Social media is an oft-used term these days, but many people misunderstand both the meaning of the term and the value of its tools.
Social media is like other forms of media in that it offers a means to convey and communicate information. The important distinction here is that social media isn't just regular media like a newspaper; it is a social form of media meaning that the people who are reading your message can communicate back with you, opening up the opportunity for the exchange of thoughts and opinions. This level of involvement changes both your responsibility as a provider of information and communication, introduces different means for communicating, and requires a different set of communication skills in order to effectively spread your message.
It's important that we don't overlook this popular tool-because insurance companies have already realized its value. According to the Celent Research and Advisory Firm, as of April 2010, Twitter accounts are used by nine out of ten of the top non-life insurance companies. Of those nine, eight have a Facebook page. And while this shows how effective it can be for large insurers, it doesn't even touch on how instrumental it can be in improving business for individual agencies.
Social Media Tools
The most important thing to understand about social media is the various tools available and how they can change the face of your agency's marketing plan. Let's start with one of the most popular forms of social media out there-Facebook.
Facebook is like an online and interactive biography with pictures, quotes, and information about you or your agency. Because Facebook is an interactive site, you can host discussions on your page, send out notes and messages, comment on other peoples' pages and create a central social and informational hub for your agency.
If you think Facebook isn't important to the social media landscape, think again. A 2010 chart by Experian shows that Facebook grabbed 7.07 percent of the market share, beating Google's 7.03 percent. Google-a tool used daily for internet searches-was beaten by Facebook. That should indicate just how important Facebook really is.
But how can it help your agency? Here are just a few ways:
- Client retention: Facebook works as a tool for client retention because it helps make you appear real and accessible and you can use it to spread knowledge and educate consumers. This empowers your existing clients but also draws other clients to you.
- Cross selling: Facebook opens up cross selling opportunities as clients who have purchased one line of insurance from you can read about the other lines you have available on your Facebook page. This can introduce them to their need for the other lines you sell-and it doesn't come across as a sales attempt.
- Agency visibility: Facebook also helps your agency become more visible. More and more consumers are looking for local agents and businesses on sites like Facebook so that they can get a feel for the service provider before working with them. If you use the word 'Insurance' in your Facebook page's name, then you will show up in searches utilizing that term. You can further target the searches you show up in by adding information like the specific lines you sell or the location you are in on your page's name-naming your page 'XYZ Life Insurance' instead of just 'XYZ Insurance.'
- Agency authority: The more good information you put out there, the more you support the general opinion that you and your agency are authorities in the industry.
Twitter is a different experience than Facebook. On Twitter, you send out short 140-character messages to the people who follow you. The messages can be random quotes, links to blog posts or sites, direct conversational items and more. Like any networking event, it's important to use Twitter as a means of making conversation rather than just shouting your message to your followers. You can sprinkle links to your blog posts in amongst your conversational ramblings, but be sure to use a URL shortener like bit.ly so that you have enough room to send your link and a short message.
Like Facebook, LinkedIn gives you the opportunity to post a picture of yourself and a bio. But unlike Facebook, LinkedIn is considered a professional networking site rather than a primarily personal site. You can use LinkedIn to get introductions to potential clients, collect public recommendations of your work, find other business owners that you can market individual insurance and group plans to, and you can become a member of niche groups that can introduce you to other members and help you weed through the vast membership to find potential clients.
YouTube allows you to post videos (or Podcasts) that other people can send out as links and can comment. You can use these videos to explain the different insurance plans you offer or to explain coverage options in greater detail. You can also collect client testimonials on video and post them to YouTube. Once completed you can post these videos on your website, blog or Facebook page making sure they have a broad range of potential viewers.
Joining the social media craze is not just about being opportunistic, fashionable or making sure your agency isn't left out-it's about finding a new and more efficient way to build client relationships; a way to retain clients and a means to create a more authoritative vision of you and your agency. Develop these accounts as you would any other form of marketing and communication. Take notes on the things that work and those that don't and attempt to tailor your activities to the platform as well as the audience and you could give your agency an important edge against the competition.