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Q&A: State Farm Enables Agent/Customer Social Networking with Hearsay Social

State Farm talks with Insurance & Technology about the insurer's adoption of social media management tools and processes.

Websites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn present a variety of regulatory challenges for carriers. State Farm was one of the earliest insurers to face these challenges, through the adoption of a social media management platform.

I&T spoke with State Farm's Janet Shoemaker, director in agency, and Kelly Thul, director with responsibilities for social media enablement, about the carrier's social media strategy and its use of the Hearsay Social platform.

What did you discover while evaluating social media management alternatives?

Thul: First, managing social networking is extremely complex and the environment by its very nature is quite fragmented. Second, the same obligations to manage exist in social media that exist in e-mail, online or traditional customer interactions. And third, there is likely no single tool that can solve all your problems, and that, too, has to be managed.

What is the status of the implementation of the Hearsay (San Francisco) platform?

Shoemaker: The application went live in the fourth quarter of 2010 with a small number of pilot agents. The rollout continued through December and January 2011 over a period of eight weeks.

We have more than 3,400 agents active on the platform, with a total of more than 200,000 [online] fans across this group. Hearsay has been very helpful in assisting agents in managing fan relationships, distributing content that the agents can post that is of interest to their audience, and providing a way for agents to have a consolidated view of their social activity in Facebook and Twitter.

What are some of the most important ongoing compliance challenges associated with agent use of social networking, and how are you dealing with those challenges?

Shoemaker: In general, the most important compliance challenges are making sure we meet the different requirements that are in place for both insurance and financial services. Oftentimes this boils down to appropriately capturing and storing information -- and monitoring for compliance. Agent training plays an important role in supporting these processes.

Which social networking sites do State Farm agents use most often, and primarily for what purposes? What particular opportunities do these sites offer?

Thul: Social media ultimately is about people and relationships, not technology. Our agents excel at relationships with their customers, and we want to use social media to extend their ability to do so. While Facebook has emerged as the most-used social networking site for our agents, they also can utilize Twitter and LinkedIn. Facebook and Twitter use tracks more toward the relationship activity we discussed earlier, while LinkedIn serves the role it typically does -- more targeted professional networking.

How does State Farm support agents' use of social networking to connect with customers and prospects?

Thul: In addition to content that agents post themselves, we provide content they can choose to use on topics that include loss mitigation, sponsorships/events, commercials, insurance basics and community involvement. Hearsay is used to distribute this content to agents who want to post it on their Facebook pages, for instance.

What is State Farm doing to drive adoption and train agents in the effective use of social networking technology and websites?

Shoemaker: Our agents complete a training course prior to activating in social media. They also have the ability to tap into subject matter contacts across our organization -- including each other -- for best practices.

What was your business case for implementing a social networking management platform, and what results do you expect to enjoy?

Thul: As a business, we want to protect our brand and ensure that agents are in compliance with federal regulations while empowering them to express their unique and authentic voice on social media. This is what makes social media powerful. We have seen tremendous growth in the number of active agents and overall number of fans. We expect this growth to continue.

Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek Financial Services of TechWeb he has written on all areas of information ... View Full Bio

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