Don’t Forget, It’s SOCIAL Media

November 17, 2011

Don’t Forget, It’s SOCIAL Media

By Linda Koco

PHOENIX – When producers and brokerage general agents think social media, they should also think “party,” says Amanda Vega, CEO of Amanda Vega Consulting, Phoenix.

That is one of several tips Vega has for producers who want to use social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, for business purposes.

Too often, producers and BGAs think that to adapt social media to their business needs, all they have to do is go on Facebook and Twitter and talk about their firm, she says. She was speaking with InsuranceNewsNet in advance of her presentations today at the National Association of Independent Life Brokerage Agencies (NAILBA) annual meeting.

Instead, Vega says, producers need to focus on “being social” while using social media, in the same way that they might be social when they are at a party.

For example, she says, don’t post that “I am so-and-so and I work at such-and-such, and I sell… Rather, talk conversationally about your interests, hobbies, activities and trends you’re seeing, as you do when talking with people at a party.”

The object is to give people a chance to know the producer as a person, she says. Later on, the producer can “finesse” the conversation around to some business interests if there seems to be an interest.

Compliance issues

Producers and BGAs do need to be aware of compliance issues when using social media, Vega adds.

For instance, if the conversation turns to names of publicly traded companies, producers who hold securities licenses should steer away from making comments on their Facebook pages that endorse, or even seem to endorse, that company.

The type of license the producer has — for instance, Series 5, 6 or 7 — affects how deep the social media regulations of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) go, Vega points out.  What and how much the B/D sells is another factor.

Her recommendation for insurance producers is to focus on providing information about a product or company rather than an endorsement. She suggests providing a link to an article or to a website that people might want to see to learn more.

Another informational approach is to put out little nuggets of information on social media that others can then pass on.  “For instance, you could tweet about how variable annuities differ from indexed annuities,” Vega says. “That just might pass by the eyeballs of someone who wants to know about that, and now, you’ve become their resource.”

Providing educational information on social media does bring attention to a business, Vega says.  In her own tweets, she says she has had people tweet her back. Others have commented inside her original post. Some have asked to take a conversation offline, so they can get more information or perhaps request a phone number.

“I’ve done that myself. For instance, I saw a random tweet about 529 college funding plans. I followed up, so I could get more information by email. I learned about alternatives to 529 plans that way. Then I connected the person who sent out the original tweet to our financial planner. The result is that we ended up purchasing this guy’s product. A random tweet spurred it all.  It’s just like a random conversation at a party, where someone follows up with you later about something you said.”

Vega urges producers to avoid divulging information related to client relationships, while posting on social media. “For instance, don’t use Twitter to tell who bought which policy.”  That’s not a violation of FINRA rules, she allows, but it is an ethical violation.

In a similar vein, she says BGAs should avoid tweeting or posting information about their Employee of the Month, their Biggest Performer of the Month, or other accomplishments like that.

Tweeting about that might appear to be a good way to affirm a person’s success, she concedes. “But it could lead to trouble if someone sees it and starts to think that this person might now have more money.”

Also avoid putting recruiting messages — such as “Join us!” — into social media postings. “People get turned off by that, especially if that is all the message says,” Vega explains.

What to do

Vega’s to-do list includes these additional pointers: 

  • Use social media to maintain business once it’s on the books.  “It’s great for immediate communication and makes for an amazing customer service experience,” she says.
  • Be sure to respond when people tweet about something, perhaps with a question or concern. “Ideally, tweets of this kind should be answered within three hours, and Facebook entries, within four hours.
  • Let people know if you won’t be able to respond right away. “If you can’t get back to them over the weekend, for instance, tweet a message saying something like ‘The office is closed for the weekend.’  Or, in the firm’s profile on Facebook, say something like, ‘This desk is manned from 9 am to 4 pm weekdays.’ "
  • Address any negative messages about the firm. Sometimes, people get “fired up” if the firm does not respond or takes a negative post down, Vega says. Some will then post their complaints on other websites. This can affect the image of the company and it might hurt the business, she says, so it’s best to respond, and to do so quickly.
  • Remember that positive messages can help a business. “If you do social media right, it can help you compete,” Vega says.

Linda Koco, MBA, is a contributing editor to InsuranceNewsNet, specializing in life insurance, annuities and income planning. Linda can be reached at [email protected].

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