Embracing Technology

Getting Social

An enlightened path to adopting and incorporating social media into a corporate culture

by Cris Hay-Merchant

Cris Hay-Merchant is Director, Marketing Communications at Woodmen of the World Life Insurance Society, a fraternal insurer headquartered in Omaha, Neb. In addition to corporate and agent social media efforts, her team is responsible for internal and external communications, content marketing, events, advertising, web services and sales promotion activities. She is an Accredited Public Relations (APR) and has earned her Fraternal Insurance Counselor designation and her ALMI designation. Connect with Cris on Twitter @crishm

Our industry is not often described as one filled with “early adopters” of new technology. Many agencies have been particularly slow to add social media to their marketing arsenal. But, there are a number of reasons why social makes great business sense – too much sense to be neglected.

First, let’s look at the numbers. The recent PEW Research Internet Project found that 73% of people online use social networks. If you were offered the means to reach 73% of the population or even a fraction of that, wouldn’t you jump at it? Think about the leads you generate through print ads, trade shows, commercials and the like. Nothing else comes close to social.

Social also adds a new dimension to sales. We can get far more personal with potential customers and clients by interacting through social media. We can learn more about them and the stages of their lives so that we can efficiently tailor contacts to address their needs. Conversations via social feel safe for customers and occupy far less time for reps. It’s a pretty awesome thing to be able to reach someone at the right time with the right message through their preferred method of contact, delivering something relevant to their lives.

These great benefits may make you pause to ask why social hasn’t already caught fire in the insurance industry. Two reasons immediately jump to mind: regulation and content distribution. These are pretty significant, each in its own right. But remember – 73% – so let’s explore.

The Objections

Why is regulation such an issue in terms of social media? All it takes is one inappropriate comment or mistake from an employee and you are in a heap of trouble. Many companies are afraid to take the risk because they don’t have the time, energy or resources to police reps’ social streams nor do they have any desire to play big brother.

Content distribution also stands out as a significant hurdle because it takes a lot of work for corporate to get the right kind of content into the hands of reps. There is also a bit of a time crunch. In the days of the 24-hour news cycle, content must go out in a timely fashion or it becomes irrelevant before a customer ever views it.

A Bit about Us

To help you see how you can implement social successfully and overcome these hurdles, I want to share our experience. Woodmen of the World Life Insurance Society is a fraternal insurer. We’re not for profit, and we give back to the communities where we live, work and do business. There are chapters of member-customers in communities across the country. We have about 1,000 captive sales agents disbursed across 50 states, and about 85% of them are based in the southeastern United States.
We really wanted to make social an integral part of our representatives’ lives and help them use it to showcase how much they care about their own local communities. Though the desire was there, the execution (initially) was not.

73% of people online use social networks. If you were offered the means to reach 73% of the population or even a fraction of that, wouldn’t you jump at it?

We had engaged a partner to help us enable our representatives being active in social media, but that solution fell short. It did not facilitate customer engagement or allow the delivery of content to representatives. Social was not working the way we believed it could or should. Adoption was slow to say the least.

The Right Partner

We started hearing about Hearsay Social through a number of different channels, hoped it could solve some of our earlier issues, and decided to take a new leap into social. From the get-go, everything about Hearsay Social was easy. The company took the time to understand our business and delivered a solution that worked seamlessly from the Home Office to each representative who participated in the initial rollout.

The Hearsay Social platform could be accessed easily, through Facebook Connect, and our representatives picked it up right away. Hearsay Social’s built-in content approval workflows ensured that our team, including marketing, product compliance and legal could work efficiently and effectively on approvals and reviews internally, and that this would ensure that content could make it to our representatives in a remarkably timely fashion. Hearsay Social took care of our biggest fears about social right away.

An added bonus, representatives don’t need to rely on our office to deliver the content they want. If representatives need an approved post to speak to issues their clients are facing, they can use Hearsay Social to go into a large library of pre-approved content and select just the right piece of content. A really important part of Hearsay Social for our reps is that Hearsay Social provides real-time updates to keep agents informed about the important life events happening to their social connections so that they can reach out with appropriate information. It’s a well-designed system that enables our representatives to make the most out of every social connection.

The Results

We initially rolled Hearsay Social out to 50 representatives. We’ve been so pleased that we just surpassed 220 agents using Hearsay Social. We expect this to grow significantly over the next year, by at least 50 percent.

Beyond the nuts and bolts of how Hearsay Social works, what’s really impressive is the impact on our Field customers. There are countless examples of how representatives have won trust and gained customers through social, such as Jim Shull from Kentucky who credits social media with at least four sales and allowed him to meet the needs of clients with both life insurance and 401k solutions. Or, when C.T. Shaw, a representative from North Carolina reconnected via social media with a friend he hadn’t seen since high school, and then was able to do business with that friend and provide him with the life insurance protection the family needed.

While new customer acquisition is vital, customer retention is perhaps even more essential in today’s competitive environment. Adding a social element helps our representatives build upon existing connections and maintain relationships over the long-term.

I love hearing comments from our representatives, such as Kyle Savage, one of our representatives in Oklahoma, for whom social relationships make a big difference.

  • “It’s funny, the older generations would prefer a phone call or an in-person meeting. With the younger generation (my generation), social media interaction is preferred. Having a presence on social media makes it more comfortable for them to contact me both online and in person.”

I know that adding a social component to your company might seem challenging or even a little overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. With the right tools, social becomes an incredibly powerful mechanism for customer acquisition and retention. It can also do wonders for showcasing the human side of your brand.