Social media for insurers is at a crossroads, with many in the industry having completed the first phase, often in the form
of the obligatory company Facebook page. Success metrics have not progressed very far from the early usage however and dominated by easy-to-measure interim metrics such as followers, fans, and likes.
To be sure, insurance is not an especially interesting subject and many insurers hardly mention it in their social media outreaches, instead concentrating on trivia, tips and especially powerful graphic images. – but for what purpose? Are we are creating an authentic dialogue that helps the business or playing a social media game.
According to Frank Eliason, now SVP of Social Media for Citibank but whose fame came from being the man behind @ComcastCares, “People are focusing on the completely wrong metrics and not properly educating executives on the real story of social media. Today, companies are focusing on metrics such as ‘likes,’ fans and followers. These metrics tell you nothing of substance. Few companies tie this information directly to their customers through measurements such as the net promoter score of the social customer, what products they are buying, etc.”
These sentiments are echoed by Augie Ray, director of Social Media at Prudential Financial: “Social media was supposed to strip away the meaningless clutter of the mass media era, exposing true brand affinity and advocacy; instead, social media marketing strategies have encouraged brands to post any meaningless thing in pursuit of a comment, like or share. The irony is that none of this actually helps brands – just as inauthentic fans cannot create authentic engagement, neither can inauthentic engagement build authentic brand value.”
Nobody questions that consumers have flocked to, and spend an unbelievable amount of time on social media. We also know there is a lot of discussion about insurance and insurers. But how do consumers feel about insurers being part of that conversation?
According to Social Bakers, the average person in the US now “likes” 70 brand Facebook pages and each page posts an average of 36 times a month – this has the potential to deliver over 2,500 brand-related posts a month. Not surprisingly, therefore, 71% of consumers say they are now more selective about “liking” brand pages and 81% have “unliked” a page. The two top given reasons for shunning brands is that their wall was becoming too crowded and posts were becoming too promotional. Insurers are certainly not immune to this shifting behavior; indeed, 1 in 5 insurers experienced negative Facebook fan growth in March.
The next phase of social media is going to be harder: Consumers are going to seek greater value for connecting, and that might be in search of better customer service on social channels. According to Social Bakers, the volume of questions posted on Facebook (and this is across all industries) has increased 26% in 6 months, with an average response time of 13.7 hours. This response time contrasts with the expectation of 60 minutes held by 42% of consumers. A few insurers, including State Farm and USAA, have added customer support tabs to their Facebook pages, but the majority of insurers still see Facebook as a digital brand-marketing tool.
To make social media work for the organization, insurers must ask themselves the question “Who would want to socially connect with an insurance company and what is in it for them?” We need to think of social media as a way to connect with our customers, communicate with our staff and educate our agents – to encourage them to represent us to their own social networks. We need to provide our advocates with content that is helpful and worthy of sharing. Insurance is a business based upon trust and people now place greater trust in the advice of friends, neighbors and family than any marketing materials.
One simple but effective example is finding an agent or adviser; this is vital to the industry and can obviously benefit from social networks. Potential customers can search for an adviser using LinkedIn with Ameriprise and Facebook for Liberty Mutual. This allows potential customers to find someone they already know or known by someone in their own network. This will likely be more effective than the standard zip code search.
Insurers need to think more about how to make social media work for the benefit of the business and less about how to play the social game, gaining thousands of ‘likes’ for a picture of a cute puppy.
We are informed constantly that social media will change the way companies do business, yet at the same time we are witnessing some initial buyer’s remorse and disappointment with social media due to the lack of tangible results. Both apply, but the lack of success is partly because we have not changed enough. All too often, we apply traditional thinking to social media, building up ever-larger fan and follower counts to increase message reach. This approach is natural, born from years of measuring call-to-action responses in low, single-digit percentages but social media actually works best in the opposite way. It is far more effective to have a more meaningful connection with a smaller group who will in turn propagate and share the message with people in their networks. Shareability – an ugly term, I know – is fast becoming the buzzword du jour, using advocates as conduits (I hesitate to use the word channel here). Reaching new audiences through advocates – if studies claiming that people trust other people far more than marketers are to be believed – is the core of social media.
This does indeed change how we market and sell. First, we need to identify and develop brand advocates – these are likely our existing customers and, in the insurance industry, our agents. We need to provide them with content and tools that are not only relevant but motivate and inspire them to pass on with their implicit endorsement. People like to be helpful, and being the bearer of good information creates a level of satisfaction, and that is the incentive we must create.
Social media, as with all new ideas and technologies, is going through a series of phases. Thankfully, we can see the end of the “superficial” phase where emphasis has been on gaining thousands or even millions of fans and providing information in 140 or fewer characters. To excel in the shareability phase, emphasis must move back to more substantive content.
It is worth noting that more industry successes with social media are now coming from insurers that identify and connect with specific communities. We even see significant success in the reinsurance industry, which is as far away from the superficial reputation of social media as you can get.
So, bottom line, think of social media as starting small with the goal of propagating via proxy and endorsement versus the traditional approach of casting a wide net and hoping for small returns.
Social media is a way for friends and family to hold conversations. It allows people to share what is happening in their lives: the highs, the lows, their life events. Brands became
interested in social media only upon discovering how many people – their customers – were spending so much time there. The relationship between brands and people on social media can be tortuous. There is something a little unnatural about brands attempting to be human, and people rarely looking to engage in casual conversations with a corporation.
This unnatural relationship is, on the face of it, accentuated when it comes to insurance. Who wants to be friends with their insurance company? Well in fact, gaining fans and followers has not proved to be that difficult, especially for deep-pocketed insurers. Looking at the Facebook fan league table, all the usual suspects lead the way – Progressive, Allstate, State Farm, Farmers and MetLife.
But, remember, social media is about the conversation, and whereas you can get people to like the page and even click on the occasional picture, a dialogue that is not. So what kind of true conversations are people willing to have with an insurance company? Put your consumer hat on for one moment – you all own insurance policies and if you are reading this, you more than likely work in the insurance industry. The question is, how many of you have ever engaged in a social media dialogue with any insurance company? My guess is, not many.
Looking at last month’s data for normalized interactions on Facebook (all interactions for the month divided by the number of fans) to give us comparable rates of engagement, there is an interesting trend. The big spenders are nowhere near the top. In fact, most sit nearer the bottom. The top 10 are:
- Auto-Owners Insurance
- New Jersey Manufacturers
- Woodmen of the World
- California Casualty
- Modern Woodmen of America
- Allstate Motorcycle
- Mercury Insurance
- State Auto
- Shelter Insurance
These are insurers where fans share a true bond and that drive dialogue when members relate to each other. The two Woodmen companies are fraternal organizations; most of the others are restricted by region, professions or are membership organizations. Allstate is the large insurer on the list but only at the behest of a specialized page with the bond obvious.
While most insurance agents have yet to realize value from social media, the ones who have invariably point to exactly the same discovery: their value is being part of the local community, not for information about life insurance or new auto policies. The bond is local.
Social media facilitates conversation. If insurers really want to take advantage of this medium, they need to understand why people are there. This may seem simple, but it is a change in corporate culture –joining the conversation, chosen by the consumer rather dictating the conversation to the consumer. This turns marketing on its head, and that is why social media is transformative.
We are constantly told about how social media will force companies to respond much faster than ever before – that was never more evident than at Superbowl 47 when the lights went out. Brands quickly pushed ads out on the social platforms, taking advantage of the lull in the action and the millions of tweeters desperately trying to be witty. Tweeters quickly picked up the ads further spreading them while also applauding the quickness. Examples included Oreo, Tide, Audi and Walgreens with examples below.
As we start 2013, the role of social media within the insurance industry has never been under greater scrutiny. While still early days,
it is time to deliver some of the benefits that were sold.
Too much effort has been spend on platform knowledge rather than developing a business strategy. Significant time and money has already been spent collecting Facebook fans, followers on twitter and engagement using a healthy dose of trivia and emotive images – but for what purpose?
But, playtime is now over.
Social media is a new way that people communicate –not the only way. We will still meet, email, and speak on the phone but we have added social media. Social media is a more public form of communication – ironic given the privacy concerns less than a decade ago. The concept is not even new – bulletin boards and forums have been with us for many years – who can forget BYTE in the 80’s, Prodigy and AOL in the 90’s. Free email democratized electronic communication. The permanency of email, combined with the power of the CC (we have all suffered from an ill-advised CC list) has now evolved into something much bigger, more powerful and certainly more disruptive.
Insurers do not need a social media department; they need social media expertise spread throughout the organization. Social media is not just about how to send out your message; it is just as much about listening to and gathering information – social media is a communication channel, not a broadcast channel.
Social media will prove invaluable and necessary in diverse areas such as fraud, recruitment, market analysis, customer service and investor relations. Just look at the possible impact on sales alone – people have access to the same communication channels as large corporations. They use the channels to post photographs, tweet about breakfast and their love of a sports team because they are documenting their lives. Insurers have spent years trying to reach people at particular life stages but now people volunteer that information. Facebook recently added a capability to discover and reach people that have changed jobs in the past 30 days – over 800,000 have volunteered this information it seems – if you were in the business of IRA rollovers, you could be set for life – and never another cold call.
So ignore Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and the rest in your discussions about social media – the question must be – who do you want to communicate with and why – if cold calling works best – start dialing, if email blasts work, and they do – email away. But, to understand if social media plays a role, YOU need to understand social media – you cannot delegate that to a social media expert/guru/overpaid consultant – they do not understand your business.
We do not need the ROI of social media; we need to understand its role and place in the corporate communications strategy.