The web is hitting the insurance industry with force. Just last year, online insurance sales grew by nine percent, hitting $17 billion in revenue. Consumers are increasingly comfortable with purchasing policies online and Internet-first brands such as Esurance are emerging to take advantage of the dramatic cost savings that an online direct-to-consumer sales model provides.

Against this backdrop of increased low-cost competition, local, brick-and-mortar agents and brokers have an acute need to stand out online. Because nearly three out of every four consumers seek an online review before making a purchasing decision, proactive online reputation management is no longer a luxury, but a necessity for anyone looking to build a book of business.

Concerned? Maybe you should be. Agents who are slow to adapt to a changing market will fall behind. 

The good news is that the trend toward online sales and online reviews presents a massive opportunity to transform word-of-mouth referrals—long the lifeblood of most local agencies—into a powerful online presence.  And building a strong online reputation doesn’t have to be difficult. 

Here are four strategies that will make your insurance business stand out online:

1. Be prepared for referrals from your online social networks. Insurance agents often say that 90 percent of their business comes via word-of-mouth referrals, but most fail to realize that this process happens online as well as offline. When it comes to insurance, Americans are turning to their online friends and peers for trusted advice. Most often it’s a simple question: “Does anyone have an insurance agent that they really recommend?” If you spend any time on Facebook you’ve probably seen numerous examples of this. 

To tap into this (free) lead flow, agents simply need to make sure that their online social profiles are reasonably professional in appearance and that business information is up to date. Friends will be much more likely to refer you to their friends if your profile looks “open for business.” 

Note that this doesn’t mean that you need to sterilize your Facebook presence by removing all non-professional content. People expect to see a mix of personal and professional content on Facebook, so as long as you are not actively offending people, you can continue to enjoy Facebook for its normal social purposes.

2. Buy “brand insurance” in the form of online reviews. We’ve all heard the Chick-Fil-A story and others like it—when national companies have PR disasters, once august brands suddenly become toxic assets and local franchisees are left scrambling to do damage control.  In these situations, authentic online reviews are the best brand insurance that money can’t buy.  Agencies that depend solely on “corporate” for marketing and lead generation are especially vulnerable, while those who’ve taken the time to establish an independent, positive reputation can weather the storm. Reviews not only provide a distinction between the national brand and your personal services, but also allow businesses to reach out to clients with the message you want to emphasize.

3. Get off the social media treadmill and spend time where it really counts. Many insurance agents think that the only way to stay ahead of the curve is to be active on as many social media sites as possible. The problem is that most don’t have the time or energy to regularly update half a dozen social media sites. They get bogged down by the pressures of content creation and end up littering the Internet with empty profiles. That’s why a full 70 percent of small business Facebook Pages are currently inactive. 

The good news is that most businesses get a large majority of their customers through just one or two channels, so focusing effort on these key channels allows you to get the bulk of the value from a fraction of the effort.  An additional best practice is to focus on “timeless” content. Instead of breaking news and trending memes, write up and post answers to most common questions that clients ask and set up systems that post customers’ reviews to your personal website and other key properties.

4. Make everyone in your company an ambassador. Whether you’re an independent agent or part of a larger company, your teammates are constantly in touch with both current and potential clients. This happens officially via business email and office phones, but also unofficially via social media. Like it or not, an increasing percentage of people are spending hours on social media each day, so why not encourage your team to promote your business? 

This is a large and growing opportunity, and companies like Social2Step make it extremely easy for companies to empower their employees as brand advocates. They estimate that each employee knows 634 potential customers, and they offer simple tools to incentivize people to share the right messages with their networks. As an added bonus, studies show that promoting a company in this way improves employee morale and loyalty.

The online insurance market is rapidly evolving, but these simple strategies, which align very closely with core business goals of high customer and employee satisfaction, are unlikely to change any time soon. Implement them and your insurance business will be robust against all sorts of possible mayhem.