Do you remember George Orwell’s novel “1984” and its prediction of the all-powerful, all-knowing Big Brother who knew everything you did and thought? Well, 1984 came and went and, for the most part, we all laughed it off as silly paranoia.
Today, the secret is out. You don’t need the power of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to gather information—all you need is an Internet connection. The advent of social media and its apps has not only made information gathering easier, but the amount of information to gather exponentially greater.
Gathering and analyzing information is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because of the richness of knowledge and data such a network represents; a curse, because in the wrong hands, such knowledge could lead to unjust decisions.
An example of the value of this resource comes from the interactive opportunities this network represents. On my website, rggcommunications.com, I wrote a blog post on crowd sourcing (rggcommunications .com/crowd-sourcing-at-its-most-basic), a new take on an old idea. Crowd sourcing looks at the power and influence of a group dynamic as it pertains to brainstorming or any creative activity, from product development to service improvements to writing a book.
Frito-Lay leveraged crowd sourcing to create a new potato chip flavor. Using its new “Do Us a Flavor” Facebook app, Lays asked people to suggest new flavors and click an “I’d Eat That” button to register their preferences. The results showed regional preferences and gave Frito-Lay product ideas and marketing and distribution input.
Other companies like Wal-Mart, Estee Lauder and Samuel Adams look to the social network as an extended marketing department and building new products, placing products in certain markets and considering partnerships all based on the data collected.
As a 28-year PR professional, my idea of receiving input from a community traditionally came in the form of focus groups, surveys or studies. But it’s only in our technology-centric world that the broad, interactive dynamism of crowd sourcing could take place. I guess you could say this is still just conducting a focus group—only it’s bigger and most people don’t even know they’re participating.
Also, only in today’s environment is something like Wikipedia possible. My son has a Wikipedia page and a Facebook Fan page. Given the notoriety he’s achieved from his movie (“Moonrise Kingdom”), it’s not really a surprise. People completely unknown to us created both, which was surprising, flattering and invasive.
Keep in mind that what’s on Wikipedia may not be fact; which represents the downside of content development.
When the Internet began, it focused on growth: adding more computers and servers, more users, exponential development of websites and tools to add more information. While that process continues, information aggregators, data miners and knowledge curators popped up to make it easier for people and businesses to use.
We are now in the “hunter/gatherer” phase of the Internet. Different services make links between sources, painting pictures of people and businesses by weaving information from different places, and allowing us to gather and process information much faster than previously thought possible.
MyLife (MyLife.com) aggregates all of your activities from your social media and email accounts. You can view them in a chronological stream or select any one or more activity to analyze. It seems like a neat idea, but in reality, it’s a bit cumbersome. For those already linked sites (Twitter and Facebook), I see posts repeated.
I only connected with the three main social accounts but there are many more, including Gmail, Yahoo mail and AOL, which have partnered with other social sites for finding friends, building birthday calendars and tracking down classmates. I generally find that aspect of social sites too cumbersome and also note that too much in the way of permissions is asked.
Another aggregator, Klout (Klout.com), determines your social influence by analyzing your presence and activity on sites from Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, among others. I think many people may look at it as a measurement of their success, especially if their focus is Internet marketing. Klout is measured on a scale from 0 to 100; the higher the number, the greater klout you have. Mine is currently 41, which is not great, but not horrible.
On the corporate front
From a similar concept but a different perspective, Reachable (Reachable.com) aggregates all of the social media contacts of a business’ employees to leverage the exponentially larger list of “warm” prospects for marketing, recruiting and sales. As its tagline reads, “Use Reachable to Leverage All the Relationships in Your Company.”
It consolidates the contacts from various sources, grouping them together to discover the best path between the right people from your company to theirs, “leveraging the relationships of trusted colleagues.” Reachable then folds in a customer relationship management system to rank the relationships to identify the best connection path to the “people you need to know.”
Reachable is integrated with popular CRM systems like Salesforce and Oracle CRM On Demand, and guarantees the safety of your information. I can’t determine how it gathers employee Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter contacts without requiring permission into their accounts.
Similar to MyLife, Reachable taps various email providers like Outlook, Gmail, Yahoo mail and more. It claims to incorporate contacts from schools, clubs, associations and other people you know. I haven’t been able to discern how and it truly concerns me.
Over the past few months I’ve come across stories that talk about a growing trend of asking employees for their social media account passwords.
It doesn’t feel right. When you fold in the steps some corporations take to use the social web to evaluate prospective candidates or current employees, it gives a person pause.
This last activity has legal implications, as you might imagine. Companies must not use any criteria, regardless of where they find it, that might be based upon an individual’s race, religion, sexual orientation or other protected group. Just because someone frequents a website or belongs to a gay or lesbian group on Facebook doesn’t mean they can be turned down for a position or fired from one.
So what does this mean for insurance agents? The major takeaway is to listen to your clients and market. We’ve talked about how the consumer drives the relationship more now than before. Use your social media presence to listen more than talk.
Sometimes that means doing some active listening, being more than a fly on the wall. Test the waters with some new servicing ideas. If you’re thinking about incorporating live chat on your website, ask if that’s something your customers appreciate. If you’re looking for a community-based cause to support, what’s important to your customers? Better yet, listen to their chatter and learn what they are posting about.
Subscribe to your community’s online news site; it can be the best way to stay on top of what’s important to your market. Read the articles and comments, use what you find for some of your own agency posts and show up at some of the announced events.
It’s the best way to reap the fruit of what you hunt and gather.