Social media has never really taken off for the majority of local agencies and now it is harder than ever for agents to be motivated. Agencies accept that social media cannot or shouldn’t be ignored but it’s difficult to calculate the value and therefore the resources to allocate. Without applying the appropriate resources, results will inevitably be lackluster and that’s where we are with a large number of agencies.
Social media had its heyday 4-5 years ago and since then has steadily dropped down the list of priorities at both local agencies and carriers. With ever declining organic reach and the recent rash of privacy concerns surrounding Facebook, this is unlikely to change. But the essential value of social media has not changed, it’s where the majority of prospects and customers spend time.
There are a growing number of dead or dying social pages especially on Twitter and the focus, if any, for agencies is to encourage reviews on Google. The story at carriers is not much brighter. Corporate posts and social pages have limited appeal for customers and without substantial ad investment it is hard to justify the ongoing training, seminars, and content creation that is takes to cajole agents into embracing social media.
Bottom line—everyone seems anxious to find a Social Media “EASY” button and this has created the need for more practical solutions that can deliver some of the promise of connected social networks without the overhead.
Successful social media strategies must consider two equally important critical components – content and reach. There is limited value running promotions on social media platforms if your social page is dead, equally it is not worth creating and posting content if no one is looking.
The Content Story
Updating Facebook and LinkedIn pages with fresh and up to date content is now table stakes – the digital world is fast paced and social pages last updated in 2014 or with just 10 page likes reflects badly. Despite the doomsayers, people do still share content on social networks and for insurers and agencies that is likely to be relevant advice, helpful tips and local information.
Carriers have become very good at creating advice content for social platform distribution but at some considerable cost. There is no question some agents pick up on carrier content and re-share to their own social networks. The problem is that the total amount of agent content sharing is static at best when viewed across all carriers. For independent agents looking to share a range of carrier content this may require accessing multiple carrier social pages—and this takes time. Many captive agents now have content libraries provided through SAAS services such as Hearsay so it is easier but the ability to localized can be severely limited.
Looking back 5 years, the best practice presented to agencies was to create some local content to enhance the brand and community value but this is restricted to a few agencies. The best practice is now more like adding an occasional local piece interspersed with more general content provided by carriers.
Agencies require a stream of relevant and available content. Above all however, the ability to post content must be incredibly easy. To quote Chris Winston of Colonial Life , “The goal is to match the required effort (Minimal) with the perceived rate of return (Low).”
A month of content posted in a matter of minutes is the type of demand we now expect.
Facebook is now pay to play and this will come to all social platforms. Assume payment is required for reach, impressions and clicks. Advertising on Facebook is not hard but it’s certainly not easy and agencies that throw up ads are unlikely to see full value without reviewing and optimizing the target audience or the message – this assumes expertise and precious time. Paying to gain social reach also changes the mindset and objective of social media. Agencies see little value paying to boost a post that links to a third party article or to a carrier’s own website. When money is spent on an ad, the agency naturally wants to see results in the form of a lead, a website visit or a call in. Without paid reach by agencies, carriers will inevitably see diminishing returns for the content provided. It’s a downward spiral.
Solutions – The Current Landscape
Can the downward trend be reversed or is insurance social media going to end like AOL CDs.
We have taken a look at a few solutions now available specifically in the insurance industry. This is not a comprehensive list, there are others but the one we chose come at the problem in different ways.
Colonial Life / GaggleAmp
Colonial Life delivers content to independent agents using a product called GaggleAmp. The product was not designed for insurance industry and the most pervasive us is in employee advocacy. Agencies are provided access to a dashboard comprising a mix of curated and Colonial originated content (hosted on Colonial’s WorkLife blog). All content is checked and validated by the company’s compliance group. Agents are able to schedule posts for an entire month in a few minutes. About 250 agents now use the system and the cost is borne buy Colonial. The shortcoming of this solution is that it is single carrier and to maintain the message of independence, agencies need to add other content manually. It is a particle solution but does tend to have agencies favor Colonial’s content given the ease of posting.
West Bend Mutual has also selected GaggleAmp.
Single carrier content distribution solutions have been in place since Foremost launched its Social Media Suitcase 6 years ago. The Suitcase, developed by Foremost is delivered as a webpage and agents can cut and paste platform-specific posts. The vast majority of the available content is curated and links to from reputable and independent sources. There are hundreds of articles available from “Summer Home Maintenance Tips” to “Top 10 Motorcycle Journeys”. The weaknesses of the system is the need to cut/paste into the social platforms. It remains however one of the best sources of content—view at http://www.socialmediasuitcase.com/social-media-content
Travelers Insurance have developed an excellent content distribution application. This has clearly cost a significant amount of money and the point and click design make content posting extremely easy, The solution is available free of charge to agencies.
The majority of the content provided by Travelers follows a pattern – helpful and relatively softly branded social posts that invariably link to Travelers’ website for in-depth follow-up information. Agencies struggle with the idea of directing consumers from their own Facebook page to a carrier webpage. The consumer might never return and might even come across a “find an agent’ button.
Safeco and MetLife Auto both explored a similar route by providing copies of Hearsay for content distribution but again even with unbranded content as provided by Safeco, links go back to carrier pages.
Little Dog Social Media
Erie Insurance become frustrated with the ongoing content development, education and support of agencies on social media. More often than not, social media was designated to the youngest, most junior person at the agency and staff turnover in that position is high.
Erie came to the conclusion that the majority of agencies would be better served by outsourcing the problem. Erie hoped that an agency active on social media would, on balance, promote more Erie content than an agency that did nothing at all. This is the “a high tide raises all boats justification”. Erie directs agencies to Little Dog Social Media which offers the quintessentially personal (and manual) solution.
Little Dog employs a group of customer service reps (known as Account Groomers—the dog theme is all through this company) who post content on behalf of agencies. There are no product constraints being largely manual so agencies can choose to post from multiple carriers, on any social platform and with any blend of local or national content. Groomers get to know each agency through a monthly call to review activity, provide guidance on what is working and offer analytical and anecdotal information. Little Dog offers a relationship, a concept agencies understand and appreciate. Little Dog also maintains some local content on the agency’s behalf requiring little more than a picture of a staff member or a local event.
Little Dog does not see the need to create a lot of content in the belief that content is not the limiting factor. The big limitation is always time and priority at the agency. Danielle Willetts, the self-described Big Dog points to three key trends now being expressed by agencies: the strong need to outsource social media, greater interest in exploring social advertising and more visual content.
Being largely manual, ‘Groomers’ can place social ads for agencies, at first with a small investment allowing agencies to focus solely on cost and results with no need to understand the process. Agencies that do see an increase in social reach and engagement can then fund plans that fit into the overall sales and marketing objectives.
Erie offered agencies subsidized or even fully sponsored programs to encourages agencies into social media with Little Dog. For the carrier, a “full service option” even at an initial cost saves on continuous support for something agencies see limited initial value. Little Dog has since expanded to other carriers and direct to many agencies with fees that range from $85/month (Facebook posts only) to $199 a month (5 social platforms plus access to ad placement). To date. Little Dog supports over 750 independent agents.
More information at https://www.littledogsocialmedia.com/
Awesome Social Posts
Awesomesocialposts.com migrated from an insurance industry video production company to offer a proprietary automated content delivery and scheduling system. After speaking with agencies, the company came to the same conclusion as others – simplicity and effort (or lack of it) at the agency was imperative. Company president Mike Demko claims that for many agencies he supports, social media is now down to 6th or 7th place in the priority list just for marketing. To illustrate the important of that, the company’s promotional video makes the product core benefit very clear using—Easy, Drop Dead Simple and “Done for you” within the first 20 seconds. Watch the video here.
The company’s product is built around a scheduling system that can automatically post content to the agency’s social pages. The content mix is selected by the system while allowing agencies to review, change or add or just let the content run.
Most of the content is highly visual animated gifs or short video and often with little or no insurance information (e.g. Motivation Monday). The content goal is to be humorous, engaging and sharable—more in line with the way GEICO looks at social media. It is to catch people’s attention as they scroll through social newsfeeds especially on mobile devices. To offer comprehensive and immediate insurance education is not seen as the requirement but to trigger a need to discover more and hopefully through a call to the agency. According Demko, “social media is a forum for entertainment and engaging visual appeal and agencies need to accept the environment and not try to crow bar insurance policy information.”
Video and animated Gifs are currently flavor of the month at Facebook and according to data provided by the company, reach and impressions on agency pages runs at about 200%-300% of image/link posts. This is without any promotional boosts to influence the picture.
The base level of the service starts at $79 per month for an agency. According to industry Rockstar and agency owner Chris Paradiso, “Even if you have an in-house marketing team, this is a no-brainer! Premium video/visual content PLUS automation is a big winner!”
The company is working with four carriers and about 300 agencies.
For more information – http://awesomesocialposts.com/
Insurance Social Media
Insurance Social Media (ISM) is another relative newcomer. Partially funded by insurance carrier Grinnell Mutual and part of an industry incubator, the company has built a content distribution system with automated posting to agency Facebook and Linked pages. The service provides a comprehensive base layer of content to which agents add occasional personal and local posts. ISM also offers as part of the solution, support for social marketing (ads).
ISM’s content team is pumping out an astonishing 1,000 content pieces a week and have amassed a library of over 100,000 pieces. Content is automatically selected for each agency after the completion of a comprehensive profile. Carrier content can be included in the automated mix.
ISM’s approach is to offer carriers a “fully baked” cloud based solution to provide or recommend to independent agents. To help kick start social media programs, ISM launched a 6-month program (called QuickStart) for carriers to deliver the solution to a limited number of agents in order to test the water. The Quickstart program can be fully or partially funded by the carrier. At the base entry rate of $39 per agent per month, ISM is the cheapest solution (Facebook and Twitter). The monthly cost can rise up to $399 a month for a fully personalized and comprehensive solution including responding to comments posted on social platforms and conducting email campaigns. ISM claim that after an initial QuickStart, 80% of the agencies continue the program at their own cost.
When carriers are involved in the program, the carrier is provided with a dashboard that reflects individual and consolidated activity levels with engagement data, suitable to take a big or local picture. For agencies, a dashboard offers a review of current activity and the ability to add or change content. Agency dashboards also provides a “social score” that takes into account 25 individual factors together with recommendations for improvement.
ISM has also responded to carriers’ need to run centralize social media marketing campaign and expand the overall reach of posts. The more effective option is generally to collaborate with agencies rather than boosting posts from carrier pages.
Programs can be created by carriers including any artwork, landing pages and targeted audience selection and offered to agencies for with ad costs shared in any way. In some cases carriers have carried the entire ad cost to gain the greatest reach possible though agency pages. Consumers can click through to agency social or landing pages or even centrally managed quote pages. In the case of centrally managed landing page, attribution and commission can be allocated to the participating agency.
Agencies can also choose to create their own social marketing (ad) programs by easily selecting a pre-defined profile in the dashboard (e.g. high net worth home owners by zip code) or build their own profiles. Ad clicks can be routed to landing pages developed by the agency or ISM.
ISM is currently working with 10 carriers. For more information https://www.insurancesocial.media/
Denim is a startup focused squarely on agency marketing and Facebook ads in particular. The company’s mission is to enable centrally managed social ads. The initial and obvious target was carriers with captive agents, but it has since expanded to the independent advisor/agent space. Denim’s core message is “Social marketing and specifically, advertising is essential and is highly productive (and profitable), but it needs to be simple in order to easily scale the implementation for hundreds or thousands of advisors in order to collect data-rich results.” Again notice the emphasis on “Simple”.
Denim’s centralized ad management console allows a carrier to run ads in one or more regions. one or more products, or for selected agencies. Carriers have the staff and expertise to create, post and manage the program entirely from the home office. Gone is the need to rely on best placement or data gleamed from hundreds or even thousands of local agencies.
Denim’s route into independent agencies is via its newly released Pages product which delivers customizable landing pages that work alongside Denim’s social ads. Participating agencies automatically are notified of any activity via real-time notifications. Extensive reports offer carrier and agencies full insight as to the program results.
Denim, like many of the other vendors point to the growing gulf between engagement rates reported for agencies and carriers. To validate the hypothesis, Denim ran a six-week test with a Fortune 500 carrier comparing 16 one-week Facebook ad campaigns.
Denim launched ads from the carrier’s Facebook page with the header displaying the corporate name and logo. Separately, Denim launched the same ads from agency Facebook pages using the agent’s name and photo. In all 16 campaigns, ads from agency pages performed better – up to 250 percent better – than ads from the carrier.
Local ads also significantly outperformed averages across the financial services industry. The industry average Facebook cost per click (CPC) for finance and insurance is $3.77 (higher than any other industry). The average CPC for local agencies was $0.33. The average click-through rate (CTR) of finance and insurance Facebook ads is 0.56 percent but localized ads came in at 1.95 percent.
Denim is the core product that manages delivery and accounting of local ads on the carrier’s behalf and provides cumulative data which would be very hard to collect otherwise. Data collected from local markets deliver key insights about campaigns and enable improvement as well as indicate which agents might need more help. To improve the service and make it even more simple, Denim is building an AI extension to automatically optimize ads by markets, audience and placement based on the company’s collection of 1 billion data points.
Denim’s goal is to provide the ad marketing engine. Of course agents with dead social pages might not enjoy the same results as actively posting agents but Denim is not delivering content. To cover content need, Denim has partnered with Gainfully which offers shareable content through its own platform. (Gainfully recently raised $2.5 million from Mass Mutual Ventures and Allianz Life Ventures.) More information : https://denimlabs.com/
This report is a just summary of industry activity but the trend is clear. Social Media needs to run largely on autopilot with occasional manual adjustments. It is important for agencies to maintain Facebook and LinkedIn pages and maybe Twitter and Instagram but most agencies are unwilling to allocate internal resources. Carriers and agencies have come to same conclusion – Make it Simple—Make it Quick.
Below are the vendors featured in the article. Click on the logos to visit the company’s website.