Social Media Forum
Putting your personality into social media
Agents with a strong online following emphasize a personal approach
By Tom Wetzel
Tech watchers are reporting that social media growth is slowing and raising questions as to why. Has the social media craze just run its course? Is the fad bubble about to burst? There are many possible reasons given for the slow down. One is that there are only so many hours in the day; another proffers that consumers have begun to doubt the hype that the Internet is the one-stop shop for everything. The New York Times reported recently that growth in Facebook visits was "only" 10% in the last year, down from 56% a year earlier. As George Colony, CEO of Forrester Research, said recently, "Social is running out of hours. Social is also running out of people."
There is some truth in the numbers, but I have a different take—consumers are no longer just infatuated with social media—they are looking for relevance and originality. In the race to create valuable content (stories and advice that get shared with others), too many companies of all types just push out more "corporate speak"—i.e., bland, airbrushed messages and images that scream sameness. When faced with such widespread sameness, it is no wonder that consumers may get a little tired.
In the tech journal Fast Company, I read about Kulula, a South African discount airline that embraces and promotes an edgy, irreverent personality to set itself apart. For starters, its planes feature a paint job on the fuselage that says "This Way Up." Flight attendants have been heard to say, "Thank you for flying Kulula. We hope you enjoyed giving us the business as much as we enjoyed taking you for a ride." And this one: "We'd like to thank you folks for flying with us today. And, the next time you get the insane urge to go blasting through the skies in a pressurized metal tube, we hope you'll think of Kulula Airways."
Agents may not want to adopt a Kulula persona; however, there is plenty of evidence of agents who have created a social media following (and generated sales as a consequence) because they infuse their posts and tweets with their own unique personalities that set them apart and allow them to connect with people—not as prospects, but as humans.
Eric Weedin of the Loveland, Colorado, Weedin Agency, is a firm believer in tapping into "circles of influence" that arise from one's passion for his or her community and, in his case, love of music.
Eric plays the trumpet in several local groups and on his Facebook page, one can find him promoting his next gig or talking about the worthy cause for which his group will be performing.
"People need to know that our agency is more than just a group of generic salespeople," says Weedin, an executive committee member-at-large at the Professional Independent Insurance Agents of Colorado. "It is foolish not to tap into those circles of influence. We have to think beyond the insurance transaction."
Jason Cass of JDC Insurance of Centralia, Illinois, is another great case in point. Jason has built a following on Facebook of more than 6,000, having started less than two years ago. How?
"It's about showing that you care about the community, people, and your family that makes you stand out," says Cass, who speaks to agent groups about his experience and his passion. "It is the same since the beginning of time—nice people have a lot of friends; mean, uncaring people don't. My social media mantra is: No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care."
Cass's strategy has four parts. One, he takes a conversational, heartfelt tone that invites two-way dialogue—he never lectures. Two, he holds iPad drawings to attract attention. Three, he asks followers for their advice (he did so on laptop theft), and he makes it clear that he truly wants and appreciates honest feedback. And four, he lets policyholders sing his praises. (And they do so in an unscripted, authentic way.)
Jason wears his passion and his personality on his sleeve.
"One of the little-known, great things about attracting fans or followers is that it is not about the quality over the quantity of followers," says Cass. "While it is important and ideal to have quality prospects, who are you to decide what is quality and what is not? The beauty is that social media filters those for you. When you draw someone to be a fan for a contest, they are either doing it because they love you and want you to have their business—the contest is just an incentive, or they want to win the prize and don't care. One or the other. So when they get into your channel (become a fan), they get your postings; and if they like what they hear and then stay and listen, then the process of "knowing that I care leads them to care about what I know can take hold. Then, if they don't like me and what I have to say, they can unlike me. Therefore, prospects filter themselves, while attracting those who care."
Suhr-Lichty Agency in Nebraska maintains a Facebook page with more than 12,000 fans (in a community of 7,000,) and Vice President Mark Suhr says the reason is that the agency constantly wants to prove that it is made up of real people, not just insurance professionals, who are totally dedicated to the community."
"The agency also helps other agents and local community and business groups with their social media skills," he says. We started with 200 fans, but we have grown quickly as we have showcased our people and connections to the community."
The agency also uses podcasts and QR codes to reach fans in more ways than just its Facebook page and its Web site.
The bottom line of these agents is that just focusing on selling is not as productive as first establishing true people-to-people relationships, using the social media tools as the first step.
Tom Wetzel is president of a full-service, insurance-exclusive marketing communications/public affairs firm with a special practice devoted to social media in the insurance industry. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is also on Facebook and Twitter.