Blogs – Facebook – LinkedIn – Twitter – Social Networking
If these terms are foreign to you, I urge you to go online and research the subjects of Social Networking and Blogs and what they do. Investigate Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and the great variety of smaller networks that have cropped up in recent years. This article is not meant to be a primer on these subjects, but rather to discuss whether or not a marketing and relationship management function exists within these forms of social networking that can work for insurance agencies.
There is no easy answer… yet. Social Networking is still a very young, constantly changing, unbridled and powerful tool that every industry is attempting to learn how to use. As early as the mid 1990’s, messaging applications like AIM and ICQ forged the path toward social networking by creating “Buddy Lists” to communicate with an expanding group of friends, but these simple Chat programs were prehistoric compared to Social Networks as we know them today. Other services like Friendster have come and gone. MySpace skyrocketed to the top in 2005, only to fall to a very distant third place only 2 years later – and today, I would argue that it is not even a serious player in Social Networking. When you consider that the “giant” of Social Networking, Facebook, is a whole 5 years old, you can begin to appreciate how much room for development still exists even today.
But regardless of whether you are thinking about Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or the next newest thing, the primary issue that should concern you regarding these is the time needed to use them properly. If you only commit to occasional use, or even improper use, you may be committing your agency to a death sentence on the web. Committing only a cursory level of time and oversight to this powerful tool would be similar to placing a Yellow Pages ad without owning a phone. It would be a waste of a powerful communication tool.
The question we repeatedly hear from agents and owners around the country is, “How can we use Social Networking to help our business?” I then remind the inquiring mind of the purpose of Social Networking.
Social Networking is, at its very core, a method of communication. Much like a telephone, if you only sit and wait for the phone to ring, it is an ineffective tool. If you put a listing in the Yellow Pages, the phone may ring more often if your prospects can find you among the hundreds of other listings in the book, but that is not a marketing campaign. The phone works best when you use it, in conjunction with established networking and personal relationships, and “reach out” to your prospects and clients.
Social Networking works in much the same manner as the telephone example illustrated above. Certainly your agency should have a PROFESSIONAL presence on Social Networks. This is not the place where you play games and post photos of your grandchildren or holiday party, but a Profile Page dedicated to the purpose of educating your prospects about you and your staff, the expertise your agency has in the industry, the services and programs that you offer, and other specific noteworthy facts that a prospect or client will find useful and valuable in business or personally. Simply having a profile page is just the beginning. The next step is to guide prospects and clients to that page through the use of inexpensive sidebar advertising which is keyword and geographically targeted to the potential customers and generated by their own searches, similar to how Google ads are targeted. A more sophisticated means of using a Social Networking site as a part of the Agency’s overall marketing plan is to purposefully guide your prospects and clients to the page. This may be for information, or to read or comment on a blog, or to see a video.
But most importantly, remember that the Social Network is ONLY another method of communication. It is not a stand-alone sales tool that is independent of basic human interaction. It is not a replacement for your producers or service staff. It should not supersede other methods of communication. Social Networking, in conjunction with print material, your agency website, voice communication and even the occasional personal interaction, is another tool to help your agency stand out against your competition.
WHAT STEPS CAN YOUR AGENCY TAKE?
Most of these suggestions are FREE to invest in, but the cost and value is in the TIME that you are willing to commit to these. If you are not willing to commit a realistic minimal amount of time, this may not be the best use of your most valuable resource.
Create a LinkedIn profile. This is a PROFESSIONAL social network and is equivalent to communicating in a business to business forum. This is where your communication with other agents, associations and professional services is most likely to grow. Consider this a B2B tool. This is where you will do your professional, industry networking.
Create an AGENCY Facebook profile. As I stated above, this is not your personal profile page, but a place to share information about your business and products, post stories of local or industry interest, and allow your “Fans” to share that information with an ever expanding network. This is your soft marketing and communication forum.
Start a Blog. The greatest commitment in this tool is time. Commit to a regular schedule to publish or “share” some new piece to generate and interest; perhaps once a week. This can be a piece that you write yourself, shared from another source such as a newspaper or magazine article, purchased from a blogging service which specifically writes articles for the insurance industry, or reprinted with permission from another source. A tremendous benefit is that your articles can be responded to either publically or privately – YOU control that option. But another time commitment exists in that you must respond to statements, questions and inquiries on a timely basis.
Maintain your Agency website. This option will carry a cost, but a professional website optimized for Google searches and maintained on a regular basis is inexpensive and highly effective. This is your Virtual Storefront, allowing your prospects and clients to “visit” your agency, gather information, communicate with you personally and more. If you don’t have an agency website, or of it is not generating the return on investment you expect, contact Agency Consulting Group immediately at (800) 779-2430.
Social Networking, as a medium, is the newest form of communication and is absolutely critical in tomorrow’s business environment. The greatest benefit of Social Networking is not dependant on which one you are a part of or how many people you know, but it is how many people can be reached by your message that you cannot contact alone. Your network connects to someone else’s network which continues to spider to contacts you may not have considered possible to connect with. This is truly how your agency cuts through the “6 degrees of separation” to reach the maximum number of prospects, customers and clients.