Mining for Gold: 3 Easy Ways to Prospect for Business in the Social Media World

Each day, hundreds of millions of people around the world log onto the Internet to connect with friends, families, and co-workers via innumerable social networking websites. Tapping into that vast network of people could pay huge dividends for any business. For the companies in the wholesale brokerage industry, who pride themselves on being in a ‘relationship’ business, the social media phenomenon opens a world of possibilities for developing new relationships and staying in better contact with the ones they already have.

This month, we offer you three easy tips for making the social networks work for you.

1. Conversation is Key

Before the advent of social media, online marketing was little more than a one-way conversation from businesses to their customers and prospects. The proliferation of networking sites such as Linked In, Facebook, and Twitter have changed the way people—and companies— communicate, but not all BGAs have kept pace with the changing format.

Companies in general need to think of social media as being social, and not as a traditional form of advertising and sales,” explains Amanda Vega, president of Amanda Vega Consulting and a presenter at NAILBA 30 this month in Phoenix. “We work with a lot of companies who come to us thinking, ‘Oh, social media! That means online ads and banner ads,’ because they’ve sort of lumped them all in the same sort of advertising category.”

This is a misperception, and it is not the most effective way to utilize social media, says Vega, whose firm helps to educate its corporate and individual clients about how technology fits into an overall business strategy.

“Whether you’re using Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare, or anything like that, you basically need to think of it as an ongoing party or networking event,” Vega says. “In your participation in social media, you should behave the same way you would at a party…. That means 70 percent of what you say and how you act in social should have nothing to do with what you’re selling.”

Vega also directs her clients to view social media as a way to let customers see their unique personality.  “You should be talking about your family and your interests—‘I like cars, I’m supporting the SPCA, I went for a run today’—all of those things are what make people interact with you in social,” Vega says.  “As they do that, they start to understand who you are and they start to connect with you.”

Used effectively, social media can help agencies build relationships with potential producers they might not otherwise reach; but its misuse is one of the fastest ways to alienate potential new relationships.

“People only do business with people that they know, like and trust, and you cannot build any of those three things by selling to people nonstop,” says Vega. “If you have that intent going into it, it’s very easy for people to see through that, and they will not interact with you in the social media world. You wouldn’t walk into a party and say, ‘Hi, my name is Amanda, do you want to buy some life insurance?’  You shouldn’t be doing that online, either.”

2. Find Your Niche

With more than 250 million Facebook users, 100 million LinkedIn users, and 175 million users registered on Twitter to date, making a splash in social media may seem like an impossible task for even the most technologically-savvy BGA. Add to that a workforce of aging agents in-the-field who may be less savvy about, or comfortable with, social media and the odds of getting lost in the shuffle seem even higher.

Vega offers BGAs several easy options to help bridge the generation gap.  “First, give them options. Ask them, ‘Which of these things seems the least complicated to you?”  Vega says. “Facebook is usually the easiest tool for anyone who is older because they’ve probably already been connected personally by their kids or their grandkids. You just have to teach them how to expand that usage beyond e-mail and looking at pictures.”

She also suggests capitalizing on employees’ unique interests, noting that a multitude of niche social networking websites exist for almost any imaginable category.  “Send them to Grandparents. com and tell them, ‘Go talk to other grandparents about your grandkids, and about school, and saving money, and retiring.’ Or, if they’re a big golfer, tell them to go participate in the golfing networks and chat there,  so then it doesn’t seem as intimidating because all they’re doing is having conversations that they already want to have.”

Because they cater to very specific audiences, niche social networking sites also tend to be uncluttered.  “What you find with the little niche networks like Café Mom,, and the various golf networks is that there’s not as much selling going on because everyone—all the businesses who are using social as a sales tool—are focused on Facebook,” explains Vega. “We tell our clients that finding an interest category is sometimes a better way to get prospects because they’re not inundated with people trying to sell.”

3. Become an Expert

Another way to make a splash on the social media networks is to build a reputation as an expert by providing valuable information to a wide audience of potential customers.  “People don’t need to buy life insurance every day, it’s not like buying pizza or something, so it might be easy to be overlooked in social networking” says Philippa Gamse, web strategy consultant and author of 42Rules for a Web Presence That Wins .

“One of the things an insurance agent can provide that would set them apart from everyone else who is an insurance agent out there trying to make their mark in social media is being really transparent about what is it you’re selling.”  To be taken seriously in the social media game, Gamse says it is also critical to offer valuable information that is clearly not a sales pitch.

“One of the best ways to use social media is to engage people with your content,” she says. “Make videos on YouTube or Vimeo where you do a little brief lesson on ‘How to buy the right life insurance policy,’ or ‘Important questions you should ask your life insurance broker,’ then link them back to your website where they can learn more about your company.”

Such hints or tips around your area of expertise can be helpful in attracting potential clients and, if the subject is in demand, they can pick up momentum on the search engines, driving traffic to your company’s website, as well.  “If you can provide really good content that people feel supported by rather than feeling ‘sold to’ by a snake oil salesman, that could be the kind of thing that sets you apart,” Gamse says. “Videos, in particular, are effective social tools because they let people know what you look like, and putting a face with your name helps build credibility.”

Gamse also suggests companies develop informational blogs that cover a wide range of topics related to life insurance. For BGAs trying to attract new agents, for instance, this could include stories about new selling strategies or economic trends that might be of interest to agents in the field. The blogs can then link readers back to their company’s website, where they will find the ‘salesy,’ self-promotional information.

“Writing small pieces about your expertise can point people towards engaging with you more,” says Gamse. “Using information from your blog, you can also go to LinkedIn or Quora, and look for the groups that are discussing the areas in which you have expertise.”  The secret to building a reputation as a credible expert is to turn the volume down on the sales pitch speech.  “Don’t just be out there saying   ‘Buy my stuff, buy my stuff,’” warns Gamse. “Instead, you can say, ‘What do think of my stuff?’ and engage people in conversation.”

Measuring Your Success

The best way to ensure success in social media marketing is to set out with realistic expectations about what you expect to achieve.  Having a clear goal is especially important because the metrics for gauging a return on investment are imprecise, largely because the only investment that is required—your time—is also intangible.

“It’s not as cut and dried as maybe the ROI on an ad piece, but you should set goals of social participation for an hour a day,” says Vega. “It doesn’t have to be from 8:00 to 9:00, it could be for five minutes every hour, and it could be across multiple tools. We’ve set a goal that there should be one solid, really strong lead that comes in every month via social, though that would be different for every company.”

Time management is also key to getting the most bang for your buck in social media.  “One of the challenges in social is that you have to be present to be legitimized, but how social you have to be is questionable,”  says Vega. “You don’t have to sit in front of these things all day long and read every post on your Facebook page. You just want to jump in and out of conversations whenever you can, like circling the room at a party.”

Paula L. Yoho is a freelance writer, editor, and public relations specialist with more than 15 years of experience writing for international trade association publications, newspapers, trade magazines, and professional journals.


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