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Agent to Agent: To Be Successful on Social Media: Just Be Yourself

Ted Janusz photo 133x200By Ted Janusz

Using social media to promote your agency may first require a paradigm shift in your thinking. Social media is not about “advertising” but rather about “building communities.” Your Facebook page is not the place to shout “Call me today to get a free insurance quote!” but rather to engage your fans in two-way communications.

When I spoke at a recent convention for PIA of Tennessee, one agent told me that he successfully engaged his followers by asking questions like, “Because of the recent spate of weather occurrences, your tree fell on your neighbor’s house. Who do you think is responsible for the resulting damages?”

Not only did this open up a discussion on his Facebook page, this dialogue allowed him to show that he was both an insurance expert and a trusted member of the community, which are the two primary goals that you want to achieve with your social media efforts.

Another independent insurance agent who is both an expert and a trusted member of his community is Jason Verlinde, president of Verlinde Insurance in Richmond, Michigan. Today he talks with us about how he has successfully used social media to promote his insurance agency.

Q: What kinds of other advertising and promotion do you do or have you done for your agency? How have these efforts paid off compared to the efforts you have made in social media?

We mainly do “Community Advertising.” We sponsor sports teams, golf outings, local theatre, and zero tolerance (drug and alcohol) events at local schools. We do very little traditional advertising with the newspaper, radio or TV.

Community advertising was “social media” before social media existed, so it was a natural transition for us to move into the actual social media arena.

It is tough to gauge the ROI on social media. As social media expert Gary Vaynerchuk asks, “What’s the ROI of having a cell phone?” But in a typical month about 50% of our new business opportunities are generated by some form of the Internet. The other 50% of new business opportunities come mainly from referrals, from providing great service and from being in the community for such a long time. Gary Vaynerchuk also reminds us that “social media is a marathon, not a sprint.”

Jason Verlinde 200x273.jpg
Jason Verlinde of Verlinde
Insurance, Richmond, Michigan

Q: How did you get started with a Facebook page?

I actually started with Facebook because of a part-time photography business I used to run. Having a Facebook page for a photography business is the BOMB! It’s more of a challenge with insurance, since it’s more of a struggle to keep posts relevant and interesting.

Q: What has having a Facebook page done for your agency?

First and foremost I think it’s a MUST have now. Just like an agency Website used to be a “must have.” A Facebook page allows us to keep in front of current and prospective clients. With over 1.25 billion people now on Facebook and so many people spending so much time on the site, you just have to be where your people are! For instance, why would I advertise in the newspaper when so few of my clients and prospective clients even read the paper anymore?

Total newspaper advertising revenue across the country amounted to $42 billion in 2007. In 2013, it plummeted to just $17.3 billion.

Q: One of the concerns for an agency starting a page is “Where can I get content?” Where do you get the content for your page?

Today I walked into the front of the agency to talk to a client who is an excavator who came in to pick up a Certificate of Insurance. When I asked him “How’s business?” he proudly explained that his phone is ringing off the hook right now! Lots of people are planning to build houses this spring. That’s the kind of thing that I post on Facebook. It’s not insurance related, but it’s what people like and want to hear! Things are looking up!

Keep your mind open for things that you know your Facebook fans want to hear about, whether they are insurance related or community events. The key is to make your posts be about them and not always about your agency. Always keep your eyes open.

Here is the actual post I just made:

“To get a real feel about how the economy is doing talk to real people. Don’t listen to the news or read the newspaper. They may have agendas. Two conversations I had this week. Two things I heard come out of clients’ mouths this week. #1 – “I could hire 20 mechanics and work them all overtime if I could find qualified people.” #2 - My phone has been ringing non-stop with people looking for excavating quotes. Lots of new home building plans for the spring.”

I believe these people more than the Free Press, Detroit News, Fox News or CNN any day.”

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I also always try to include a photograph or some other image with each post, to catch the reader’s eye.

This post has already received some “likes.” People love to see that you are real and that you care.

Q: What was the biggest thing you have learned from trying different things in social media?

Not everything works or gets traction. Something that I think will be successful ends up going nowhere. Some of the things that I thought were “dumb” ideas are the ones that took off. You just never know! Just keep trying!

Unlike traditional marketing for which you may commit (and lose) hundreds or even thousands of dollars, with social media, the only real investment is your time.

Q: What has been the most successful thing you have done?

Probably the most successful thing we have done on Facebook was to promote a fundraiser for a local fireman who had a massive heart attack. We posted the event flyer and asked people to share. We advertised we would donate $1 for each share, with a maximum of $200. (Always set a max!)

Although we didn’t hit the 200 shares we did get over 80 shares (and we still donated the $200). The Facebook post reached over 3,600 people, without us paying anything to promote the agency. Our hope is that we also inspired our followers to donate to the cause.

Q: Do you think that Facebook pages and other forms of social media can be successfully run by an outside consultant or centralized entity, or does each agency need to maintain their own page?

As of this interview, we do all of our social media in house. But I am looking into hiring a consultant to do some of the managing, posting and writing. If you find the right person or organization who actually KNOWS you and your agency’s personality and brand, I believe it can be done successfully.

Q: What other advice would you give to other independent agents looking to start their own Facebook page or participate in social media?

BE YOURSELF. Do not try to be something online that you’re not. People will see right through the fake. And of course, the golden rule of social media: Don’t’ post anything you wouldn’t want your mother, grandmother or priest to see!

Ted Janusz has been honored to contribute articles to all five annual PIA National Agency Marketing Guides. Because 92% of consumers looking for local businesses now start their journey with an Internet search, Ted Janusz speaks on how insurance agents can create great content for the Web, so that their agencies will be found. Contact Ted at ted@januspresentations.com.