By Linda Koco
ORLANDO – One agent is getting 60 percent of his insurance business by using Facebook, and this is “absolutely the future,” said David Peak in a social media panel on Tuesday.
The Farmers producer sold 400 policies in 2010, has 1,200 fans and is reporting 50 percent growth, according to Peak, who is vice president of e-business for The Hartford.
In his view, connected agents are “three, six or nine months ahead” of other people in using social media to engage customers, he told a crowded audience at the annual Life Insurance Conference.
“Even if you aren’t active in interacting on social media, your best agents are, if not today, then in three to six months, not a year,” he told the company executives. “This is happening very fast.”
According to Peak, the connected agent tells all his friends, prospects and customers to get on his Facebook page. That’s where he has a conversation with them and engages them.
The third phase
Engagement by the intermediary is actually the third phase of company involvement in social media, the digital commerce expert said.
The first phase is branding and “amplification” (using social media to point end users back to tools on the company’s website). “That helps build trust,” especially if the carrier doesn’t use the word insurance.
If people see insurance in social media postings, they suspect there’s an agenda there, he said. “But if they realize the posting is not about a product agenda, the more they will trust you.”
The second phase of social media involvement is driving social media users to the website where the company offers interactivity and games, he said. Typically, the sits ask for some information in return or ask the person to do something.
But it’s in the third phase where agents and intermediaries interact with other social media users. That interaction is what can lead to sales, the Hartford executive indicated.
“If all you are doing is Stage I branding and amplification, then you are not doing as much as you could be” to help agents with engaging customers, he cautioned.
Peak offered a couple examples of how carriers could be of assistance.
One approach is to push syndicated content out to agents. A carrier can contract with one of the half-dozen or so companies that allow the carrier to syndicate content to third-party websites such as insurance agency websites, Peak said. The content is written in an agent’s voice, and the agent can tweak it if desired. Then the agent can post the content out to his or her 100-200 friends via social media, and ask those friends to “like” it.
“That’s how you build trust,” Peak said.
Rather than getting excited about getting 50,000 likes on the corporate website, carriers should be focusing on getting their agents to post local content and getting people to “like” it, he said.
The syndicated approach also frees the agent from the time and effort involved in constantly coming up with new material for posts, Peak indicated.
The content should have conversational tone, and discuss topics the way an agent would do when meeting the client and getting acquainted. “That’s how people interact in social media,” he said.
The other idea he offered was for carriers to provide agents a social media tool kit to post on the agent’s own website. That helps agents sell better because the content is pre-approved, and the agent can cut and paste it. “That’s like giving a pick ax and tools to miners rather than focusing on the mine itself,” Peak said.
In corporations, it can be hard to make the case for social media when management is looking at the return on investment for getting visitors to “like” content on the company website, Peak allowed. But the conversation shifts when the subject is examples of people making sales with the help of social media, he said.
Carrier use of social media growing
In the same panel, Todd Silverhart, corporate vice president and director of technology research at LIMRA, laid out data showing that carrier use of social media has grown over the past year.
Fifty-seven companies participated in the 2011 survey, and all had a public presence on the web. Of those, 25 percent said they were actively using social media in 2011. That’s up from 20 percent in 2010, Silverhart said.
In addition, 54 percent said they are tentatively planning to use social media in the next 12 months, up from 40 percent in 2010.
Meanwhile, only 4 percent said they have no social media plans — down from 40 percent in 2010.
Fifty-six percent named expanding brand awareness and consideration at the primary objective for use of public social media.
But the carriers also named compliance concerns at the topic challenge they see to use of social media — 80 percent in 2011, down from 88 percent the year earlier. “This is a declining concern, but it’s still heads and shoulders above all of the other challenges,” Silverhart said.
Of carriers actively using social media have a mean of 3.7 full-time employees working to support this involvement.
So, what about company support of producers use of social media? Among the companies currently active, 75 percent said they are doing home office monitoring, followed by 67 percent providing social media training, 67 percent providing pre-approved content, and 58 percent providing compliance training.
Only 4 percent of the surveyed carriers forbid their producers from establishing a social media presence for business/professional use, according to the LIMRA data.
Linda Koco, MBA, is a contributing editor to InsuranceNewsNet, specializing in life insurance, annuities and income planning. Linda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.