Insurers and Social Media – Where are We? – A Snapshot


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Insurance is not as uniform as most people outside of the industry think it is. When people ask, “What insurance companies are performing best with social media?” it’s as if they’re asking, “How long is a piece of string?” The problem is that too many insurers embarked on the wrong social strategy, skipping merrily along with Flo and the gecko but without that odd billion to spend on marketing, this is unlikely to be effective.

So, let’s try to separate the possible options.

Brand Marketing – This best applies to the big boys, the ones with deep pockets; and really, this is more about digital marketing than about social media. There is nothing wrong with this approach; social networks are channels through which messages can be pushed and shared, thereby creating amplification. Entertainment and humor, especially when mascots are employed, are often the name of the game, and Facebook and to a lesser extent Twitter, the platforms of choice. There really is very little engagement involved. To illustrate, in December, Mayhem (Allstate) attracted almost half a million interactions on Facebook but responded with just 10 replies. The goal is to go directly to the consumer, building brand awareness objectives similar to those of an ad strategy. To build audiences and even to attract interaction, social ads do most of the heavy lifting with the target fan closer to the Gen-Y community and interactions rates spiked by ads. According to Jonathan Beamer, marketing strategy and innovation business leader at Progressive, one of the key initiatives for social media is “creating amazing content and backing it with muscle (money) to amplify the message.”

Facebook   Fan Count Q4 Fan Change Normalized Interaction Rate (Q4)
Flo, The Progressive Girl 5,361,348 0.6% 2%
Mayhem (Allstate) 1,742,687 6.2% 22%
State Farm Nation 1,541,442 3.8% 1%
AFLAC Duck 443,880 6.4% 10%
The Gecko (GEICO) 313,111 0.2% 2%

Insurers with Captive Agents – Compliance concerns initially restricted social media to inside the corporate walls. With agents prohibited from participating, insurers embarked on a corporate strategy, albeit with less entertainment and more engagement than the brand marketers. Social media practitioners attempt to balance the new rules of social media while staying true to the generally conservative persona of an insurer. It is well known that in social media, people respond to humor, fill-in-the-blank questions and cute images. So otherwise very sensible insurers gushed over cute kittens and asked us to join them in celebrating major calendar events such as “Its Friday, Woohoo”. To build up fans and followers, they used paid activities such as ads but this extended to contests, sweepstakes and especially charity donations made in exchanged page likes, post shares and comments. The resultant fan count has often been more the result of budget than of core organic fan appeal. Facebook has been the central platform, with Twitter becoming more popular and now acting as a news feed.

The compliance problem, while not solved is simply better understood, and vendors have enthusiastically jumped in to help insurers solve the problem. Now insurers are trying to blend their corporate strategies with an agent model, creating libraries of approved content for agents. It is clearly early days for agents, with the majority of agent pages sparsely liked and mostly full of corporate posts.

 Facebook Fan Count Q4 Change Normalized Interaction Rate (Q4)
Farmers Insurance 2,254,049 -0.4% 0.4%
MetLife 556,883 6.7% 5.7%
New York Life 491,412 4.9% 2.1%
Allstate 394,450 27.8% 10.5%
State Farm Insurance 345,059 3.1% 12.0%

Insurers with Independent Agents – This one is hard – really hard. There is simply very little reason for customers to like a carrier when their primary relationship resides with agencies. Agencies, if they are using social media, want to build on their own brand and see little value in promoting carriers. Carriers initially saw social as a way to cheaply build on their own brand awareness, but this by and large has not worked.

For the carriers, fan numbers are relatively low, no surprise. Now many carriers are concentrating on creating content for agencies, hoping they re-share, thereby amplifying reach. Typically, the initial content (at least the content that is working) is lightly branded offering very simple advice or hints and tips – the “huh, that’s interesting” type of content. Increasingly the content is being expanded with links to blogs on carrier sites that provide far more branding opportunities. To see how well this strategy is working, the number and percentage of Facebook story ‘shares’ (or Twitter retweets), can be useful indicators as almost all come from agencies.

In these early days of agency social presence, agencies crave content, having little of their own, and eagerly re-share carrier content. As they become more proficient, they tend to use more of their own content. This is not a problem in the short term for carriers, as so few agencies would be considered proficient.

Some insurers, but mostly those that already have strong brand awareness, are reaching over the agencies and directly to consumers. Facebook is the platform to communicate to agencies with personal lines. For commercial lines, Facebook is rarely a good option, and while there is a lot of talk about employing LinkedIn more extensively, activity remains slow.

Fan Count Q4 Change Normalized Interaction Rate (Q4) Shares as % of Total Interactions
Travelers Insurance 15,375 6% 20% 62%
Foremost 43,045 1% 3% 55%
Auto-Owners Insurance 3,133 14% 67% 54%
Erie Insurance 27,429 20% 8% 51%
Grange Insurance 1,072 11% 21% 49%
State Auto 1,629 7% 19% 45%
Mercury Insurance 2,946 8% 18% 40%
Encompass 7,495 114% 10% 38%
Transamerica 176,754 93% 8% 32%
Pekin Insurance 5,482 0% 7% 31%
Industry Average       7%

B2B Insurers – Forget Facebook. The objective of the carrier here is to be a trusted and consistent source of relevant content. This is invariably a mix of owned and curated content. Curated content is from third parties that are reputable sources vetted by the insurer. The rationale is that business customers want to pass on information but do not have the time to scour the Web looking for articles with which to impress the client. Twitter is fast becoming a convenient news feed service, with LinkedIn used to create highly targeted updates.

Twitter B2B Followers Q4 Change
Zurich North America 19,800 44.1%
AON 13,300 11.7%
SwissRe 8,761 17.8%
Munich Re (US) 5,081 13.8%
Lexington Insurance 3,449 7.5%

Tribes – This is not about a type of insurer but about a type of customer. The Internet is often portrayed as homogenizing everyone, tying consumers together as one. But more often it plays the opposite role, allowing ‘tribes’ to form. Social media coalesces around common bonds, and while that can be family, friends or geography, it can also be interests, jobs and skills. Insurers that service natural communities have an advantage. Think of USAA, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, Horace Mann (teachers) or even Tennessee Farmers Insurance. These insurers don’t have to construct false social camaraderie, they need to harness it.

Communities can be constructed, but of course this is harder and can splinter marketing efforts depending on the number of groups. Some examples are Allstate Motorcycle, Acuity InGear for Truckers, Grinnell Front Porch (Farmers) and State Farm Latino.

Facebook Communities Fan Count Q4 Change Normalized Interaction Rate (Q4)
Wild Kingdom (Mutual of Omaha) 27,870 32% 47%
Lutherans Online 31,951 19% 38%
Farmer Charlie (TN Farmers) 15,353 15% 26%
Farm Bureau Financial Services 2,970 36% 20%
Thrivent Financial 303,684 21% 19%
Allstate Motorcycle 179,459 0% 19%
American Collectors Insurance 5,184 3% 17%
Acuity (Manufacturers) 7,374 5% 17%
USAA 615,824 9% 14%
Horace Mann (Teachers) 41,909 44% 12%
Industry Average     7%

View Insurance Industry Facebook  Table

View Insurance Industry Twitter Table 

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Terry Golesworthy
As the president of The Customer Respect Group for 7 years, I focus on the online experience of consumers. Online experience has always been bigger than the company website, from the response to email to integration to other offline channels. It has now grown to include social media.


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