The value of social media as a tool for marketing and selling property/casualty insurance may be a matter of debate but one thing is for certain: While the nature of social media may be evolving, it’s not going away.
Many property/casualty insurance agencies have embraced tools like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to varying degrees. The most successful users are those who know their markets and are focused on what they’re going after, said Laird Rixford, vice president of Products and Marketing at Insurance Technologies Corporation (ITC), based in Carrollton, Texas.
“The big pitfall is in not knowing your market,” Rixford said. “If you’re sitting there trying to sell commercial policies on Facebook, it’s just a waste of time.”
On the other hand, Facebook and Twitter offer the ability to showcase the personality of an insurance agency and assure customers that they matter to you.
On Facebook, “one out of every seven posts should be self-promotional,” Rixford said. “The other six should be just fun things that you are doing for charity, your community, what’s going on in your community. Just being out there is what people like to see.”
Through Twitter, an agent is able to communicate to their customers that the agency is available and is listening to them.
“Twitter is more of a consumer customer support channel,” Rixford said. It’s about letting them know you are there, “which is what any consumer wants to hear from their insurance agent as they’re going through a claim or disaster or something. They want to know that their insurance agent is there for them.”
With both Facebook and Twitter, “everything goes back to your website,” Rixford said. “It’s where you put all your content, where you educate your customers. It’s your home on the web, so everything points back to there.”
That’s exactly the strategy employed by the Ron Patterson Insurance Agency Inc., in Richardson, Texas.
“What we’re using Facebook for primarily is education to our clients,” said agency Chairman Ron Patterson. “Take claims for example. We had a recent fire here two weeks ago that was caused by a leak of gas. Fortunately the house didn’t explode. But that could happen in a commercial building just like it could happen in a residence. We use that. We warn people about those types of things as a communication tool.”
Patterson, speaking during a panel discussion at the Independent Insurance Agents of Texas 2013 Joe Vincent Seminar, said his agency uses such educational opportunities on Facebook to drive people back to its website.
He cited another instance in which he had the opportunity to connect with his customers through Facebook, this time about car fires.
“We had a car that caught on fire in a parking lot down the street from us. One of our staff people took a picture of that car. … We took that picture and put it on our agency Facebook page — you know what happened? We spiked the interest. An incredible number of people looked at that,” Patterson said.
As a result, Patterson was able to educate customers on the dangers of car fires and ways to prevent them.
“That’s the connection that we’re making,” Patterson said. “When they go to our Facebook page they go back to our website to find out the products and services that we offer.”
While Facebook and Twitter are commonly seen as effective ways for retail agencies to communicate with consumers, many wholesale insurance organizations may not view those tools as being as useful in a business-to-business environment.
One specialty insurance wholesaler that sees things differently is Addison, Texas-based South & Western, which uses social media to supplement its overall branding initiative.
“Although some millennials look to social media as their primary source of information when making buying decisions, in the financial services industry, more traditional communication methods at this point are more readily accepted,” said South & Western vice president Bill Martin. “When we define ‘traditional,’ that would include electronic forms of communication including email marketing and highly functional websites.”
However, he said, social media “supports the buying decision by presenting your company brand in a different and fun environment. Since today most people use Facebook or Twitter in a purely recreational or leisure setting, presenting a complex subject such as insurance isn’t going to be on the top of anyone’s list of ‘fun things’ to research. That’s why it is important to present your company in a fun or interesting manner when using social media.”
South & Western’s brand, for instance, centers around the company’s mascot, a golden retriever named “Brighton,” Martin said.
To that end, South & Western’s “web services are appropriately referred to as ‘Rate Retrievers’ and ‘Policy Retrievers,'” Martin said. And through Facebook, the company promotes “Brighton” to its retail agency customers.
“By presenting ‘Brighton’ in a fun and fresh way through social media, hopefully other insurance professionals are able to experience a little humor while becoming informed on some of the products and services our organization can provide. The feedback we have received has been overwhelmingly positive,” Martin said.
A Powerful Tool
“LinkedIn is an extremely powerful tool for staying in touch with business consumers,” Rixford said.
“It’s a very powerful tool, especially for people who are working larger accounts,” he said. For instance, if a producer is working an account but is not in contact with the actual decision-maker, they can go to LinkedIn to find the right person.
“By having just one connection with someone in that company, you can use LinkedIn to find other people in that company and connect with them. So you can get to the right person,” Rixford said. “That’s really big on large commercial policies that take a lot of time and effort.”
LinkedIn is also an excellent recruiting tool, he said. It’s a way to find and keep in touch with good talent in the industry, people that you know are knowledgeable.
“You will see that they might change jobs, they might be looking for a job, you’re keeping in touch with them,” he said.
“It’s that networking aspect. … It’s being in communication with multiple people with an easy to use channel, where you can post and everybody in your network sees it.”
The return on the investment placed in social media is not easily identified, Rixford acknowledged. But when it comes to marketing, there’s value in just staying in touch with people.
“If you’re consistently out there and you’re asking your insureds to follow you and to be engaged with you, they’re going to know that you’re listening and that actually helps improve retention,” he said.
It’s unlikely that somebody would surf Facebook to find an insurance agent to buy car insurance from, but if they are already connecting with an agency through social media, they are more apt to stay with them longer, Rixford said.
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