Posted on 03 Apr 09
Even if you're not leaving messages on someone's wall or tweeting your every move or linked-in to other business connections, the evolution to social networking via Twitter, FaceBook, LinkedIn, Flickr, You Tube, Insurance Campus, and other platforms has entered your world. Now what?, you ask. What is this all about, should I jump into the world of social media and how can it help my business?
To talk about social networking, how it's transforming the way we communicate, and its potential for our industry, we spoke with Rick Morgan, an independent consultant and senior associate with Aartrijk, a branding firm based in Virginia. Rick has more than 40 years of experience in innovative technology, marketing, and publishing in the independent insurance agency system, and has been at the forefront of helping the industry become proactive in capitalizing on new technologies and how to go about integrating them into their business models. He has been part of ACT’s (The Agents Council of Technology) workgroup committees, including one designed to assist independent agents, carriers, and other industry organizations in their understanding of the evolution of the Internet to a Web 2.0 culture, and how they might benefit from these new technology-enabled strategies and get started with them. They are developing a blueprint, a “starter kit” to help take the industry down the path of social networking.
As this is a topic with several aspects to it, we will be doing a number of interviews with Rick. Here we define what social networking is all about and how to go about getting your "feet wet".
Annie George (AG): Rick, let's first provide an overview of social media, social networking.
Rick Morgan (RM): Social media involves people creating content using technology to make communication easier, to interact, engage, and influence. It can involve blogs, forums, podcasts, wall postings, photo sharing, video postings, instant messaging. There are communities established around these forms of new communication platforms.
AG: Social networking digitizes communities, brings together people with a common passion or goal or values or with common needs and gives them the tools to communicate. It basically digitally "stitches" these communities and provides a platform for them to engage and find out what is going on.
RM: Yes, it's as if we are going back to the future…we are going back to our communities, to community-building, only this time we are using technology to do so. The social need for people to 'belong' is what resonates the most in this technology evolution. We now have the technology to go back when communities mattered but in a different way. Social networking gives people an opportunity to learn about each other, to get to know what they're about. This can be powerful…you're building relationships, establishing trust. And this can translate to significant business opportunities for those who can see the possibilities. Imagine, belonging to a network on FaceBook, one of the various platforms out there for on-line communication, and you are looking to find out about a specific product or service, an insurance product that you need. You’re going to ask your friends, your family, your 'digital family' for recommendations. Now imagine you're an insurance agent and a part of this network.
AG: They'll find you. And you will be able to offer expertise on the subject.
Rick suggests that in order to better understand how social networking works and to feel comfortable with some of the concerns that arise with this new medium, such as privacy issues, security, branding control, ROI potential, and overall management, monitoring and measuring of activities, that you join a couple of the networks personally and see what they’re all about. By so doing, you can see the potential they can have on your business. Furthermore Rick suggests that you begin blogging.
"Agencies should begin to blog," says Rick. "What I find interesting is that this form of communication can morph into a website for them, for a platform to promote their programs and services." Rick explains that you can set up or redesign your company website as a blog with tabs, so that you have the basic content needed to communicate and brand your business: About Us, Our Services, Our Programs, etc. Yet, the landing page (the home page) is a blog, always "fresh", so you get people – clients – engaged. They will join your blog on issues that matter to them. You can include articles, RSS feeds (the ability to include news headlines, audio, video from other sources) so that you have updated content constantly on your "website"…a reason for your clients and prospects to keep coming back.
"On the blog, you can talk about issues such as how to submit a claim, for example," says Rick. "It's another way of presenting content. You are inviting people to comment, to connect, and sometimes the responses are even more interesting. You establish a community around your blog…you have an engaged audience, and now they have a reason to come to your site. You are engaging in a conversation with your customers and prospects."
Rick explains that websites are becoming blogs and blogs are becoming websites.
"Technology now provides you with the tools so that you, as the agency or wholesaler, can update your information so that it’s relevant. And anyone can do it in the agency, as long as they have management’s ear and understand the overall philosophy and message the business wants conveyed, " says Rick.
Rick suggests that if you are new to all of this that you begin to blog personally, before incorporating it into your business. This is how he began, blogging to friends and family about his travels. You can easily do this by using Blogger, and you'll get a feel for how it works. Choose a topic that interests you and begin to blog about it.
AG: One of the concerns that comes up is that people don't feel comfortable writing, they think they need to be journalists. How do you address this?
RM: You don't need to be a writer to blog . . .begin with your thoughts, perhaps post pictures, keep it short. It will begin to take a life of its own, as your family and friends respond and share their interests, hobbies. It should take about 25-30 minutes to set up the blog. Just keep it simple at first. And play with it for a while, as you get more comfortable you will start thinking about the value a blog can have to your business. You'll gain insight and get the creative juices flowing. It's a way of getting your feet wet and 'playing' in a non-threatening environment.
Once you decide to take blogging to the business level, Rick recommends that you make sure you have a business-based strategy where this all fits in and makes sense – that you know what you want to accomplish. For example, what market are you after? Is your goal to establish a social presence in a specific industry, to distinguish yourself as an expert in that sector? Or is it to strengthen the service you provide to your clients. Objectives and goals and a corporate strategy need to be defined.
AG: What about the question of ROI with social networking?
RM: It's difficult to measure pure ROI, but this being said, you are building and expanding relationships with these platforms. You go to Chamber of Commerce meetings, breakfast meetings, cocktail parties, charity events, all in an effort to network and build and enrich relationships. Now you are doing it digitally…you are enhancing what you already do. And you are doing it in a way that people are coming to you.
Rick goes on to say that these relationships will turn into business. "Go back to when the industry began to automate, there were a lot of skeptics as to how automation was going to help their business. Fast-forward 25 years…you have to have a leap of faith. Sometimes the traditional metrics will not apply. Sometimes it's about quality, not quantity…a concept people have to look at."
In upcoming issues of "Insurance Unplugged", Rick will discuss with us potential marketing strategies using new media; we'll take a look at what companies in the industry are doing with social networking; discuss the role of a "Community Manager"; among other issues.
For more information about Rick's consulting services, take a look at: www.aartrijk.com as well as his BLOG.