Social media has drastically altered the landscape of personal and professional communication as we know it. Companies across financial services have adapted to involve social media as part of their core marketing initiatives, and at an accelerated pace. At the midpoint of 2013, the majority of financial institutions are on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, as well as a host of additional social media mediums.
Initially, the insurance industry lagged behind the brokerage, credit card and banking arms of financial services in adapting social media campaigns. Strict compliance and regulatory hurdles posed early obstacles for financial services as a whole, and particularly for insurers. Despite these challenges, insurance companies have recognized the benefits of a strong social media brand (especially with younger generations like Millennials), and the insurance and retirement landscape has rapidly evolved to incorporate social media as an important driver for product and firm marketing. Through our research at Corporate Insight, we have highlighted several examples of insurance- and retirement-focused firms that have evolved their social media presence over the course of the previous year.
By the middle of last year, many major financial institutions had a presence in the social media landscape, though some were relatively new to the space. For example, in July 2012, Genworth Financial had an established Facebook page with over 32,000 Likes – a strong initial following. One year later, Genworth Financial has over 89,000 Likes; a 170% increase. Genworth Financial is hardly the only firm to experience exponential growth in the Facebook arena. AXA Equitable, Lincoln Financial and Nationwide have all increased their number of Likes by more than 100% over the course of 12 months. The largest growth can be seen at Liberty Mutual, which grew their Facebook follower base from 41,000 to over 850,000. Over the course of the year, Liberty Mutual has done much to highlight their social media presence, including heavy promotions for social media on their public website. Coupled with the well-received "Humans" campaign, which displays the firm's Twitter handle during the commercial, and heavy television commercial rotation, it is clear that Liberty Mutual is invested in its social media strategy.
A variety of factors may be responsible for this type of surge in followers – continued promotion of social media on the firms' general websites and television commercials, increased interaction and content promotion on social media sites themselves. The increased exposure offers an opportunity to interact with an existing (and potential) customer base and to build the firm's brand in a social landscape.
This growth in social media can also be seen in the increase in followers on Twitter. While a number of Fortune 500 insurance companies were relatively new to the Twitter-sphere in 2012, 2013 has seen a marked increase in new accounts and increased followers. New York Life boasted more than 33,000 Twitter followers last July, while today the firm has more than 80,000. AXA Equitable has increased its follower base from roughly 2,800 to over 4,400 as of August 2013. As an industry, insurance firms are seeing a tremendous increase in the level of engagement on multiple social media sites.
Now that we have cited a few examples of some firms' numerical increases in social media engagement, let's take a look at the content that is driving users to engage with insurance firms on social media sites:
Facebook offers the most variety for potential postings. Insurance firms rely heavily on contests, interactive games, quizzes and polls to illicit user feedback and response on Facebook. Facebook pages also feature in-depth content that focuses on a wide array of topics, including product promotions, company events, sponsorships, commercials, life insurance tips, healthy living tips, current event-themed posts and much more.
Twitter is used more to link to pertinent information and to push out quick updates or financial tips. Due to the 140 character limit, posts typically consist of hyperlinked resources to content on the firm's public site, social media sites or other relevant pages for additional information. MetLife offers an example for posting on a range of topics, as recent tweets focus on boat insurance, purchasing a home, the MetLife Blimp, retirement and entrepreneurship. YouTube videos typically feature the firm's commercials, client stories/testimonials, insurance educational videos and product-focused videos. LinkedIn is primarily utilized for recruiting and networking purposes.
In many ways, social media can democratize a brand, allowing those user-generated responses to affect the overall sentiment. We have seen a concerted effort in insurance firms' attempts to appropriately moderate the tone and conversation on social media sites. Many firms employ guidelines for posts on Facebook, and some firms stand out for their ability to provide assistance and address concerns. Liberty Mutual, New York Life, Northwestern Mutual and USAA often provide personalized and comprehensive feedback on both Facebook and Twitter.
The insurance industry as a whole has experienced significant growth over the course of the previous year. We have highlighted one of the commonly used metrics – followers – to comment on this growth. It is worth mentioning, however, that followers are merely one part of the overall social media spectrum. By itself, it is not necessarily a gauge of a successful social media campaign. The return on investment for a social media strategy is, by and large, difficult to quantify. Despite this, the impressive follower growth seen by insurance companies over the course of the year is sure to increase overall exposure, and work towards building each firm's overall brand.
About the authors: Michael Ellison is president of Corporate Insight. Ian Lundahl is senior analyst for the company. Corporate Insight tracks developments in user experience technology for the retail financial services industry through its syndicated Monitor research and consulting services. For more information, click here.