Let Your Policy Be Your Guide…For Social Media

by Nick Brown - Community Manager - Astonish Results on June 1, 2010 · 18 comments

I would like to welcome Nick Brown, Community Manager for Astonish Results to the Insurance Ecosystem.  Astonish Results provides a complete insurance agency marketing system including CRM tools, lead generating website, social media construction and strategy, email marketing, sales training, search engine marketing/optimization, business valuation and content support. You can read more of Nick’s work at http://insurancemarketinghq.com.

Agents work with policies all day. But until recently, social media policies were off the radar of most insurance professionals. With a public increasingly turning to the Internet for research, purchases and recommendations, and statistics showing that consumers prefer to support companies with a social media presence, it’s no longer a question of if, but when social media enters the marketing equation.

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At its core, the social media policy is a set of rules to govern workplace usage of social media, lay out consequences for abuse and provide a legally binding agreement on terms and conditions between employer and employee. In legal speak, Eric B. Meyer an Associate in the Labor and Employment Group of Dilworth Paxson LLP mentioned two important legal notes on a Mashable blog post:

1. Employers need to be upfront with employees that they have no right to privacy with respect to social networking. “Employers reserve the right to monitor employee use of social media regardless of location (i.e. at work on a company computer or on personal time with a home computer).”

2. Employees “should be made aware that company policies on anti-harassment, ethics and company loyalty extend to all forms of communication (including social media) both inside and outside the workplace.” People need to remember that bashing your organization/boss/co-workers online can lead to consequences at work.

While legal protection may be the most important aspect in the eyes of an apprehensive agency owner or insurance executive, for the savvy insurance professional, a social media policy can mean so much more.

In an ideal situation, before a policy is drafted, company leaders gather all employees who will be engaging in social media on behalf of the business for a strategy session. Before one tweet, Facebook update or Youtube video is posted, a thorough discussion ensues to keep social media use purposeful, consistent and aligned with company values.

Some points included in this discussion should be:

  • ObjectivesWhy are we using social media – better customer service, educate on insurance topics, entertain, highlight local businesses, respond to criticism, humanize agency…?
  • ToneHow do we want to be perceived – humorous, instructional, entertaining, bubbly, professional, well-connected…?
  • Outside interests: What else do we represent cooking, local sports, community events, recommendations, music…?

Chances are most owners don’t look at their agencies like a brand, and thus, have never thought about perception or managing the company identity. While it may sound silly for an 10-person agency to be talking about brand management and identity, it’s really not when you consider how the Internet and social media have leveled the playing field between direct writers and the local, community-focused insurance agencies. Google, Facebook, Twitter and more recently Foursquare are creating opportunities for small businesses to shine just as bright as the corporate giants, even in the face of hundred million dollar online advertising spends.

This post is not meant to persuade readers about the benefits of a well-executed social media plan (Rick Morgan already did a fine job of that). The point is to offer advice on using a social media policy as the jumping point towards social media adoption. Insurance agents use fear to sell and selling a social media policy to an agency owner or insurance executive should be no different, here’s a few “What ifs” to start with.

What if we become obsolete? What if we lose touch with our customers? What if a vendor reaches out on social media and we have no response? What if we’re being trashed and not seeing the negativity? What if an employee is making unauthorized statements?

All of these fears become obsolete when agencies enter the social web with a policy, clear objectives and the right people managing communication. Considering the insurance industry’s trouble attracting millennial talent, adding a younger, tech-savvy staff member to fill the social media manager role is sometimes the best option, even if they know nothing about insurance.

At Astonish Results, we encourage agency partners to have an in-depth discussion about social media with staff even before their insurance website goes live. Some hire an outside intern or blogger to manage, some wait until they’ve mastered email marketing, virtual profit centers and other agency functions before sharing the social media duties internally and some agencies are just too busy selling insurance to see a need for social media right away (a good problem).

Earlier this year, the Agents Council for Technology (ACT) shared a guide and two sample social media policies as a resource for insurance professionals. Astonish Results used these as a starting point for drafting our own guides and policies and is incredibly grateful to ACT for their efforts promoting best practices. In addition to distributing the materials, we created an informational social media policy video explaining the policies a bit more clearly.

After going through the process, some agencies discover a social media presence doesn’t make sense right away because of personnel, time or other constraints. But even by delaying, the exercise of drafting a policy can lead to better agency alignment, communication and even improved morale because employees are forced to think about the values they represent at work.

Social media aside, there’s simply no excuse for not having a website or marketing strategy that incorporates the Internet. Some insurance professionals piece it together while others prefer an all-in-one solution like Astonish Results, but no matter which vendors are used, a lead-generating website combined with a well thought out online marketing and social media strategy are the model first steps towards long-term agency viability.

To learn more about Astonish Results, please visit: www.astonishresults.com/system/.

  • This post has so much value to me as an owner of and insurance agency. I truly value Nick's advice as practical and necessary to succeed in today's business enviroment. Developing a social media policy will keep your marketing moving forward. Thank you Nick for your market insight and knowledge about the insurance industry. I look forward to future posts.

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  • David Siekman

    Great advice Nick! As we work to develop our own social media policy, it is so helpful to not have to do it completely from scratch.

  • I really like the idea that the social media policy should be the jumping point towards adopting a social media program. The policy is not just about the things you can't do, but about the things you should do.

    • David you are so correct. I always like to approach everything from the positive. I look at the plan as the structure for crafting and supporting the plan. Thanks for your comments.
      My recent post Who Is On Your Agency’s Team?

  • Thanks Nick for this great post today. I am so pumped about being able to work with agents on their social media & blog plans. This is wonderful, valuable information. Thanks to those that commented.
    My recent post Who Is On Your Agency’s Team?

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  • Tony & David – I appreciate the comments and again have to thank ACT for the framework to make this possible. It's good to see agencies embracing the opportunities social media affords, especially when the necessary planning and protection is in place.

    Pat – Building communities is a never-ending process that takes patience and innovation, but I enjoy the challenge and look forward to future opportunities.
    My recent post Social Marketing Compass by Brian Solis and JESS3

  • Using these tactics recently for us as an agency has not only spread awareness among the agents about the usefulness of social media but also defines the boundaries. Sometimes it seems like "anything goes" with social media but also the success of the agency relies heavily more and more on the success of the social media campaign itself. Maintaining that credibility is essential.

  • Thanks Nick! Great post! Building a social media policy was vital for our agency as we began to tread deeper into various social media sites. Nick and Astonish Results have been integral in helping us devise an online communication policy to make sure our message is consistent and keeps to our agency culture.
    My recent post Summer is the Season for Floods

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  • Nick –

    Great article. Thank you for the mention.

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