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Social Evolution: A Shift in Mindset, A Change in Company Culture, and a Look at Trends

Featuring Rick Morgan, Vice President-New Media, Aartrijk

Posted on 01 Jun 10

Since early last year, we’ve been featuring interviews with Rick Morgan about social media and what the insurance industry is doing and can do in this space. Rick is Vice President-New Media with Aartrijk, a Virginia-based branding and marketing-communications firm dedicated to serving clients worldwide in the arenas of insurance, financial services, and association management. 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.

I wanted to follow up with Rick to get his view on where our industry is at in terms of social media, what challenges we face in this area, and the trends and opportunities he’s seeing for insurance firms in the space.

Annie George (AG): Rick, some of what we discussed in the past is the hesitancy and even resistance among certain sectors in our industry to embrace social media. What are you seeing today?

Rick Morgan (RM): “We’re now passed the point of having to convince folks that social media makes sense, and, that if this new media is properly implemented and managed and part of an overall business strategy, it can provide great opportunities and benefits to carriers and agencies that capitalize on what’s available in the social space.

“Two years ago, I did my first seminar to an insurance audience about social media and the various platforms out there. Most were unfamiliar with the basic terminology, they hadn’t heard of Twitter, didn’t have a grasp of Facebook. They knew about blogging and LinkedIn. But basically very few in the industry were doing anything in the social media arena. That has changed. I did several talks recently to state associations and I experienced an entirely different energy. People certainly know the language and have had some exposure to all of the platforms.

“I would say today about 85-95% of the people in the audiences I spoke to are on LinkedIn…they are very comfortable with this platform because it seems like a business app. Certainly, it has a place in the schematic if you’re looking for a job or to hire, and the group discussions have added real value so that the platform is no longer just a résumé depository. Today there are some real good discussions taking place amongst the insurance community on LinkedIn on any number or range of topics. LinkedIn, however, is not the best way to reach your customer if you’re an agency as it’s missing the social component of Facebook or Twitter’s real-time delivery of information. But it helps people get their feet wet in this new space.

“People are much more open to the idea of participating in social networking. Some people may say they don’t get it, especially the older generation, but they get that if their customer base or future customer base is in the space, they need to be there too.

“I have seen a thirst for information in our industry. There has been a shift in the types of questions being asked. Instead of asking why or how to use these platforms, they want to know the Best Practices, the ROI, the real business model, as well as how to manage and monitor the space and their brand within the space.” (The Agents Council for Technology (ACT) has a rich library of material in this area, including building social media policy guidelines, Best Practices, E&O issues, etc.)

Rick explains that he has experienced openness among agencies to include a blog on their sites. “It’s not scary to them; it’s intriguing. Now they’re looking for ideas on how to proceed, to make sure they have an editorial calendar, to see how they will divvy up the workload, put a team in place to monitor comments. Blogging offers agencies an avenue to provide expertise to a community -- to prospects, customers, and even employees.” Rick also explains that there is an internal benefit to blogging in that it helps employees in larger organizations learn more about their agency and its management. “They learn about how management feels, what they are doing, what they’re thinking, and things that they didn’t know before. Blogging can help overall company morale.”

AG: Some are having a lot of fun blogging. I spoke with Laura Bergan of American Collectors Insurance some time ago about how much the founder and chairman of the company, Tom Kanyuk, enjoys writing his blog, about his journey in customizing an antique car he has.

RM: “When you have a particular area of expertise or something you’re really passionate about, that’s what you blog about. You end up building a following. It’s perfect for building relationships. You should blog about who you are as an individual and build interest in your community.”

However, as far as we have come in the last year or so, we still have a way to go, Rick explains, for critical mass in terms of agencies building fan pages on Facebook or having a real aggressive presence on Twitter. “The basics are easy, says Rick, “but you want to evolve to different levels, perhaps establish a different look on Facebook, add polls, etc. Get the basics down, get comfortable with the platform, and then to take ‘social’ to a different level, get a professional to do some amazing stuff for you…it’s not expensive.”

Adapting to the New “Social” Order

With a more open approach to social media, there are other implications and changes the insurance industry needs to consider to adapt to an external culture that is more transparent, less filtered, and where consumers are looking for information that’s pertinent to them in delivery methods that are immediate. Rick brings up some critical, spot-on issues when discussing the internal cultural evolution that an organization may need to adapt to really get with the new “social” order.

“Our industry will have to pay more attention to how technology will change the way we do business, the way we interact,” says Rick. “Anytime there is a breakthrough in technology or processes, in an initiative or transformation that takes place, in order to fully take advantage of it and the opportunity that the breakthrough represents, it requires a reinvention or transformation of your own organization. What will this mean? We’re in a social media/networking environment externally but what does that mean internally? Will your organization need to restructure? Will you need to redefine and establish new job descriptions so that you can communicate, react in a social way? Will you have training in place?

“We are changing the game in terms of expectation. If it’s texting, for example, it means real-time processing within our industry or real-time communication with our customers. People are responding immediately, so there is a different level of service expectation, of openness and transparency expected. I think organizations will need to change their culture to adapt to this…and some company cultures are simply not consistent with this environment. If you’re going to truly thrive in a social network, in a web environment, the culture of your organization has to be consistent with this. This will require you, as a business owner, as a manager, to be open to allowing employees full access to the Internet and social networks, having an internal communication policy so that when a service issue is raised on the web (Facebook, Twitter), someone will know how to respond. If you’re going to establish a presence on Facebook, etc. and you ignore your clients, then you’re not being social. You’ll fail.

“You will also have to embrace that the agency is putting itself out there in a way that it never has before…and this not only means your firm but the individuals within that the agency. You are all now engaging in a conversation in a way that you haven’t. Business was very private before; we held things close to the vest. People horded information, you considered the information you had your value so people would not give away their knowledge. With social media this has all changed.”

AG: What you’re saying is so relevant. I spoke with Patrick Lencioni recently about his book, Getting Naked and how an open, transparent relationship with your customers will change the way you do business in a positive way. And that giving away information is good, not to fear losing the client or not getting the client. I think social media is helping to do that.

RM: “Yes, absolutely. If you think you can hold back information and believe that this is why people are doing business with you…that you have knowledge no one else has, it’s probably not right. Some people say don’t give things away, but it’s really the opposite of that…because once you provide information, people want more. They want to talk to the source, or continue the conversation, the relationship. For some this is very threatening and intellectually contrary to what they believe their value is.

“It’s a challenge to change culture…as people begin to experiment and understand and trust that this is the case, you will see more of them opening up, sharing information. I know people who completely give away information, are willing to help and mentor people. All they ask is that you don’t take advantage, which comes down to integrity and respect. And the more information you give, the more traffic you’ll drive to your space.

“Agencies need to think about having a social organization within an organization… not just about pushing things out externally but about the very being of what your organization is like.”

New Trends in Technology

Rick and I also discussed some of the new technologies that agencies and the insurance industry will be incorporating in their social strategy, including:

Use of Video – Rick sees live video streaming from a mobile phone, such as the iPhone or Android, as one technology on which agents can capitalize. “An insurance agent or producer can be visiting a new customer’s operation, such as a factory. The agent could provide a web address to the company underwriter to access the agent’s video streaming as he/she is filming live. As the agent walks through the factory, filming the various operations, possible risks, hazards, the underwriter will see exactly in real time what the agent is seeing. The underwriter can communicate with the agent via text, asking specific questions about a particular risk. The agent can zoom in on a specific hazard and can respond to questions as he/she is streaming this live presentation. All of this is done via a mobile phone.

“Also think of the possibilities when it comes to a natural disaster…people will be streaming live to their agents about what’s going on, who in turn can share this information with all their customer base and the community at large via Twitter, Facebook.”

Geo Location is another important technology. Foursquare is a location-based social networking website, software for mobile devices so people can log in to where they are and connect to others who are at the same location. “Businesses are beginning to use this platform to create events,” says Rick. “They will provide specials, give away certificates, and engage in this environment because they can tell who of their fans are at a specific place (like a restaurant) right at a specific moment.”

Video Blogs… There are people in our industry using videos in creative ways explains Rick. “Chris Jordan of Atlanta Insurance is a 100% virtual agency. He works out of his home, does not have a physical office, and has a license with another agency in another state. He has included videos about insurance and other topics of interest on his website; he communicates and connects with clients via video chat. He is generating business this way.”

If you’re interested in moving forward or expanding your presence in the social media space and want more information, please feel free to contact Rick at 720.255.1645, or at You can also follow Rick on Twitter, become a friend on Facebook, and access his Talking Head blog.