New York’s Bryan Insurance Gets Personal With Social Media

There’s no better time for insurance agents and brokers to delve into social networking technologies than now, according to those who study marketing and technology trends. More than four in five U.S. online adults use social networking tools — Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter and blogs — at least once a month, and half participate in social networks, according to Forrester Research.

Some innovative agents are already reaping the benefits of social networking. New Windsor, N.Y.-based Bryan Insurance Agency, for instance, handles of mix of approximately 65 percent personal lines, and 35 percent commercial lines business in New York’s Hudson Valley Region. As owner, Amy Bryan has worked with regional, smaller regional and larger companies, and has found success with social networking tools because they are an extension of why she got into the insurance business and started the agency; she likes the interaction in dealing with customers and helping people.

Within the agency, Bryan has explored such social media as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and a blog. She also is looking into incorporating other tools, such as video, to use within the agency. She has approximately 400 friends on her personal Facebook page, and about 225 fans on her Facebook Fan page.

“What sparked my interest is I think that’s a way people are communicating nowadays,” Bryan said. “And so if that’s how people are communicating, then it’s important as an agency that we’re on there as well, communicating with them. … This business is all about networking and building up relationships, and I think that using these types of tools, it’s not different than building a relationship, you’re just doing it online versus face-to-face.”

She noted that in the past two years that she’s embraced the technology, she’s learned a lot, even if she spends just 10 to 15 minutes a day updating her pages. For instance, she started out using social media as sales opportunity and hoping to see an immediate return. Now, instead of trying to tell people what services her company offers, she tries to make her social networking sites resources.

“Now we’re more informational to people, so that when they think of insurance, if they need anything, they know that we’re always here, but they can also use us as a resource as well,” Bryan said.

She added that she also has tried to make the information more personal, rather than using a canned, already written piece of information. This helps to make the interaction more personal, even though it is taking place via computers. “It’s no different than sitting down and having a cup of coffee with someone,” she said.

Bryan noted the Facebook Fan page, in particular, has helped her agency’s to interact with customers and keep them updated on things that are going on within the company. For instance, when it was snowy, the agency posted information on Facebook that was broadcast with Twitter about safe driving during the winter. The Fan page also has been useful in that it provides statistics on age range, countries, languages spoken and gender of “fans.” Such market research is helpful in that it tells Bryan who’s watching her company and cares what she has to say.

Knowing who’s “listening” online is important, Bryan said, because it helps to establish personal relationships. “A lot of people will take information from other places nowadays on the Internet,” she said. Consequently, social networking tools need to “fit the personality of your agency in order for people to believe in you and follow you. … You have customers for a reason: They like doing business with you. So you kind of have to take that and project that on the Internet.”

Other agents are also involved in social media. The other profiles include:

California’s Crescenta Valley Insurance

Texas’ Preferred Personal Insurance Agency

Insurance Journal Editors Stephanie Jones and Kenneth J. St. Onge contributed to this article.