Filed Under:Agent Broker, Sales & Marketing

Swim Through the Social Web

Since AA&B's December 2009 cover story "Diving Into Internet Marketing," the social media world has gone from a swimming pool to an ocean, with most of your carriers and customers busy on Facebook, LInkedIn and Twitter. Are you swimming, sinking or just treading water?

In 2010, the insurance industry collectively checked out the waterfront along the ocean of social media.

Some wouldn’t go near the beach. Others played in the sand and built a castle. Many stayed on shore sitting in a chair watching others swim. A few brave souls waded out into deep waters and rode the waves. Those who stuck to shore for fear of being swept out to sea and drowning—not their fault, naturally—probably just hadn’t received swim lessons.

Related: Read "Diving Into Internet Marketing."

Because there are so many opportunities (based on popular social sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google Local, YouTube and Foursquare) to communicate, market and grow a business on the social Web, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the vastness of the social ocean.

It is now time for many in the insurance industry to conquer the fear of the social Web.

It’s better, more fun and more productive to take a dip in the social ocean. For many, it’s time to learn how to swim; for others, it’s time to learn advanced strokes.

Advancements in technology have led to transformations in the way consumers learn about and buy insurance products and services. This is no different from many other aspects of American life. Established mass-marketing techniques of outbound and interruption marketing are less effective because they now have competition from interactive, consumer-driven tools. What’s more, consumers now have unprecedented means to block advertising messages (do-not-call lists, spam filters, digital video recorders for blocking commercials).

Branding in an interactive, social Web world requires insurance firms to position themselves to be found; create interesting content that is relevant to their prospects and customers; and secure the permission of the consumer to reach out to them. Plus, there is the additional challenge of multi-state insurance regulation as well as the need for strong data privacy practices.

Combining social networking tools with a purposeful strategy can enhance reputation, boost brand recognition and create stronger relationships. Authors Jay Baer and Amber Naslund, in "The Now Revolution," point out: "Success isn’t about ‘being on Twitter’ or mastering any other particular social tool. Instead, success accrues to businesses that are present, agile, responsive, and prepared."

The key point: The tools of the social Web are not the message. Rather, they’re the medium upon which to create a listening platform, engage consumers and business decision-makers in the discussion, build and deliver messages, and participate.

Working effectively with customers requires more than just knowing how to build a Facebook business page. Success requires a social approach to business: in sales, service, marcom and support.

Swimming requires knowing and being comfortable and adept at dealing with the tides, waves, temperatures and other aspects of the ocean. If your insurance firm is not yet on the social Web, it’s not too late.

After the rush of opportunities brought by social Web technologies in the past 2 years, now is a good time to reassess (or create, if new) your insurance brand presence, based on five elements of social media marketing:


1. Understand the environment that consumers live in

Because of the social Web, consumers are turning down the volume of interruption marketing that was modern marketing for 50 years prior to the advent of the social Web. Advertising is more prevalent and ubiquitous than ever, whether on TV, terrestrial radio, billboards, direct mail and other traditional mass media.

Related: Read "5 Next-Generation Technologies."

But advertising and direct mail pitches are no longer their only or primary source of information. Consumers have a multitude of additional ways to learn about products and services. They are turning to inbound, permission-based marketing channels, such as search engines, newsletters, video, websites and social networking sites. Google, Facebook and YouTube are the three most visited websites in the world, according to the Web information company Alexa.

What does this mean for insurance brands? Insurance firms need to be out and about on the social Web so that they can be found when and where consumers are looking.

Being social isn’t just about being outgoing, with a friendly Facebook page and a clever name on Twitter. It means using social tools to empower many people in the firm to actively engage in creating an updated approach to business, whether in sales, service, marketing communications, or customer support.

2. Update or build the plan

Focus. Given your business, location, expertise and customer base, think about what you want to accomplish with the social Web. What’s more, take into account what your community (customers, prospects, employees, business partners) might want.

Ask yourself:

  • What are my business goals vis-à-vis the social Web
  • Who, what and where is my community
  • Whom do I want to attract (prospects) and whom do I want to continue working with (customers)
  • What methods am I going to use?

3. Look for the opportunities

 Given the priorities in your plan, it's time to move. But don't just get on teh social Web. Get on there wtih a purpose. For many independent agents, wholesale brokers adn other insurance firms, the best reason for going on the social Web is to position themselves as subject matter experts or thought leaders. One approach is content marketing.

One producer, Nibby Priest of GoVaughn.com, an independent agency, actually wrote and published his mission statement for the social Web. It states: "What Nibby wants to be on Social Media is: Genuine, Honest, Authentic, Encouraging, Enlightening, Educating, Professional and Positive!"

4. Don’t just talk

The social Web can be likened to a networking event. Those who are the loudest or most prominent might get the most attention initially, but that doesn’t mean people want to do business with them. Here are three suggestions:

  • Set up your website or blog as a home base. For most businesses and professionals, this is the equivalent of your office on the Web. Our colleague Peter van Aartrijk dubs a website "the largest storefront for an insurance agency." Hundreds of thousands of insurance agents have had websites; now is a good time to reassess the site and add a blog if it doesn’t already exist.
  • Listen. A professional career coach we know advises his clients to tell anyone they meet: "Let me tell you about myself, but you go first." That’s an approach that conveys interest in the other person, and also opens up a dialogue. Try the same approach with the social Web. Don’t just talk. Use a blog, Facebook posts or e-mail newsletter to invite your contacts to ask a question or talk about what their needs and concerns are.
  • Get to the outposts: LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube. One reason that social networking has such low barriers to entry is that major sites don’t charge users. For an insurance brand, it’s vital to have a presence on social sites as part of the listening that you do.

Unfortunately, some insurance brands are using social Web sites as a way to shout out marketing messages. That can be a part of using the social Web, but not the entirety of an effort. By contrast, leadership blogger Michael Hyatt has attracted more than 100,000 followers using the "10-to-1" strategy: For every marketing message he delivers, he gives away 10 pieces of information, links or other items unrelated to him (but that are of interest and use to his audience of readers). His loyal following of people are interested in what he has to write and turn to him for information and guidance.

5. Try content marketing

Today’s inbound, permission-based business-to-consumer interaction relies on the concept of content marketing. Content marketing is providing information and perspective. It is based on the notion that prospects and customers want to buy insurance from someone whom they perceive as providing value. They want to work with someone who is a thought leader or knowledgeable about what they need. People want to buy from someone who helps them become more informed and intelligent.

See the sidebar "What is content marketing and who's doing it?"

Content marketing is the polar opposite of lizards or wads of cash wearing glasses pitching a sales message. It also costs a lot less than multi-million dollar advertising buys.

6. Monitor and measure

Social activity can be measured, and perhaps more effectively than many traditional marketing touch points (billboards, Yellow Pages ads, etc.). Here are some tools:

  • Google Analytics measures and provides demographics of incoming traffic to your website/blog
  • Google Alerts does automatic searches for keywords (such as your name, business name, or products and services) and sends an e-mail with a link to sites where those terms have recently been found on the Web
  • Facebook Insights provides demographic information on visits to your business page on Facebook
  • Twitter Search is a search engine searching all the Tweets (140-character messages) that users have posted
  • Through the use and search of a "hashtag" (a # sign followed immediately by a word), it is possible to follow specific topical discussions.

One example of using Twitter Search proactively: During the recent uprising in Egypt, searching on the names of prominent figures involved in the controversy would show you where they were mentioned and allow you to view tone and content. Insurance professionals weighed in with comments and information about travel interruption coverage.

Another example: Severe 2010-11 winter weather throughout the U.S. caused roof damage; a number of insurance agencies, including Founders Insurance Group in the Northeast, chimed in on Twitter and their blogs with helpful information about dealing with ice dams. This allowed them to become valued and trusted sources of information for consumers.

Some businesses and organizations are now hiring social Web managers or community managers to take an active online role in generating content, listening, overseeing communications and other activities, responding, developing and measuring.

While this helps embed social networking within an organization, it also raises a cautionary flag: Business leaders should not view social networking as another functional area in the same vein as, say, accounting. Rather, social networking can be more widespread and effective when a number of individuals within a firm are empowered and active. Social networking cuts across disciplines because customer interaction cuts across disciplines. In a social business, many people in a firm participate in creating the personality of the firm’s presence.

 

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