Finding Success In Social Media

By Kenneth A Shapiro and Sophia Miller for the October 2012 issue of Broker World Magazine
With all the hype about social media, it’s easy to believe you’re missing an immense opportunity if you are not participating. Yet hundreds of Twitter accounts, Facebook business pages and LinkedIn profiles have been abandoned because they failed to deliver the expected results quickly or simply were too time-consuming to maintain.

Because it’s “free” and often associated with “viral,” social media is sometimes viewed as do-it-yourself marketing tools to instant success. It can happen, if you are extremely lucky, but in most cases it takes a commitment of strategic planning, relationship building and evaluation to be successful.

Used wisely, social media can help boost brand awareness, improve customer relations, garner market research, strengthen search engine optimization (SEO) and expand markets. Here are questions that can help assess if and what type of social media strategy is right for you:

• What do you want to accomplish? Social media is different from traditional marketing. It’s about sharing, relationships, engagement, conversations and interaction. It is not about driving sales. If all your interaction on social media is about aggressively pushing your products and your services, it won’t work. You need to be prepared to consistently post or tweet content that fosters engagement and conscientiously respond to comments, questions and so forth.

• Who are you targeting? Is your demographic on social media and how are they using it?

• Are you willing to lose some control of your marketing efforts? Social media marketing provides a public platform for comments from others.

• Are you willing to invest the time and resources needed? It takes time and consistency to develop relevant and engaging content, respond to comments and posts, and evaluate results, as well as develop and manage an agency policy. A half-hearted effort is worse than not doing it at all, because it is out there for everyone to see. Who will lead the effort?

• Do you know that social media is ever-changing? For example, Facebook recently introduced new “timeline” pages for businesses and new paid ad features. Again, it takes time to stay abreast of new initiatives.

Here is a thumbnail picture of the major social marketing tools.

• LinkedIn has often been thought of as a professional and career networking site rather than a social media platform. However, its role is changing and it can be a source of competitive intelligence, a referrer of web traffic and a means to positioning expertise.

A presence is not enough; it’s critical to keep your profile up-to-date and periodically import your address book to build connections as new people are joining all the time.

Selectively choosing groups that match your target markets and have strong memberships and interactions can open new opportunities and can be better choices than industry groups. Specialty apps such as “Events” or “Slide Share,” among others, can be used to expand the reach. LinkedIn “Answers” can also help position you as an expert.

• Facebook. Its popularity means that many of your prospects and customers already use Facebook to keep in touch not only with family and friends but increasingly, businesses.

While your Facebook page should never be a blatant sales tool, it can be an effective lead generator. Initiating conversations about life events such as marriage, pregnancy, college education and home purchase that trigger the need for insurance can help you develop a segmented prospect list.

Whether you make an offer, promote a contest (be sure to follow the Facebook promotional guidelines) or undertake a Facebook ad campaign, be sure to offer something with value and let prospects know what they will get if they share their contact information with you.

You can also explore the groups on Facebook and join those that are relevant for your target market and participate in conversations in ways that illustrate your expertise, avoiding sales messages. The more you contribute, the more trusted you become.

The search function lets you search by location, age, profession, marital status and so on—but be cautious. On this site, it is inappropriate to connect with those you do not know for selling purposes. Studies have shown that consumers primarily “like” pages for discounts and promotions or if they are customers of the business or support a related philanthropy. You may find, however, that you can learn more about prospects and friends of prospects and how best to connect with them.

To determine what’s involved, a good starting point is the Official Guide to Business Success on Facebook (http://bit.ly/OfficialFacebookMarketingGuide).

• Twitter is a simple interface that enables users to send short text-based posts of up to 140 characters. It’s relatively easy to extend your social circle and you can search all posts on Twitter for key words based on your business.

Twitter allows your customers and prospects to follow your business instantaneously. But the content must be related to your business, whether it’s a tip-of-the-day or a link to a white paper, video or blog post.

Yet tweets are a moment in time and can get lost in a user’s Twitter feed. If not managed carefully, there will be a large follower drop off.

• Google+ is a relatively new social network operated by Google with profiles, status updates, circles and so on. It’s integrated with other Google applications, but the administration can be difficult and it has yet to be broadly adopted. It is, however, something to explore and watch.

• YouTube. Unlike blogging, video traffic on the web is growing at exponential rates. It’s an opportunity to deliver information in a fast, straightforward and entertaining format.

Record videos with educational value; people do not want to watch commercials for products or services. For example, you could record a series of videos that explain different types of life insurance, retirement income strategies, etc. Keep them short and sweet—not longer than two or three minutes.

Although your video won’t get “pushed down” the “News Feed,” like Twitter and Facebook, it’s important to stay involved with sharing and comments.

• Pinterest. Currently the hottest new addition to social media, Pinterest is an online bulletin board for your favorite images. The site allows you to organize images into boards for specific categories, and when you “pin” something to your board, which can include consumer information, your followers will see it, can like it, comment or pin it to their board. Its appeal has been primarily to women and works best with strong visual appeal.

Every advisor should take a look at social media and explore how it can work for them. But remember, people are not going to find you instantly. You need to let your clients and prospects know you are there and encourage them to connect with you. And, as always, follow-up is crucial.

Author’s Bio Kenneth A. Shapiro is president of First American Insurance Underwriters, Inc., a national life insurance brokerage firm.
Sophia  Miller is marketing manager for First American Insurance Underwriters, Inc., a position she has held since 2009.

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