"It’s a place you have to be," said Ryan Hanley, an agent with the Murray Group, near Albany, N.Y., and frequent nGInsights blogger. "An agent has to do all the traditional marketing efforts as well, but social media is a must in today’s market."

Using social media can help agents and brokers educate and connect with clients who are searching for their expertise. They should think of social media tools as a way to engage with current and potential customers as well as business partners in order to increase market share.

It is important, however, that agents and brokers not use social networking tools only to sell. With social media, agents and brokers should put education first and marketing and selling second.

How to connect with clients

Social media allows agents and brokers to network online. "But you have to have a personality, a voice that connects you with people," Hanley said. "They also want to know that you’re a professional."

Hanley began networking with LinkedIn in 2009 and soon thereafter started the Albany Insurance Professional blog to discuss what he was learning as a new insurance agent. He also uses Twitter and Facebook and recently uploaded videos to YouTube.

"People feel connected to you before they even pick up the phone to discuss insurance," said Hanley, adding that on average potential customers follow him online for 6 to 8 months. "I generally get one new lead a week. That may be fewer leads than traditional marketing methods, but the person is more qualified and wants to buy by the time he or she contacts me."

Customers are using online tools to educate themselves well before they buy products and services. That is why it is important to create content that displays expertise in order to develop trust before the selling process begins.

According to a July 2009 survey conducted by communications firm Russell Herder and Ethos Business Law, the top five social media channels that American companies are using are Facebook (80 percent), Twitter (66 percent), You Tube (55 percent), LinkedIn (49 percent) and blogs (43 percent). Agents and brokers should consider using some or all of these tools depending upon agency resources.

Agencies can repurpose content, such as newsletters or white papers, for online use. Break longer articles into smaller posts for the agency blog and announce it by using the agency’s Twitter handle.

Also, Twitter and Facebook, which can act like an electronic handshake, are useful in making connections with potential clients, existing customers and business partners. Develop relationships with them by responding to their "likes" or comments on the agency Facebook page or their re-tweeting of agency announcements on Twitter. Then, engage with followers by thanking them for their responses and asking if they need additional help or information.

Agents using Facebook also can personally contact the follower by e-mail or direct message them through Twitter. Consult the Q&A section of both platforms to learn how to do this.

Lastly, promote agency events and webinars through the agency website, Facebook page, blog, LinkedIn accounts and Twitter.

A real-time case: Chubb Collector Car on Facebook

At Chubb, we started a Facebook page to help increase the branding of our classic car insurance program. The page enhances product recognition, making it easier for agents and brokers to sell Chubb policies to their clients.

With a growing fan base of nearly 10,000 people, the page naturally fits into what is happening online. A segment of a customer base is creating strong individual connections with others and spreading the word about these interactions through their own personal networks. The result is increased brand engagement.

Because new content is what keeps users coming back, it is important to provide information that establishes expertise and helps customers, prospects and business partners trust in the organization and want to do business with it.

To identify the type of content that is useful to potential clients, begin by listening to what others are saying regarding insurance, agents and brokers, and problems they face that insurance products and services can help solve. There are many online tools and companies available to help do this. To create relevant content, one should start focusing on what is important to followers online.

With opportunity comes risk

Agents and brokers help manage their clients’ risks everyday. It’s no different when agencies embrace social media. Like all businesses, they face the same legal exposures—for example, defamation and copyright or trademark infringement—commonly faced by publishers. New legislation continues to create potential liabilities, particularly in the areas of user privacy and domain name infringement.

How can agencies protect themselves when venturing online? Consider the following risk mitigation techniques:

  1. Develop a comprehensive media policy and establish the ground rules with employees to avoid potential employment-related issues, and designate a social media guru with appropriate experience and knowledge to pre-screen content
  2. Appoint a gatekeeper and protect the corporate username and password to help ensure disgruntled employees cannot post on behalf of the company
  3. Don’t relax writing rules—even though a tweet isn’t an official memo or e-mail, it is still a representation of your agency
  4. Update all contracts to allow the posting of content (i.e., from a speech, conference call, white paper, webinar) in new media
  5. Ask if the information is relevant to the corporate message and business practice before posting
  6. Consider if the tweet or post is insulting, offensive or defamatory—always err on the side of caution
  7. Act fast to take down infringing or offensive material
  8. Evaluate the agency’s insurance coverage.

An agency’s general liability policy may not provide coverage for social media exposures such as defamation, copyright or trademark infringement, or other allegations commonly faced by publishers. Thus, it’s important for an agency to take stock of its general liability policy to see if there are any gaps in coverage and consider adding an Internet liability policy, which can help address emerging liability exposures.

These products, in conjunction with an adequately structured professional liability policy, help offer protection for alleged negligent acts, errors or omissions in connection with an insured’s Internet activities, including protection against allegations of libel, slander, defamation, invasion of privacy and copyright or trademark infringement. Further, they help to respond to gaps in advertising coverage provided under a general liability policy, including those that may not be addressed by the policy’s definition of "advertising injury" or "advertising activities." Lastly, these policies offer many other key features, so it’s worth a discussion with the agency’s insurance provider to find out more.

There is no cookie-cutter model when it comes to integrating social media into an insurance agency. Every agency will probably choose to do things differently, depending upon resources. Now is the time to put together a social media strategy and investigate what tools to use. For those agencies already using social media, it may be time to reassess and try to improve content so it is relevant to online followers. Online success is the same as offline success—listening to customers, meeting their needs and solving their problems. Finally, agents and brokers should make sure their agency is protected with the proper insurance coverage as it engages with users online.

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