Last December, I had the pleasure of speaking at the annual Insurance Executive Conference. Our session focused on how the insurance industry should be thinking about the ways social media platforms might transform how this industry relates to, and communicates with, our audiences. Based on the discussion we had that day, here are 10 key considerations as you ponder how you build your policies moving forward.
Don’t Just React to Regulation; Develop Proactive, Commonsense Policies
Last year, Peppercomm co-hosted a roundtable with PRWeek in which we discussed the current regulatory environment. FINRA requires companies keep track of all their online marketing/communications. The FTC requires that, if anyone who has a material connection with an organization is talking about said company (or competitors), they need to provide proper disclosure of that relationship. And the NLRB has been issuing guidance increasingly indicating that employees and other professionals should have a reasonable right to talk about their professional lives online. This can produce a nebulous environment to communicate in; but it also indicates that companies need to develop strategies that ultimately strike a balance among the tugs of compliance, transparency, and employee rights.
Use Social Media Primarily as a Listening Tool
No matter the regulatory walls you face, proactive listening is an area our organizations should be investing in deeply. What are the issues your company is trying to own from a thought leadership perspective? What are some of the issues about which you want to understand public sentiment? What are your target audiences talking about the 99.99% of the time they aren’t talking about you? Use the open nature of online communication to keep track of those discussions, and ensure that those insights are circulated around your organization. There’s much to be learned from the conversation outside our walls.
Prioritize Answering Your Customers’ Needs
When people come to your official presence, it is often because they want or need something. You want to make sure you respect their needs. Social media is a place for two-way dialogue. There are many good regulatory reasons why insurance companies can’t answer certain questions in such a public setting. But rapid response is crucial here. We’ve worked with organizations ranging from utility companies to appliance manufacturers to put in place real-time responses to people’s service issues. The challenges can be daunting for doing the same in the insurance setting, but look at MetLife’s development of a 2-hour response policy to customer issues via social media as an example for how insurance companies can build policies that prioritize answering customers’ needs.
Show People, Rather than Tell People, About Your Passion and Dedication
Too often, we focus on what we would like to tell our audiences, rather than on the issues affecting their daily lives. Especially in this industry’s regulatory environment, we too often end up re-sharing previously approved corporate messaging. But that doesn’t speak to the issues behind why people care about our company. For instance, our former client Genworth Financial once developed a Facebook page celebrating the work of long-term caregivers. A community of caregivers and their families began using that page, unexpectedly, to share their stories and support one another. In response, Genworth let that community support itself, with minimal intervention from the company. When we can help open a conversation among our target audience, it allows them to see what we care about and stand for, without overt marketing.
Focus on the Underlying Issues in People’s Lives That Your Services/Policies Seek to Address
Too often, insurance companies struggle for content, in part because they are focused on “what” rather than “why.” There’s much we can learn from how companies in other sectors use their social media to put the focus on owning issues rather than on solely marketing products and services. For instance, our client Steelcase—in the office furniture sector—has transformed their image over the past decade from an office furniture supplier to experts on workspace design and creating the environments that best facilitate work in the 21st century—within which, of course, the furniture they make fits nicely.
Create a Master Narrative Which Establishes a Sense of Continuity for All Parts of Your Company
Various parts of the organization communicate for disparate purposes to particular segments of the audience. In the process, the overall story of the company often gets fractured. If most insurance companies are indeed singular brands, they too often have dissociative identity disorder. Organizations must figure out an overarching understanding of who the company is and how each part fits into that overall narrative. For instance, our client EY has recently developed a framework to explain “the why”: “Building a better working world.” This master narrative helps contextualize everything the company does, across a wide range of practices, sectors, and geographies. Each of your companies must figure out what that purpose is, and every division must know where it fits into that story.
Emphasize Internal Continuity and Coordination
Insurance companies are quite large, so planning and cohesiveness can become an issue when looking at what the company is saying as a whole. The key is not to have a police force that determines what people can’t do but rather a team of coordinators who make sure that the story will match up for your audiences—and that all parts of the company are building off one another’s content when relevant. For instance, at our client Lincoln Financial, the communications team brings all those involved in creating online content together regularly to coordinate what they are working on, to discuss the strategy for how it all fits together, and to hear from voices outside the organization about social media and industry issues.
Make Your Thought Leaders ”Characters” in That Story
Your B2B and B2C audiences—as well as the media—want to see the expertise, passion, and humanity behind your company. Make sure key people, then, become characters in that narrative. Whether it be public speaking, regularly penning a column in a key publication, ongoing meetings with prominent journalists in the field, an ongoing video series, participation on social network sites, or any other methods for public engagement, key experts in the company must break out of traditional corporate letters and stodgy business updates to convey what the company cares about and deeply understands.
Provide Material for Your Intermediaries
If you are hoping that audiences will engage with and ultimately pass along your content, think about why they would want to share it. Create material that is easy to share and that could serve your audience’s communication purposes. For instance, Life Happens regularly packages resources for easy reuse by insurance companies—material which takes into account how those who might circulate it would likely want to use it. Insurance companies and agencies alike should think about creating material that their business partners, employees, and/or customers might find value in sharing. Keep in mind: many of your business partners are feeling the pressure to be in the digital space but may be struggling with coming up with their own material.
Educate Partners on Proper Disclosure, Policies, Approaches
When it comes to your agents and other B2B audiences, be able to put yourselves in their shoes. Don’t underestimate their intelligence, but don’t overestimate their knowledge about the digital communications space. Think about how you can better educate them about regulatory issues and disclosure in social media as you learn more yourself. And, when it comes to agencies and technology partners you connect with on a corporate level, be sure you find partners who take issues of transparency and compliance as seriously as you must.
Sam Ford is Director of Audience Engagement with strategic communications and marketing firm Peppercomm. He is also Co-Chair of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association’s Ethics Committee and co-author of the 2013 NYU Press book, Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture. He writes for Harvard Business Review, Inc., and Fast Company, among other publications. Find him on Twitter @Sam_Ford.