Social Media Forum
Keep it local and targeted
Agents hold the key to productive use of social media
By Tom Wetzel
Every year at this time, I take on the role of prognosticator and discuss what I think will happen in the social media space for the coming 12 months. Two years ago I talked about two big trends: the emphasis on strategy over tactics and the growing cooperation between agents and carriers on social media activity. Last year, I saw the accelerating expansion of social media into commercial lines and predicted a growing understanding that social media must be an enterprise function and not a silo. Sadly, that last prediction has yet to take hold fully. In 2013, however, I think social media use within the industry will take a great leap forward with agents leading the way.
It's not that insurers will suddenly stop tweeting and posting. They will not cease to provide content and valuable guidance to those agents who seek it. More carriers will launch their own social media programs this year, and those already participating will continue to refine and improve their activity. It is becoming clear, however, that agents hold the key to long-term social media success. Why? Because agents have the strongest local presence and are best able to make the sale, for both policy transactions and for forging deeper, on-going and natural relationships with policy holders.
"We are past the stage where a company could just stick up a Facebook page and be done with it," declares Terry Golesworthy, president of the Boston-based Customer Respect Group. "The next phase will belong to agents. They are the point of sale." Golesworthy's firm studies the social media activity of the entire industry and issues detailed analyses through its monthly newsletter, "Social Eyes."
"Playtime's over," he says matter-of-factly. Golesworthy says insurers have, up to now, focused most of their attention on developing their own social media presence. He notes, however, that just 10 insurers have collected more than 80% of all the industry Facebook page "likes." And those companies are the same ones that also have spent the most on TV ads. Then he poses the obvious follow-up questions: What role does social media play for insurers? In other words, who likes us, and why?
Flo and Farmers have millions of likes; however, the jury is still out as to what extent those likes translate into sales. There is no question, of course, about the value of social media in increasing brand awareness. It's harder, though, for companies to cultivate deep, lasting relationships from a distance, even a digital one. Which is why I think independent agents now have a powerful advantage if they will seize the opportunity.
Social media is no longer a novelty—just having a social media presence is not enough to attract and keep followers. In that sense, the social media space has matured. There is now more emphasis on effective and benefit-producing participation, which will manifest itself in two trends that agents can and should embrace: micro-targeting and customization.
The national election last November focused a bright light on the importance of data and the process of micro-targeting, both of which were used extensively to reach voters and boost turnout.
Micro-targeting involves detailed analysis of a company's consumers, the collecting of extensive amounts of data and using it to pinpoint and communicate precisely with the customers the company wants to reach. Micro-targeting requires a deep understanding of one's target markets, which can then be converted into action steps.
In political use, micro-targeting enables the tailoring of messages to individual voters and contact with phone calls, volunteer visits, and fund-raising e-mails.
Among insurers in the social media space, variations on the concept of micro-targeting include Acuity's Facebook page for long-distance truckers, Allstate's Facebook page devoted to motorcyclists, the use of Pinterest by Petplan Insurance and The Hartford's "For a Lifetime" blog on aging-related issues written by the company's in-house team of gerontologists.
For agents, the goal is not to reach 900 million Facebook users—just those that represent target markets, such as owners of motorcycles or boats, parents with small children, senior citizens who live in a specific community or region, or business owners in specific industries. And while an agent does not have the IT capability or the need to slice and dice marketing data as a carrier would, an agent can learn a great deal about his or her own markets just by listening on social media sites—what policy holders are thinking, what keeps them up at night. In using micro-targeting, keep in mind four points:
1. Set clear objectives and determine how your micro-targeting efforts will be evaluated.
2. Identify those target groups you want to reach.
3. Create messages the target groups will respond to favorably. Where will they be most interested and receptive to your message?
4. Measure results and make changes accordingly.
As I have said in past columns, social media participation requires producing a steady stream of content, at least several times a week, if not more. And the message seems to be working as more agents are posting more and better content. At the same time, it may be tempting to take shortcuts by relying too much on generic messages, such as "what to do when your house floods" or "make sure your homeowners policy is up to date." These messages are valuable, but don't overdo it. Content must be factual, of course, but also unique and localized—otherwise your social media activity will sound like every other agent. Use some creativity, memorable photos, and have some fun. Independent agents have a powerful advantage in being local. Use it.
Tom Wetzel is president of a full-service, insurance-exclusive marketing communications/public affairs firm with a special practice devoted to social media for agents. He can be reached at email@example.com. The company's Web site is www.wetzelandassociates.com. He is also on Facebook and Twitter and a blog at www.thegoodrisk.com.