Social media isn’t just a fad. If Facebook were a country, it would be the world’s third largest. YouTube users spend the combined equivalent of over 326,000 years’ worth of time per month on the site. These social platforms provide an unprecedented opportunity, not only for insurance carrier and agency marketing, but for positive changes to the way that customers can interact and engage with companies in buying new policies, making policy changes and filing claims.
Social media is not without its risks, and carriers’ hesitance to jump right in is understandable. Compared to web sites – which allowed the companies to control the messages – social media is a dialogue. Opening up a company to the public for positive feedback also opens it up to any negative sentiments. And for many carriers, there is the added complexity of integrating the agent distribution channel into its social media plans.
But it is well worth these risks. The key is to develop a focused plan that utilizes both internal and external communications, and caters specifically to the markets that your company wishes to expand.
New Policies: Linking Agents into Social Media Initiatives
While some carriers are concerned about disrupting the carrier-agent relationship, there are plenty of ways to utilize social media. Before even contacting an agent, a prospective customer will often seek reviews of a brand via social sites such as Facebook and YouTube. Basic customer questions can also be answered through these platforms, and there are numerous ways to disseminate information to convince customers to reach out to local agents. At minimum, insurance agents should be listed with address information to allow Google’s new socially enhanced search to promote them as a local search result.
Twitter ‘bots’ that automatically respond to certain triggers can be useful: think of the possibilities if every #NewHomeBuyer within 50 miles of an agency location received helpful home-insuring tips within minutes of their purchases. Additionally, many social networks allow for private groupings, which carriers can leverage to engage with agents, providing information, suggestions, and more to their own agent networks. Farmers Insurance, for example, has dozens of groups set up for local agents to discuss best-practices for their respective areas.
[Read where social media fits in with other ways to enable agents]
Filing the Claim: Online Connections Can Improve the Experience
Social media can also simplify the claims process for both customers and insurance providers. A simple, readily available way to submit claims, including photos, promotes timelier claim reporting. Photo albums on Facebook and Pinterest profiles can be used to educate insureds, exhibiting samples of what types of claim photos are required. And many have discovered that Twitter can be an invaluable tool for disaster communications, as Founders Insurance Group recognized during Hurricane Irene when it used the micro-blogging site to distribute information quickly to a range of people. For the carriers, there’s also one additional benefit based on the social media explosion when it comes to claims: closer connections to the customer and the availability of more information allows for better fraud detection. It’s somewhat surprising how many people will negate their own claims by posting pictures, videos, and updates contrary to information they’ve presented.
[Mercury Insurance chief claims officer talks more about how policyholders expose themselves on social media]
Endorsements: Promoting Changes by Keeping Policies Top-of-Mind Policy changes may stand to benefit most from a strong social media presence. Many customers might consider expanding their coverage, but are often not aware of their options. Examples of options and sample upgrades can easily be shared through social media, and timely posting and reminders of these will promote presence in mind. An agent who connects with a purchaser through any number of social sites in the aftermath of a new policy will set themselves up as an accessible information source later on.
Each company will find its own comfort level with social media. Using a tiered approach, incorporating internal and external audiences, each carrier and agent can find the level that provides the right amount of value.
Clare DeNicola is principal of communications firm the 10 company, where she helps insurance, healthcare and technology companies use marketing and communications, internally and externally. She has more than 25 years of business experience, including eight years as CEO of IVANS.