Posted on 05 May 09
In our April 3rd issue of “Insurance Unplugged” we began a discussion on social media – what it is, the various platforms you can join, how to get started (join a few networks, set up a personal blog), and the potential of how social media can be used in business. We spoke with Rick Morgan, an independent consultant and senior associate with Aartrijk, a branding firm based in Virginia.
We continue our discussion with Rick, as this is an important, ever-evolving new media that is changing the way we communicate to clients and market products and services. We hope by having these discussions, we inspire our PB.com members to begin incorporating social media into their marketing strategies.
Annie George (AG): Rick, during our last conversation, you suggested that agents begin getting their feet wet when it comes to social media by blogging…to start with a blog amongst friends and family. This will give them an idea of what it’s all about. Let’s say some of our members have taken that step, now what?
Rick Morgan (RM): “Once you get into blogging, you’ll see that it sort of grabs you. You want to keep providing updates, getting feedback. You realize immediately that in order for this to work, you need to be active in it every day. It’s important to check your blog, respond to comments, and provide updates especially when undertaking a business blog. You don’t want the blog to get stale. The content should be fresh. You want to create an ongoing dialogue with clients and prospects. It’s about ‘curiosity marketing’ – the idea is to create enough curiosity on the social platform so that your readers want to know more. You will get them to automatically go to your blog to find out what’s new. It’s about conversing with people, interacting with them...look at it as an ongoing way of doing business.”
Rick suggests that before taking the step from personal blog to setting up a company blog or using any other social networking platforms (Facebook, Linked-In, Twitter) that you have a realistic strategy around social media and analyze how it’ll be integrated into your overall marketing strategy. “Having a strategy is critical to establishing realistic expectations, and setting up responsible timeframes with the right human resources allocated. A strategy is also key to successfully leveraging social media into your business and marketing models, and to ensuring that your on-line marketing efforts are in sync with your off-line campaigns.”
“If your overall growth strategy for example, is to reach out to different generations and to cross over to a younger generation,” says Rick, “then social media can be a vital component of the strategy. You know that younger generations want engaging communication that is immediate, so using social networking is key in marketing to them.”
AG: We also touched upon ROI during our last discussion. This is important so I think we should address it again. Everyone is thinking about the bottom line when it comes to this media.
RM: “Any time new technology emerges, people ask about ROI. People thought it was a fad, a waste of time when automation was first introduced. It was expensive. Then the Internet and email became part of our technology landscape. The same arguments came up, and now we can’t do without these. Today we are faced with a new set of technologies and we are asking the same questions. Is it only for kids? Is it a fad? What’s the ROI? We don’t know…you have to have faith and move forward and know that based on experience technology evolves and gives us the means to take it where we want.”
Rick emphasizes this last point by explaining that it’s not so much about the technology itself. It’s about how technology is transforming the way people communicate. “People want real-time information,” says Rick. “They ask friends about products on-line. They go to Amazon.com, for example, to read reviews before buying a book. They research on-line. They trust the opinions and recommendations of people in their on-line communities about the services and products they’re interested in.”
“The way we want to reach out, buy products, find out about products, services, has changed forever,” says Rick. “It only makes sense that the insurance industry be a part of that dynamic.”
“The bottom line is that what’s different about social media is that it’s all free. It is time-consuming and does involve someone being responsible for managing it, just like any campaign or strategy, but there is no investment in software, hardware,” says Rick. “The challenge with trying to determine ROI for social media is that it’s not just based on numbers, it’s based on quality and human interaction and conversations which are not quantifiable. You build relationships, which is what insurance is all about. You’ll build new ones and strengthen old ones.”
AG: Are there ways to measure how effective your brand is doing through social media platforms?
RM: “Yes. One service, Radian6, [which recently partnered with Webtrends, a global analytics leader] allows you to monitor social media activity across the web. So if you’re starting a campaign – setting up a landing page [home page] with a blog and establishing a Facebook page, you can monitor the buzz created off these platforms. If you send out an e-mail blast or a press release, it will keep track of the on-line ‘noise’ generated. Radian6 will provide you with a report every time your brand is mentioned.”
AG: Provide some other examples of how you see using Radian6 in our industry.
RM: “Carriers can use it to monitor activity about their competition, for example, they can check what is being written about them and other insurers. The Big I can use it to follow political trends with all its work on Capitol Hill. Managing the process is what’s critical. The web has become the front line of communication so using a service such as Radian6 is a way to keep your pulse on what is being discussed…you may hear or see something negative that you want to address; or you may see a potential sales opportunity as a result of a comment or discussion on a blog or forum. Monitoring what is being said helps with customer retention and an overall brand care plan.”
AG: Rick, in the April 3rd issue, we also featured an article with Kristin Rielly, Marketing Coordinator of Irwin Siegel Agency. She spoke about her day-to-day responsibilities in managing the firm’s on-line strategies and the time involved. You and I briefly discussed what you refer to as a Community Manager, the person who would be responsible for implementation and management of a social media strategy. Let’s discuss this new role.
RM: “It’s important that there’s a person responsible for the implementation and ongoing management and monitoring of a company’s social media strategy. This person must have the ‘authority’ to speak on behalf of the company. Because of the nature of how fast communication transpires on social media platforms, someone needs to be able to respond immediately. You can’t have an individual getting bogged down in bureaucracy before being able to respond.”
Rick underscored how critical it is for the person responsible for a firm’s social media strategy to have the authority and ability to provide immediate response. He cited a situation that involved Ford Motor Company. A potentially embarrassing public relations snafu for the automaker was systematically resolved through the quick use of new media channels. In December 2008, a ten-year old Ford fan website called The Ranger Station (TRS) became the origin of a corporate communications nightmare because of a cease-and-desist letter that the site’s owner received from Ford. The letter requested that the owner of the site surrender the web site’s URL, and send the automaker a check for $5,000. The TRS owner panicked and began posting his dilemma to the site’s user forums. Within 22 hours, the TRS owner received 916 responses on his site and the communication began to spread to other sites as to what Ford had done. Scott Monty, Ford’s Global Digital and Multimedia Communications Manager, checked Twitter in the morning as part of his daily ritual and read a message that said: This is about as bad as PR gets for Ford right now! Very bad move that’s going to cause loss of sales.
Scott pieced together what happened and began to take control of the situation as more and more negative messages were coming through from the on-line community. Scott became tweeting that he was looking into the matter with attorneys: For anyone asking about the Ford fan sites and legal action, I'm in active discussions with our legal dept. about resolving it. Pls retweet. A retweet is a powerful communications device in the social media world. It’s when one Twitter member retransmits a previous tweet to his or her own Twitter followers. Nineteen of Scott’s 5,600 Twitter followers responded by retweeting his message to their own communities that consisted of over 13,400 people. In the meantime, Scott learned The Ranger Station was selling counterfeit Ford products, actually decals with the Ford logo on it and the letter was sent in attempt to stop the owner. Scott called the owner and calmly discussed the issue with him directly and the matter was settled. The positive outcome was later conveyed on-line and the potential PR fire was extinguished.
“The Ford case shows you the power of what a community is capable of accomplishing and how important it is for someone with authority to be responsible for monitoring and managing all communication,” says Rick. “This person has to be empowered, needs to find out where various on-line insurance groups are and be a part of them, a part of the dialogue taking place.”
AG: Let’s provide an overview of the qualities and responsibilities of a good Community Manager.
RM: “The person is the digital public ‘face’ of the company. The company is putting its on-line brand in this person’s hands. You must have strong communication skills, be a people person and like conversation. You also have to be thick-skinned, not everyone will be happy and that’s okay. You need to know how to address comments that may be critical. Self-discipline and organizational skills are important, as this isn’t necessarily an 8-to-5 job. In addition, you must have technical awareness, know how to navigate on-line spaces and keep updated with technology. You need to monitor key on-line conversations and events to make sure the company is participating effectively and is being represented in the way it wants to. This involves getting into a routine, checking tweets, checking Facebook, posting comments. It also involves fostering a sense of community that encourages customers to purchase as well as feel comfortable in requesting support. Additionally, you need to be responsible for tracking, reporting on and evaluating the company’s success at being visible and influential on-line.”
Rick also recommends that the Community Manager is available to staff to assist them in identifying and using on-line tools if it can help them achieve their goals related to their position. The Community Manager can train and provide support to other employees new to Web 2.0 tools and culture.
What Rick stresses most is that the Community Manager needs to be tuned into senior management, have its support and the ear and attention of those at the high level.
“Social media, the integration of it into our marketing programs, the people responsible for managing it…it’s all a work-in-progress with a brand-new set of tools, shifting the way we communicate, the way we market and sell, the way outreach is happening. We’re learning how to manage these things.”
Rick’s blog can be found at: http://rickmorganconsulting.com/blog/.