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Social Media Forum

Learning from Mickey Mouse

How icons use social media to maintain a strong brand

By Tom Wetzel

Mickey Mouse and your agency may not first appear to have anything in common, but you can adopt techniques used by business icons to strengthen your brand, as some agents are already doing using social media.

Disney and Starbucks are worldwide, instantaneously recognized brands that conjure strong, positive feelings with consumers. But aside from memorable characters, well-run theme parks and good coffee, they also stoke those feelings in their social media activity, from the images and sounds they project to the topics raised and the comments they make and respond to on Facebook, Twitter and other sites. Agents can do the same, though on a much smaller scale.

It all starts with having a sustainable competitive advantage or, in simpler terms, a distinct and promotable strength that can be maintained over time. For example, being the first in your community to introduce a new product or service is great; however, the advantage is usually only temporary until competitors start offering the same thing. For many agents, a better differentiator is a broad, significant and ongoing commitment to their communities and then promoting that commitment aggressively with social media.

"We have an advantage precisely because we are local," says agent Paul T. Murphy of Malden, Massachusetts. "People are more apt to read a blog on insurance from someone in their neighborhood than someone far away. My belief, though, is that you also have to communicate with sincerity. We sell service to the community, not just insurance. You have to give back to the community that supports you. If you don't, people will tune you out."

For Murphy, giving back includes supporting local businesses. The agency's Web site includes a Partners section which lists local businesses, and its YouTube channel (more than 2,000 views) further promotes the agency in a series of video clips. Its Facebook page is also Murphy's personal page (more than 1,100 fans) to emphasize his personal connection to the community.

Another Massachusetts agency focuses on firehouses to express its community commitment while boosting its social media reach. Chris Misterka, marketing & sales coordinator for Kaplansky Insurance of Brookline, Massachusetts, says that the agency launched its "Facebook Firehouse Contest" last December to honor local fire departments as well as build its brand. The premise was simple: The agency and its partner in the promotion, ARS Restoration, would donate $5,000 to the firehouse that collected the most "likes" on its Firehouse photo posted on the Kaplansky Facebook page. More than 20 firehouses participated. When the contest started last December, the agency's Facebook page had about 100 fans. When the contest ended in February, it had more than 3,200. In the same time frame, the number of visits to the agency's Web site doubled.

"The contest generated a lot of good will," says Misterka. We've received great feedback from the firehouses, employees, our carriers and policyholders."

Says Claudia McClain of McClain Insurance Services of Everett, Washington, "We have to be uber local, to be far more visible than the larger companies. All of us know that it is critical to take care of our communities and to promote others as much as possible. When Boeing right here in Everett won a major contract, we promoted the fact on our Facebook page."

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has been quoted as saying that "everything we've tried to do is steeped in humanity," in referring to contributions of time and money by the company to the communities it serves. He also speaks to the company's goal to create a "third place" between home and office where people can connect with each other comfortably and at low cost.

McClain took a page from this Starbucks playbook by offering a free conference room to local nonprofit groups such as the Boy Scouts and local school groups. "Some of the organizations that use the room are policyholders; some aren't," says McClain. "But we're not doing it to sell insurance. These groups make our community better and we want to express our appreciation in a tangible way."

Disney, Starbucks and other business icons typically support their brands on social media using three distinct tracks, all of which can overlap. Agents can use the same technique to strengthen their social media activity.

The Personality Appeal. This element addresses how social media participation looks and sounds. On the Disney Facebook page, for example, one can replay and comment on clips from many Disney films. The page itself looks like a Disney film with a lot of color and links to available downloads and photos of recent events at the theme parks. The Starbucks Facebook page features attractive photos of steaming cups of coffee.

The Rational Appeal. This element addresses how the company performs and its value. The Disney page offers a 25% discount at the Disney store in honor of its 25th anniversary. The photos showcase the cleanliness and fun of the theme parks and the most iconic images of the films. In similar fashion, the Starbucks Facebook page features links to order gift cards and a map of the 32 countries where the company maintains locations and links to their respective Facebook pages (e.g., Starbucks UK).

The Emotional Appeal. This last track addresses the moods and feelings that social media activity creates as well as the associations it inspires. With Disney, being able to replay a beloved film clip revives powerful and positive feelings. On the Starbucks Facebook page, the colorful images and customers posting comments about coffee evoke similar feelings.

The proof is in the numbers. Disney has more than 32 million fans on Facebook, more than 683,000 of whom share content with their friends (that's the number "Talking About This"). Starbucks has 28 million fans on its Facebook page with more than 353,000 sharing content.

Disney and Starbucks may have started with strong icons around which they could build their social media activities; however, it is also true that agents can create their own iconic images that will resonate with prospects and policyholders. For example, what images could an agent post that could produce positive feelings, such as a photo of a family standing next to their newly rebuilt home after a devastating tornado or images of the proud members of 20 firehouses?

It bears repeating that social media is a powerful tool with which to reach current policyholders and prospects, not to overtly sell but to build deeper connections with them based on greater familiarity and trust.

The author

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 He is also on Facebook and Twitter.


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