About this Article: This article provides independent agencies with practical guidance on how they can benefit from social networking cost effectively to extend their marketing reach and improve client contact and service. The author outlines the sites and free online tools her agency uses; how she budgets her time spent on social web marketing; and how she ties in her social networking with her website to create an integrated Internet presence and brand.
By Angelyn Treutel
Everywhere you go, everyone is talking about social networking. What is going on, and what can it do for your agency?
Social networking saves you money. As agents, we have a reputation for being rather frugal. Most of the tools available for social networking are FREE. All you have to do is invest a little of your time or enlist the help of an enthusiastic agency co-worker! With social networking, agents can reduce the cost of using print advertising: newspaper ads, phone book ads, and no more painting on a roadside bench! The market reach is phenomenal. Think about how many people read a newspaper in your home town – in my town it is around 10,000. Then check how many people in your area use Facebook – in my area it is 67,000!
Social networking is merely an extension of how agents have conducted business in the past. The successful agent of yesterday invested in a storefront and used community networks to develop referrals and prospects. Printed advertising abounded in newspapers, magazines, and phone books. Business cards were used as a calling card and a convenient way to remind prospects how to contact you on the office phone. Agents used print media to emphasize their expertise and encourage clients to visit them in the office.
Wow, how times have changed! Today’s consumers want convenience and everything at their fingertips! Successful agents are reaping the benefits of having an integrated website which presents an outward face to the online consumer. This extends the brick-and-mortar storefront and reaches out into the Internet marketplace. Using online profile pages like Facebook (www.facebook.com
), Google (www.google.com.profiles
), and MerchantCircle (www.merchantcircle.com
) helps drive consumers to your agency website for a broader reach at any time of the day or week. Agents are able to provide more convenience to their clients and prospects by using customer portals, email, text messaging, and mobile phones.
The concept of networking may have shifted from being exclusively face-to-face to one of cyber-connections, but networking is something that all agents are very comfortable with, because agents are good at building relationships. Social networking allows you to connect with more contacts than would be humanly possible to meet in person. Plus, the connections increase exponentially with the ease of online referrals from one of your connections to all of their connections. And, frankly, many modern consumers distrust print media when they are researching products. They prefer to obtain the opinion of a trusted peer group or from their own connections/friends. With social networking, agents have more opportunity to showcase themselves as a Trusted Choice and consumer advocate.
Don’t let the desire to measure ROI stop you from getting started! There are many ways to measure the success of embracing social media. Using a free tool like Google-Analytics (www.google.com/analytics
) allows you to measure easily the impact of your website and your online advertising campaigns. The tool tracks site usage, which pages are viewed, how much time viewers spend on each page, which search engines or other sites were used to find your agency, which keywords were used to locate your site, and more. Tools like Website Grader (www.websitegrader.com
) are available to evaluate objectively the effectiveness of your site and provide you with constructive ways to make it better.
Relevant and fresh content on your agency website is critical, and the more partner sites that link to your agency site, the better. Sign up for local search on Google (www.google.com/local/add
) and yahoo (http://edit2.ls.sp2.yahoo.com/csubmit/
). Have your site listed by local partners and organizations like your local
Chamber or church or business club. Keep your website interesting for your clients and prospects. Consider using RSS feeds (automatic feeds of fresh news and content from another website) and add a blog on interesting consumer and community topics.
To leverage the time commitment required to maintain your social networking presence, you may want to consider a rotation schedule to tie all of your efforts together. On some frequency, update Facebook to share tips, use LinkedIn to keep up with reading, topics, trips and professional networking, and use Twitter to communicate pertinent updates. Use email for sending out newsletters, and offer chat/text messaging capability. Each week, update your blog to add interesting stories and consumer tips. At least monthly, update your website to include news and events, and be sure to link to all of your social network sites to your website to complete the cycle.
Social networking and marketing put more tools in your toolbox and give you a broader market reach for very little expense. Use your website to supplement your physical office. Analyze your website traffic and make upgrades to improve your close ratio. Use social networking as your virtual business card to expand your community outreach, enhance your networking presence, get more prospects and turn them into clients!
What do you mean you haven’t started using social networking to make your agency better? You need to jump right in! Ready … Set …. GO !!!!!!!!
Editor’s Note: Angelyn participated with other industry leaders in an excellent panel on Internet Marketing at the ACT Special Event held in September, 2009. A podcast of this panel, as well as a second one on enhancing agency productivity, is available at www.independentagent.com/act
Angelyn Treutel is Treasurer, Vice President, and Chief Information Officer of Treutel Insurance Agency, as well as Chair of the Agents Council for Technology (ACT). Angelyn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. ACT is part of the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America and its Web site can be found at www.independentagent.com/act. For more information about ACT, contact Jeff Yates, ACT Executive Director at email@example.com. This article reflects the views of the author and should not be construed as an official statement by ACT.