Insurance companies are trying hard to find their place in the
world of social media, but it's not always easy to be "liked"
To increase Internet traffic, insurers are using a broad range
of strategies to bolster their brands in the increasingly complex
world of social networking.
Some insurers are going all out -- using promotions, sweepstakes
and marketing partnerships -- in an effort to improve communication
with existing customers, woo potential clients and generate enough
goodwill to build large followings on sites like Facebook and
Twitter. If a social network user "likes" or "follows" content, it
tends to build traffic among that user's interconnected friends and
Meeting insurance customer expectations
To draw a larger audience, some
are doing everything from promoting social causes to advocating
financial education online. Roger Tye, director of consumer
engagement on Allstate's e-Business team, says Allstate is using
social media to better understand and connect with consumers on
"Consumers expect Allstate to be available when, where and how
they need us, and if we're not meeting expectations they'll go
elsewhere," he says. "For a growing number of consumers, that means
being available in social media."
Tye says the main goal at Allstate is to provide value.
"Our approach is to focus on people. Allstate uses social
networking to empower, inform, entertain and connect with people on
their terms," he says. "If you focus on providing value, you should
do well in the social space."
Based on numbers alone, Allstate's social media strategy seems
to be paying off. The company has amassed more than 30,000 "likes"
on Facebook, and well over 18,000 followers on Twitter. It no doubt
helps that Allstate has six people tweeting and an RSS feed to
share and distribute Web content, not to mention LinkedIn accounts
and its own YouTube channel.
Still, some insurers -- along with financial companies in
general -- often find it tough to translate their businesses in the
social media world, let alone develop an enthusiastic following
Insurance company challenges
In an age when consumers can easily rant about companies on
personal blogs and YouTube, or use a host of social networking
platforms to publicly bash a brand for even the slightest
infraction, it's important for insurers to manage their online
reputations. They are grappling with how to be regarded in a
To help address this challenge, LIMRA, a global life insurance
research and consulting firm, is planning a Social Media
Conference for Financial Services in August. The goal is for
attendees to learn, among other things, best practices in social
media and strategies for using social networking to promote
Mark Kerpen is author of the book "Likeable Social Media: How to
Delight Your Customers, Create an Irresistible Brand, and Be
Generally Amazing on Facebook (& Other Social Networks)."
According to Kerpen, insurance carriers must offer compelling and
ongoing value in order to drive "likes."
"Customers need a reason to 'like' you on Facebook, and then a
reason to stay engaged with you," Kerpen says.
companies also can learn from other industries that use "the power
of listening, responsiveness, authenticity and storytelling,"
Kerpen adds. Allstate's Tye agrees.
"Like all conversations, in-person or digital, it's important to
listen. Listening helps Allstate know where we fit within a
conversation and how we can add value," Tye says. "Sometimes being
useful means providing information. Other times it's helping
someone solve a problem. If you don't listen to what people want or
need, it's really hard to be useful."
Like us and win!
One way some insurers are building a community in the social
media world is by enticing consumers with attractive freebies.
Consider Farmers and State Farm. On Facebook, Farmers is running a
"Ride-of-a-Lifetime Sweepstakes," offering people who "like" the
company a chance to win a ride on the company's blimp, which
Farmers bills as "the world's largest airship."
Due in part to this promotion, Farmers has racked up more than
131,000 "likes" on Facebook. A more modest but still very
respectable number of people (about 4,400) follow Farmers on
Meanwhile, State Farm has launched a Facebook promotion called
"Agents on a Mission," which has a tie-in to the Disney Pixar movie
If people "like" State Farm, they get a chance to win one of
18,000 prizes -- one for each of the company's 18,000 insurance
agents. Prizes range from flip cameras and walkie talkies to Apple
iPads and Inspiron laptops. The grand prize is a $50,000 Cadillac
The giveaway strategy apparently is working. State Farm has an
impressive 96,000-plus "likes" on Facebook, and more than 12,500
followers on Twitter.
The supportive approach
Instead of offering big prizes, The Hartford utilizes social
networking to highlight its long-standing support of the U.S.
Paralympics, which features outstanding athletes with physical
"We've been a passionate supporter of U.S. Paralympic athletes
for more than 15 years. Social media has provided us a way to help
thousands of people to share that passion," says Seth Brewer,
director of social media for The Hartford.
In March, The Hartford announced it would donate to the U.S.
Paralympics $1 for every "like" the insurer received on
"The Hartford's fans on Facebook jumped from approximately 6,000
to more than 100,000 in about a month," Brewer notes. "We're
excited that so many people have joined us in supporting these
amazing elite athletes."
Brewer says social media also offers "an opportunity for agents
to work with us in new ways to better serve their clients."
For example, after a storm tore through Knoxville, Tenn., in
April, The Hartford received an inquiry from an agent on Twitter.
The agent had been using social media to help his customers
throughout the storm.
"He contacted us via our Twitter account asking about the most
efficient way to start the claims process," Brewer says. "Our team
saw the post almost immediately and connected with our claims team
to provide the agent with a solution."
The agent, John Bailey, described his experience in his blog.
Meanwhile, The Hartford's social media presence continues to grow.
The insurer now has more than 105,000 "likes" on Facebook and over
7,100 Twitter followers.
Innovative and authentic
At least one insurer is putting its own twists on social
networking. At Prudential, the social media platform is an online
newsroom with feature stories, videos, audio podcasts, webcasts and
research material about the company. Unlike many insurers that have
official corporate Facebook and Twitter pages, Prudential has made
a strategic decision to forgo those options.
"Prudential's strategy has been to train members of its media
relations team to extend their roles as official company
spokespeople to regularly post company news to their individual
Twitter and Facebook accounts," says spokesperson Deborah Meany.
"It's been a successful strategy for us."
Kerpen, the social media author, suggests that such tactics are
right on the mark.
In this era of instant information-sharing and a 24-hour news
cycle, "you can't really choose whether you're transparent or not
anymore," Kerpen says. "But you can choose how authentic you