To the 77 percent of independent insurance agencies that don’t have a social media presence, creating a profile and trying to form “friendships” via a computer can be daunting. Once an agency gets online, however, tools such as blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and RSS feeds actually can help an agency build more thoughtful relationships with other agents and their customers, according to Sara Ruggiero, director of marketing and Kristin Rielly, new media developer, of Irwin Siegel Agency Inc. in Rock Hill, N.Y.
Irwin Siegel’s entry into social media began about a year and a half ago, following the re-launch of the company’s Web site.
“Originally we had hired an outside agency to help us learn and to implement SEO, which is search engine optimization, for our Web site,” Rielly said. Once she learned Web site development and SEO, she started experimenting with Twitter and LinkedIn “to break out and see how these tools were going to work for us, and [to see] if we could begin a dialogue with clients.”
The company found both their broker clients and their customers — the human service and social service agencies that they help to provide coverage for — were using the tools.
“We had very nice success with that, building relationships and forming new ones,” Rielly said. “Because LinkedIn is a network for professionals, I was able to make tremendous connections with brokers and other people in the insurance industry that gave me tons of information and resources that I could bring back to Irwin Siegel Agency. In addition … there are also group sites on LinkedIn for a lot of the nonprofit organizations that we service. So there’s a whole additional level of communication that we were able to find and participate in.”
Based on that initial foray into social media, the company then decided to expand its online presence with a Facebook page, adding an insurance “campus” for its broker audience, starting RSS feeds to disseminate important information and using online directories to link to and tie its online communications together. That led to an e-mail marketing plan, in which the company distributes press releases and other messages through e-mail blasts about new programs, discounts and services that would benefit clients and potential clients. E-newsletters are distributed to customers to focus on risk management and implement loss control, as well as to share relevant industry trends.
Anytime the company finds an article that social service agencies might benefit from, it Tweets out the information and links. Or, if one of its broker/agency clients has a new accomplishment, that information is shared. Details about a new product or service generally are posted immediately, with a message relayed out on all of the social media networks, Rielly said. With an e-mail marketing plan, the company tries to be a little more strategic and plan it based on trends in the industry or events happening across the nation.
Within its online communities, Irwin Siegel tries to strike a balance between informing the public and potential clients about what the company does and the products it offers, with providing information that’s relevant and provides value. For instance, many nonprofit providers are seeking ways to earn money and increase their funding, given the down economy, Ruggiero said. Because Irwin Siegel has a few partnerships with grant providers, sharing information about how to seek and apply for grants helps the company to establish relationships with those nonprofits customers on a deeper level.
“We pass along messages and links, and really try to connect the dots through an online means,” Rielly said. “Have they had an issue with abuse? Have they had an issue with a virus attacking their network or electronic data? We’ll try to address an issue that’s specific to them, and then offer our services as a response, or we’ll learn from them the things that they need.”
So whether the information being passed along is about legislation the nonprofit community is trying to get passed, or finding answers to common questions, having a social media presence helps customers feel as if “they have direct access to you,” Rielly added.
The pair admitted that it takes time to develop a presence on the online social networks, but noted it would take time to build any new marketing campaign. And after a while, using the networks in conjunction with a marketing plan will become second-nature. More importantly, they said conversing in online communities pays off.
“We know it’s working because we’re out there on so many different networks, and people are coming back to our Web site and going to our contents page,” Rielly said.
The company also has several anecdotes, where Rielly will start a Twitter conversation with a broker who has a similar program, for instance, or find a broker who offers a niche program that’s close to Irwin Siegel’s.
“We’ll reach out and let them know that we have different coverage options available. They will ‘Tweet’ back, and that will eventually lead to an e-mail, a phone call and a few submissions,” Ruggiero said.
She noted that the social media has helped the company to showcase its “personality” to a broader audience, and to help broker partners as well as customers better understand the company and the people working behind the scenes.
“The social media concept really includes a lot more than Twitter or Facebook,” Ruggiero added. “We should be really listening to our clients’ needs and really understanding what it is that they want, and I think this is forcing us to do it on a much more intimate level. … It’s a brand new level of conversation that we weren’t afforded the opportunity before these networks became popular.”
Listen to the podcast of Insurance Journal’s interview with Irwin Siegel’s Ruggiero and Rielly about forming connections online, and the importance of incorporating social media tools into a broader company marketing strategy.
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