Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Insurance, insurance agents and social media: "...Independent agents need to acknowledge that having a Web presence is non-negotiable"

Insurance Journal ran an article yesterday about the insurance industry and social media -- meaning things like Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Skype and other forms of interaction on the internet. The article's first paragraph is key:
"The insurance industry is not as quick to adapt to change as other industries," but independent insurance agents need to acknowledge that having "a Web presence is non-negotiable," said Michael LaRocco, president and CEO of Fireman's Fund Insurance Companies.
As Washington state's insurance regulator, this is a topic we've been giving a lot of thought to as we try to get our consumer-protection message out in an era of shrinking traditional media outlets. We set up this blog last summer, and then launched our Twitter feed. Despite our initial ambivalence -- who's going to read about insurance? -- both have grown at a pretty healthy clip.

In a word-of-mouth business like insurance, social media seems like a natural fit. It allows you to be in frequent contact with your customers in a way that they want. Online, we see some agents, brokers and companies trying a variety of different approaches. Some just try to keep up a constant drumbeat of "call me for a quote" or some variation on that. Others -- probably a lot more effective, frankly -- are a mix of insurance news, community news and advice. One agent that we follow on Twitter tracks flood insurance closely, others try to build rapport by serving up a lot of insurance tips.

Take a look at the Twitter feed for Mid-Columbia Insurance out of Kennewick, for an example of someone working hard to keep the site fresh. The web is littered, on the other hand, with folks who started sites and then abandoned them. (Like this one.)

Also, we're seeing insurance companies closely monitoring Twitter for people complaining about them. We've seen numerous Twitter posts from companies trying to directly contact people complaining about stalled claims or other issues.

State Farm, in particular, has a virtual open dialogue going with customers on its Twitter feed. Take a look.

More on this soon.

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