The evolution of connection

How social media is presenting meaningful business applications and expanding the concept of staying in touch

Social media has exploded as a force in interpersonal communications and has provided the means for people to reach out to others on a scale never before imagined and at speeds never before envisioned. We are still in the infancy of many of the tools that have revolutionized how we meet and communicate with others across town and around the world. Let’s face it – the insurance industry is not known as revolutionary or cutting-edge when it comes to technology, but it’s time to recognize that social media is here to stay and will leave a lasting imprint on our industry.

As a Gen-Yer, I should be proficient when it comes to all forms of social media. I personally jumped on the Facebook bandwagon several years ago and loved that I could reconnect with people I had not seen for years but never really expanded my presence beyond that.

As important as social media has been for reuniting and connecting individuals, its power for organizations is only recently being recognized and exploited.
At my company, we grasp the concept of adapting to each producer and working the way they want to work. From traditional paper applications to electronic applications, traditional delivery versus e-Policy delivery, and more, we need to accommodate everyone. Similarly, we need to communicate with our producers in ways they find most effective.

This recognition led us to learn about the various social media outlets and begin to use them on a regular basis. The majority of social media platforms are no-cost, so we saw this as a great opportunity to expand our marketing efforts without hard dollar expenses. The biggest investment: your time. We started small, but have branched out to new platforms as we gain a level of comfort with each one. It was hard to ignore statistics that showed this is the way our world was moving. So we dug in.

Our first foray into social media was setting up a Twitter account. I had never used Twitter until I first created an account for our company (@FB_Inc). The Twitter learning curve was enormous. Hashtags, retweets, 140 character limits, all were new concepts. It was frustrating and a bit overwhelming at times to try to learn what felt like a foreign language.

Aside from the learning curve involved, another challenge in using Twitter is the difficulty in gauging the effectiveness of your messages to boost new producers or increase production. However, we feel there is enough value simply by having an account and establishing an online presence, building credibility in the industry. We are reaching a group of producers we may have never come across in the past.

Another difficulty in using Twitter is consistently pushing content throughout the day. We were first guilty of ‘spree-tweeting’, posting everything we wanted to post that day in a five minute window. Unfortunately, this doesn’t allow for much success. Those using Twitter do not read their entire Twitter feed at one time to see what has happened since they last logged in. Rather, they check it at stoplights, in line at grocery stores, waiting for food at a restaurant, etc. Through trial and error, we found the key to success with Twitter is consistency and persistence, the more consistently you post, the more your followers will increase and the more people you will reach.

Several years ago I created a personal blog, a journal of sorts to communicate with out-of-state family and friends. I loved the candid aspect of blogging, there is no need for formalities and you can speak what is on your mind in your own voice. I began to wonder how we could create a blog at Financial Brokerage to reach out to producers and to have a less formal approach to advertising and sales ideas. Our blog is managed by our marketing department and gives our sales managers the opportunity to post short articles aimed at providing our producers with sales ideas, practice-improving advice and market development strategies. Producers love the candor of the blog posts, as they are much less rigid than a traditional advertising campaign or compliance bulletin.

LinkedIn was another natural step forward in social media. This is where the business world meets and networks. Even if your business does not have a LinkedIn page (which it should) I would strongly encourage you to create a personal account. This platform provides the opportunity to network with others in the industry and connect with groups.

YouTube has been a recent, and easy, method of broadening our social media presence. We conduct webinars each month, that we record and replay on our YouTube channel. This allows us to get the most leverage out of each and every webinar we host. YouTube also provides tracking so at any given point we can see what is popular.

We recently created a Facebook page to establish a presence that reaches our producers. It was an easy addition that allows us to link our Twitter feeds to Facebook for automatic updates. The metrics offered for page views is much more comprehensive than other social media platforms and should provide valuable insight as we build our presence on Facebook.

My personal obsession with Pinterest has recently led us to explore how the platform can be used in a business setting. The LIFE Foundation now has boards (LIFE Foundation) as well as American General Life (AGLA Life Insurance). Pinterest is a social media outlet we will continue to explore to identify where it adds value.

A social media strategy is not without its difficulties. Anyone contemplating a social media program should consider the following challenges:

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

Learn the language. One of the hardest things in starting is learning the ‘language’ of each platform as each has its own syntax.Be consistent. A successful social media venture requires regularity in platform usage. There are tools and apps that help, like TweetDeck to consistently push information to followers so messages are less sporadic.

Manage your content. Again, tools like TweetDeck can help you to manage all platforms in a single setting.

Know the audience. The audience for social media is uncontrolled in most situations. There is a need to ensure that material pushed is not of an ‘agent only’ subject matter. It is also wise to know the interests of your target audience. Watch before you play so your messages are valuable.

Practice good etiquette. Do your research and be aware of social media rules and proper etiquette. Sharing information is good, but give credit where credit is due.

Social media can be essential to the success of a company’s brand strategy and marketing outreach. It should not be looked at as a replacement for other successful strategies and must be integrated into an overall strategic plan and operational activities.

The overall value to an organization from employing social media is a mixed-bag of benefits and limitations. Consider these key attributes:

Establish a presence. A key to success with social media is to decide how you would like to be perceived and pattern the communications outreach to achieve that goal.

Results are hard to measure. Patience is a virtue when it comes to social media. Measures of success are elusive and we need to recognize that they have a long tail.

Hard dollar costs are minimal. Social media provides additional outreach to producers at little or no cost other than your time.

Be an advocate – Allows you to be an advocate in the industry and bring awareness to the general public.

Keep an eye on the competition. Social media allows us to look in on the competition every day to see what is on their minds, what they think is important and how they are communicating with the same audience we are trying to reach.

Gain credibility. The various social media platforms provide the means to gain credibility in the industry and further strengthen a company’s brand and provide value to its customers. It is key to decide how you want to be perceived and pattern your communications to achieve that goal.

Remember the information is public: Unless you have taken steps to ensure your messages are private, remember that everything you post is public. Be professional and concise. Although this may seem scary, it can be advantageous for increasing your rank in Google searches.

Be aware. Know who is following you, what your followers are posting, which of your competitors are not active in social media, etc. It is all valuable information to help you build your presence.

The most important thing we have learned to date? Maintaining a presence in the social media world is critical. Why would you not take advantage of another opportunity to reach your potential and existing customers? For those looking to expand their presence in social media but don’t know where to begin, I recommend the book Social Boom by Jeffrey Gittomer. Don’t stand on the sidelines waiting for the social media trend to pass. The reality is, it won’t, and you don’t want to be the one that has been passed by.

by Sarah Stewart Ms. Stewart is Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for Financial Brokerage, a national wholesale marketing company in Omaha, NE. She oversees the case management, underwriting, new business and contracting departments

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