Commentary: Sandy Shows Social Media is Practically Made for Insurers

By Katie Peet | December 17, 2012

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 these questions were replaced with others: were friends and family OK? How many homes were destroyed? Where would people go and when would the power be restored? How would insurance companies help?

As manager of an insurance company social media program, I was also looking for these answers. I didn’t need the information for my own safety — I was fortunate to be warm and dry in Columbus, Ohio. These 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 didn’t expect a satisfactory answer: “What’s the return-on-investment of social media?”

In all its destruction and tragedy, Superstorm Sandy illustrates why this is the wrong question to ask. To demand proof of social media’s return-on-investment 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 they can 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 for helping 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.

Don’t Wait

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.

Peet is the social media director at State Auto Insurance Cos., a super regional property and casualty company headquartered in Columbus, Ohio. Follow Katie on Twitter @katieherbstpeet.

About Katie Peet

Peet is the social media director at State Auto Insurance Cos., a super regional property and casualty company headquartered in Columbus, Ohio. Follow Peet on Twitter @katieherbstpeet.

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