Eat your broccoli, or how not to
create great content
Mom's "lectures" don't work with social media
By Tom Wetzel
Over the years, I have heard company executives and producers complain about the industry's poor reputation and then explain it away by saying, "Our industry will never win any popularity contests." Baloney. A growing number (though still far too small) of insurers and producers are discovering the power of social media to reshape their public personas. That said, however, there remains a great deal of confusion about how to participate on social media sites and how to put one's company in the best position to realize tangible benefits.
In times past when a single company or the industry as a whole was faced with a communications crisis, the immediate impulse was to spend an exorbitant amount of money on an ad campaign. The theory then was, "If we can just put the unfiltered facts out there, then people will understand us." The strategy, of course, did not always work. But today's consumers don't like lectures. They don't trust institutional jargon. They are more likely to listen to their friends and neighbors for recommendations than to listen to pitches or complex explanations. These consumers want answers, yes, to their questions and concerns. But they reject the corporate "we talk, you listen" model that many of us were taught. They want to "talk" in the purest sense, meaning they want to communicate, with real back-and-forth, give-and-take.
Still, when a firm makes the decision to begin participating on social media sites, management's first instinct is often to sell first and listen later. Then social media consultants (myself included) advise to create "compelling content," blogs and posts and tweets whose value will entice consumers to come back for more.
But what makes an insurance consumer want to come back again and again to a producer's or company's Facebook page or blog? And more important, what motivates that consumer to want to share that content with friends and neighbors?
Ways to save money on a homeowners or auto policy or how to avoid straining one's back shoveling snow or making sure your flood coverage is up to date are all valuable topics. But just like your mother telling you one too many times to eat your broccoli, a steady diet of lectures wears thin quickly.
Make it fun while being responsive
Donna Hosfeld of Hosfeld Insurance, LLC of Macungie, Pennsylvania, understands more than most what it takes to be a success at social media.
"For one thing, you need to be genuine and accessible," she says. "I started posting on Facebook as a personal amusement. Then I realized the potential for the business, provided that I followed some simple rules. You need to think like the other person. It's not me, me, me.
"You also need to have some fun and let the readers join in," she continues. "People are out during the day at their jobs, going to the store, and running errands. Then they come home at night, plop down on the couch with their laptop for some personal time and they want to read something positive and fun."
In addition to creating quality content, Donna makes certain she can be found easily—on her agency Web site, blog, Twitter and LinkedIn in addition to Facebook.
"Sometimes you find ways to pull the insurance conversation in, sometimes not," she says. You have to stay fresh, talk about what's going on in town, make some personal reflections, promote local events, and post funny photos. Again, you're not pitching, you're helping."
One way to pull in the insurance conversation is by responding quickly to local situations. When the first signs of an ice dam problem appeared in Massachusetts this past winter, Ross Insurance Agency in Holyoke addressed the issue in January and February blogs to help home owners identify and minimize any damage.
The Massachusetts agency is careful, however, not to overload its social media activity with insurance messages.
"We maintain an internal blog on our Web site which does contain a lot of insurance tips, but we also have an outside blog in which we talk about local events, recipes, camping and other items we think readers would enjoy that have nothing to do with insurance," says Marissa Cloutier, the agency's social media architect.
The agency also set up a Cutest Pet Contest on its Facebook page that resulted in 200 more "friends."
On his Facebook page, Joe Peterson warned followers of his Kennewick, Washington, insurance agency of an impending and dangerous windstorm and then thanked policyholders for taking steps to keep themselves safe.
The Horton Group, based in Orland Park just south of Chicago, is a far larger operation with seven offices in three states. The firm maintains a blog and is on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. For Margaret Bastick, the firm's director of new business development, the challenge is not the lack of content but developing a true conversation with clients.
"With our broad range of products and services, our challenge is creating too much content and information overload and not listening enough to our clients' needs and concerns" says Bastick.
Social media provides any carrier or producer a platform to promote its business, but how they do it can spell the difference between success and failure. Firms need to tell their stories, not in grand pronouncements but in small, bite-sized pieces that speak directly to a consumer's needs, concerns, frame of mind, and understanding about insurance. For example, if a policyholder makes an online complaint, don't take it as a personal affront but as a golden opportunity to truly reach out and address it. If a complaint needs to be resolved offline, say so but do it with respect and concern. If a consumer is confused about why his or her premium is going up and has not had any claims, don't indulge in corporate speak but provide a healthy dose of empathy.
Above all, productive social media is more about listening than it is about talking. If we listen carefully to our current and prospective policyholders, what content would they most value? Are you sending signals that you really do want their comments and suggestions and stories? And when they do comment, criticize or praise, do you respond in a manner that invites them to return?
The insurance story is a compelling one. But how it's told determines how it will be received. n
Tom Wetzel is president of a full-service, insurance-exclusive marketing communications/public affairs firm with a special practice devoted to helping agents and insurers use social media in a productive, risk-averse way. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org The company's Web site is www.wetzelandassociates.com He is also on Facebook at "Social Media Management for Insurance Industry," LinkedIn and Twitter and his blog, www.thegoodrisk.com.
Firms need to tell their stories, not in grand pronouncements but in small, bite-sized pieces that speak directly to a consumer's needs, concerns, frame of mind, and understanding about insurance.