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Evan McDonnell, Appian
Evan McDonnell, Appian
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Social Media for the Insurance Industry: Deriving Value from "Worksocial"

Worksocial is what you get when you have business processes, events, and a social platform tied deeply together.

Evan McDonnell
Evan McDonnell, Appian
Let's say one of your high-value customers is about to have his insurance claim rejected. When will the right people in your organization know and how will they respond? Chances are that social media doesn't appear in your top answers to this question.

Facebook's influence has led to the emergence of "enterprise social platforms" such as Twitter, Chatter, Jive, Yammer and a host of others all claiming to bring social media into business. The hitch is that, from a standpoint of business utility, most of these early players don't get it. It is not enough to just have stand-alone social media into the workplace. Value only comes when work processes are woven into social media.

What everyone really wants is "worksocial." Worksocial is what you get when you have business processes, events, and a social platform tied deeply together. It is a way of thinking about technology that integrates business processes and data with social collaboration and mobile access, creating a highly collaborative work environment for better productivity, better decision-making and a better-engaged workforce.

Most enterprise social platforms offer alternative ways to communicate; they don't post real-time system-generated updates on business events because they aren't tied to those systems. When it comes to enforcing business rules, ensuring quality task completion, and measuring process improvement, they're really no better than e-mail.

Every C-level insurance executive wants new IT projects to increase control over work processes, simplify communications across departments, and evolve as market conditions change. But most business social networks fall flat on these points. Businesses improve when people can collaborate and resolve a business event in the context of their process, in a secure and controlled environment. A pure social network system relies on users to say something. By definition, its utility is limited because people are naturally inclined to not talk about things that are not going well.

Even when people do to talk about a problem, they are fundamentally challenged in communicating across departments. Insurance companies, like many organizations, comprise a number of interconnected systems, which may or may not talk to one another. Consumer frustration usually stems from the time lag between systems.

Let's go back to the case of a high-value customer's insurance claim being rejected: in the worksocial context, a posting of that rejection may be generated by the worksocial system, and that post is fed simultaneously to the head of the business unit, his staff, and the independent agent who brought in the customer.

[For Evan McDonnell's insights on workforce optimization, see Insurers Gain Productivity, Improved Service and a Modern Work Environment Through Workforce Optimization Initiatives.]

It's easy to see how social media in this case can prompt action, offer a place for collaboration and improve response time all in the same interface. Bringing work into the social environment here can reduce the chance of the customer taking his business elsewhere.

Now add in mobility, so that the alerts can be seen and acted on from any smartphone, tablet or laptop. That's the power of worksocial for business.

Social technology is extremely powerful, and can do some dramatic things for insurance companies, but only if it is fundamentally tied to process events.

In the "worksocial" approach, process activities and events can be equal social participants to people. Each individual process activity or event is an opportunity for collaboration. People that see events can interact with those events, shortening the lag time among events, getting alerts about important information sooner. The response to a given situation can happen right from the same social interface, regardless of what other IT systems may be required.

"Worksocial" is the easiest way to turn tacit or personal employee knowledge into explicit organizational knowledge. It brings work context and business process into the social media framework. Internally, it means better and faster organizational decisions. Externally, it's a way to better understanding how your customers judge your products or services – and a way to find new ways for customer acquisition before your competitors.

It's simple, really. Work comes first. Enterprise social networks cannot be a replacement for business process and work context. By understanding the concept of worksocial, market leaders will truly be able to harness the power of social media.

About the Author: Evan McDonnell is VP of Solutions for Appian. He can be reached at evan.mcdonnell@appian.com.

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