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Agent to Agent: Social Media Can Combat Commoditization — Here’s How

Tom Wetzel_photo_143x200.jpgBy Tom Wetzel

Agents lament the commoditization of insurance and not having enough time to develop stronger relationships with clients and prospects. Regrettably, most still ignore or underutilize one of the most powerful weapons in combating both: social media.

Commoditization and weak relationships are two sides of the same coin. On one side, strong relationships keep the lines of communications open, head off misunderstandings and dispel perceptions that all agents are the same. On the other side, agents contribute to commoditization if they treat policies more as transactions than relationships. In today’s marketplace, relationships with both current and prospective clients must be developed and maintained continually, not just at renewal time or when a claim needs attention.

Why? Because today’s insurance buyers, including those on the commercial side, are bombarded every day with more pitches, offers and come-ons and through more channels than ever — on TV, radio, smartphones, tablets, and yes, social media ads. They come not just from Flo and the gecko, Esurance and other digital-savvy carriers but also from new players such as Overstock and Walmart, both of which have launched efforts to peel off personal lines clients. These efforts work for three reasons: sheer saturation, they make the insurance process easier and more immediate and because most independent agents don’t fight back, or at least not effectively. That must change.

I appreciate how many issues and challenges agents have on their plates and how tempting it may be to dismiss social media by saying, “I’ll do it when I have the time.” For those agents who already have a Facebook or LinkedIn page without much to show for it, it’s just as easy to feel that social media is a waste of time. Both conclusions are wrong, dangerously so.

Agents Are Pressed for Time, but So Are Consumers

manwithwatch.jpgAgents do have time issues, but consumers are just as time-slammed, which is why they are increasingly turning to digital tools to help them find, evaluate, and buy from carriers and agents who make it as easy as possible to do so. It’s utter madness for any agent to ignore social media for that very reason. No agent, no matter how industrious and well meaning, can keep up if they insist on playing on a field that’s shrinking fast. Even the best website needs to be found and that means casting as wide a net as possible. Agents must be visible and accessible not just on their websites but also where their prospects gather to share ideas and stories and solutions to common problems — and that means social media. In addition, there is a growing trend in which consumers are more likely to skip browsing the Web (aka Googling) but instead to just visit the sites or platforms they favor. This trend underscores the need for agents to use social media as a critical means to reach out and be “found.”

Accenture, the management consulting, technology services firm, recently came out with a survey that reported that 48% of the respondents said they would consider comments on social media BEFORE making a buying decision. Why then, would any agency consciously ignore one communications tool that one out of every two buyers considers an important factor?

The fact is, every age group, from millenials to seniors, relies heavily on social media to help find and evaluate businesses to patronize. Why? For the simple reason that it is far easier and less time-consuming to go online, shop around, get some recommendations and then, and only then, schedule a direct conversation, either face-to-face or on the phone. Finding an insurance agent or just the right coverage may not be as simple as buying a loaf of bread. Most agents, however, lose the opportunity to sell to wide segments of the population by making it harder to be found and harder to get to know by avoiding social media entirely or by participating halfheartedly.

Just Being There Is Not Enough

It’s not enough just to have a mere presence on Facebook or Twitter or any of the other social media sites that consumers use today. The generic “we have great people, great service and great products” bromide that many agents display on their websites and on their social media pages just doesn’t cut it. To stand out from Flo, State Farm and other independents, agents must generate, week in and week out, distinct, memorable and unique social media images and content that resonate with their target niches.

To make social media work, agents need to wear their personalities on their sleeves and demonstrate how well they understand every market they serve. Ironically, that should not be as hard as it sounds. Every agent worth his or her salt got there because of a dynamic, energetic, can-do personality. It is just a matter of transferring that image to a digital platform.

Social Media as a Prospecting Tool

rubikscube.jpgIt’s also amazing to me why more agents do not use social media for prospecting. Every connection developed via social media represents a solid prospect, not just a faceless cold call. After all, these connections can show up on an agent’s digital doorstep because they share a common interest with the agent, be it a love of community, plumbers, jazz, or old cars. For example, LinkedIn maintains hundreds of discussion groups that cover topics ranging from parenting to poets to photographers. Entire books have been written by agents who find interest groups with which they share a special passion or expertise and then join in the discussion, not to sell overtly but to participate as a “fellow traveler.” Then when an opportunity to demonstrate insurance expertise presents itself, the “fellow traveler” enjoys a powerful credibility.

Creating the right content is also essential to social media success. There is nothing wrong with a consistent stream of insurance advice and periodic premium-saving tips, but there are two caveats. First, if you use canned advice from an outside source, understand that such content does little to separate an agent from competitors, particularly if they’re using similar content. Second, insurance advice is like broccoli — it’s good for consumers but no one wants it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, seven days a week. As a rule of thumb, it’s a good idea that for every insurance post, post two or more non-insurance items, including events, humor, useful tips and human interest.

Studies have shown that answering customer-service questions on social media is a powerful boost to participation. Specific policy questions about specific clients are off limits but general answers about a particular coverage, exposure or market work well.

The Most Important Best Practices

  • Use canned content sparingly. The best content is that which you create yourself and reflects something unique and distinctive about yourself or your agency.
  • Post consistently and frequently, at least three times a week.
  • Pick the social media sites that your prospects use.
  • Be visual. Use photos, videos, drawings and plenty of color to attract attention and to make your message fun and memorable.
  • Monitor everyday. The process of monitoring is not just checking your own Facebook page for responses. Monitor the social media activity of those communities you serve as well as your target markets for updates and unusual or interesting subjects. Monitor the activity of other agents with whom you compete. Learn what works and what doesn’t. Create reminders to monitor periodically throughout the day — your followers will understand that you are not glued to your computer screen but it is important to respond as quickly as you can to questions and comments that warrant it.
  • Measure, measure, measure. Measure continually, not just the number of likes, comments and shares but other details by using free or low-cost tools. Google Alerts (free) is a good first option but also take a look at SocialMention (also free) which provides more detail. Hootsuite, Tweetdeck and Buffer are all good with free options available.

Social media is not a new-fangled technological concept but actually a throwback to the days of the small town merchant in which communication was immediate and face-to-face — now it’s just dressed up in a new package. It’s not as hard as you may think, however it will get harder if you put off getting in the game or learning how to use it effectively.

Tom Wetzel is CEO of Thomas H. Wetzel & Associates, an insurance marketing communications firm with special services and training programs for agents on the productive use of social media. An insurance communicator for over 30 years, he has conducted presentations and workshops to thousands of insurance professionals across the country and served as the social media columnist for Rough Notes. He can be reached via email at, the company website and found on Facebook at “Social Media Management for Insurance,” Twitter and LinkedIn.