In the days before superstorm Sandy, there were many questions. When and where would it arrive, and what kind of destruction would it bring? Later, those questions were replaced with others: were friends and family OK? How many homes were destroyed? Where would people go? When would the power be restored? And how would insurance companies help?
As manager of an insurance company social media program, I also was looking for those answers. I didn’t need the information for my own safety — I was fortunate to be warm and dry in Columbus, Ohio. The questions were important to me because our claims team was already mobilized and responding to people in need. We needed to get as much information to our customers as possible, and we used Facebook and Twitter to help.
We weren’t the only ones using social media to get messages out fast and furiously to those in need. The mayor of New York City used his @MichaelBloomberg Twitter account to give instructions to residents within minutes. Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, N.J., responded to residents reaching out to him on Twitter asking for emergency assistance. FEMA, the Red Cross, National Weather Service, and countless other insurance companies and recovery organizations were Tweeting constantly and using Facebook and other sites to find, communicate with and respond to people in Sandy’s path. According to the social analytics service Topsy, nearly 20 million Tweets have been sent with the hashtag “#Sandy.”
The ROI of Social Media
As the initial flurry of activity online began to wind down, I had time to consider the one question that I hadn’t heard as we responded to Sandy — a question that had been asked of me by insurance agents many times over the years. Often, it’s been asked defensively, with body language and tone indicating that the questioner doesn’t expect a satisfactory answer: “What’s the return-on-investment (ROI) of social media?”
In all its destruction and tragedy, Sandy illustrates why this is the wrong question to ask. To demand proof of social media’s ROI is to ask: What’s the ROI of communicating instantly, with millions of people, in a time of extreme danger and need? For an insurance company, what’s the ROI of being able to reach your customers in their worst moments so they know exactly where you are and how to get help from you? For an agent, what’s the ROI of connecting with your local clients, even as you’re dealing with your own damaged property and displaced staff? For the residents of Staten Island, what’s the ROI of getting immediate instructions to safety? For their families, what’s the ROI of knowing the people you love are safe?
For insurance professionals, social media is not something to resist. Rather, it’s the answer to a business problem shared by our industry. When a customer has a loss, how do we make sure they know what to do, how to get in touch with us and how we will respond? After a catastrophe, how do we communicate our response plan and logistics to help as many customers as quickly as possible? How do we accomplish this quickly, effectively and inexpensively? It’s as if social media were specifically designed to meet the needs of insurance companies and agencies responding to catastrophic events.
If you’re wondering where to begin in social media, or what the ROI will be, focus first on building your presence online and connecting with your customers now, so you’re prepared for the next super-storm.
You can’t wait until your house burns down before buying insurance to cover the damage. And you can’t wait until your business depends on communicating with your customers to recognize the value of social media.