Posted on 07 Jul 09
Over the last few months we have featured interviews with Rick Morgan, senior associate with Aartrijk, about social media – what it is, how to get started, setting up a blog, and what is involved in terms of commitment and resources. In this issue, Rick and I discuss Facebook, a social networking platform with 200 million active users worldwide, and how as an agency you can get started in incorporating this media into your overall marketing strategy.
Annie George (AG): You and I are on one another’s Facebook pages. I see a lot of your “fans” and “favorites” are people from companies in the insurance sector. So I thought we would discuss Facebook in general and how agencies can begin to incorporate this social networking media in their business strategies.
Rick Morgan (RM): “The most important thing to consider is that it’s not about just jumping in without a plan…You need as a company to determine what you want to do and why; ask how does this new communication media fit into your agency’s overall business and marketing strategy. You don’t want to incorporate any new media inconsistently or poorly into your strategy. Once you define what you want to accomplish and why, then proceed.”
AG: Some people see Facebook as a waste of time, a place where people connect on-line but from a business standpoint, they think, ‘what’s this going to do for me?’.
RM: “I’d like to share an email I received from an agency [owner] recently about Facebook. He discovered that one of his employees was on Facebook during company time; this person was doing something personal during work. The employee told the agent that Facebook was something that the firm needed to pay attention to, that the agency should create a page on Facebook…that this is ‘how people my age connect’. The agent after some thought decided that perhaps this was something he needed to consider.
“Many companies have their IT departments blocking social networking sites, but they need to think through these policies and perhaps change their mindsets about it. We don’t want people wasting time, but at the same time having well-thought-out, effective social media practices and policies in place that are properly managed can be a big asset for an agency. One of the strongest advocates for an agency is its employees, who are on Facebook networking with their friends and families, writing about what they are doing, including what’s happening at work. Employees should be encouraged to spread the company brand in a productive way. Their network of friends and family are people who trust one another, and this is exactly what people want from a business partner, someone who they can trust. What better way to find out about insurance services than from your employees’ network of friends and family?”
Rick cites a recent interview with Richard Branson, founder and CEO of Virgin Group, on why small businesses are better than larger ones. Branson says that trust is part of today’s competitive advantage and that smaller companies are better at building this trust. He structured Virgin so that it’s a series of small companies with no more than 50-100 people in each unit, where people know each other by first name, get familiar with each other’s strengths and weakness, collaborate, and are responsible for the work they do. Branson believes this allows small companies to offer better service to clients. (To see the interview with Branson, just visit: http://www.openforum.com/management/video_bransonclip_smallbetter.html.)
“Using Facebook is a way of helping you build trust, and a way of expanding on that trust on an ongoing basis,” says Rick. “People get to know you, your employees, and trust begins to form in a way that is more intimate. If I were an agent, I would encourage my employees to create Facebook pages, and provide an allotted time during work hours to go on the network and communicate, see what is going on.”
Rick shares with us a link to Intel’s social media guidelines for its employees and contractors to follow. This can serve as a framework to consider when looking at social media policies and practices within your agency or company: http://www.intel.com/sites/sitewide/en_US/social-media.htm.
Going on Facebook, Looking at Who’s On-line
Before getting started, Rick recommends looking at how some companies in the industry are using Facebook to get an idea of what you can do.
RM: “There are many agencies and companies on Facebook. As a sampling, you can take a look at Treutel Insurance Agency, Vaughn Insurance Agency, Seely & Durland, Snotherly Insurance Agency. Additionally, companies such as Progressive Insurance with spokesperson Flo has garnered a growing number of ‘fans’ because of the company’s unique and entertaining approach in selling insurance. In addition to promoting its services, the Progressive Facebook page offers diverse content: green travel tips, a podcast of the New York Auto Show tied in with a contest the insurer was holding, updates on coverage expansions, etc. Also, take a look at the IIAVA page and the Nebraska Big I page to see the types of information insurance-related companies and organizations are including.”
AG: Let’s walk our readers through the general process of building a page on FaceBook:
RM: “Creating a page for your business is not very different from creating a page for yourself as an individual. You’ll upload your logo, create a profile on the agency…who you are, the services you provide, links to your website, email addresses, contact information, Twitter account if you have one, etc. You can go to www.facebook.com/pages/create.php to set up your business page.”
AG: What type of info should an agency include once you have a page set up?
RM: “It’s important when creating a Facebook presence, that the content you include is relevant. You don’t want to be shouting at your visitors, just promoting your services. Look at it like a cocktail party, where you are introducing yourself and offer information that may be relevant to those visiting your page, such as an event you are sponsoring, a charity you are contributing to or are participating in (either as the agency or an individual). Find articles you can post that will offer information that people can use, such as how to handle a claim, or prepare for a disaster, and put links on your page to these articles. You can also use a flip camera to post a brief video of the agency president introducing the company and informing people that you have just joined Facebook and are excited about connecting with your customers on-line; or create a video on how to protect your home or how to do a video inventory of your valuables in the event of a loss. Create photo albums of your agency, introducing staff and what each does in the agency.”
AG: How do you let people know that you have a presence on Facebook, so that they begin to follow you and your brand?
RM: “Send out an email to your clients informing them that you are now on Facebook, and in every email you send out, be sure to include not only your website link but a link to your Facebook page. Announce your Facebook page on your website, too. If you decide to do a blog, include the Facebook icon on the blog.” [We have included a print screen here of Rick’s blog to show you the various icons he has included for people to connect with him.]
“Search for friends on Facebook and send them a notice to become friends. Search for employees and customers on Facebook and become ‘friends’ with them. People will begin to follow you and your network will begin to expand…friends of friends will connect to your page, employee and customer friends will connect with you. You will slowly begin to build a ‘fan’ base -- your Facebook network, where you can promote your brand and offer content that is relevant to those visiting your page.
“Once you begin to add people, every time you do an update, your stream of friends will get those updates, so remember content is king…what you want is to try and generate discussion, engage people, start a dialogue around a topic that is of interest to them. Become a resource for people.
“You can also add Favorite Pages to your Facebook page, becoming a fan of companies…organizations that are relevant to your business page, such as insurers you represent, associations you belong to, charities you participate in, that are on Facebook. This is another way to share what you believe would be of interest to your visitors.”
Rick emphasizes that there is no one way or right way of beginning the process of incorporating new media into one’s marketing strategy. “This isn’t a cookie-cutter approach. Be sure not to work in isolation, look at everything that is available and how it ties in to your overall strategy -- from Facebook, Twitter, using You Tube (to post videos), blogging, etc. You’ll begin to develop a synergistic strategy to promote your brand.”
About Rick Morgan
Rick is an independent consultant and senior associate with Aartrijk, a branding firm based in Virginia. He 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. For more information about Rick’s consulting services, take a look at: www.aartrijk.com as well as his BLOG. You can also contact Rick at 720.244.8945.