About this article: This article outlines three levels of involvement for agencies with social media, depending upon the agency’s objectives and the amount of time it wants to dedicate. With each level of involvement, the author recommends specific time-savers that will help agency employees get the greatest impact from the time they spend working on the social web.
by Matt Marko
As a Marketing Process Manager for Progressive, I speak with independent agents across the country about the importance of social media. For most, finding time in their busy schedule is one of the biggest concerns.
But you don’t have to dedicate hundreds of hours to see a return from social media. A well-defined strategy (and a few time-saving tools) can help you strike a balance between the time you invest and the value your investment adds.
When it comes to social media planning, there’s no right or wrong level of involvement. The most important factor is consistency. Start by setting goals for your agency’s participation. Whether it’s regular interaction with customers on Facebook, a tweet every few days, or a weekly blog post, you can strengthen your social media presence by having clear goals in sight.
Here are three levels of social media involvement to consider based on the time you want to commit and the goals you set:
Listen (1-2 hours a week)
This should be the first step of any social media strategy. After you’ve set up your agency’s accounts on sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, study what people are saying on the platform. Check sites like Google Places or Yelp! for customer reviews of your agency. Friend your customers and follow their updates, track your competitors’ tweets, and watch how people respond. Note what’s working, record the questions and topics that dominate the conversation, and think through how you’d respond.
By first using social media as a listening tool, you’ll learn best practices for status updates, tweets and blog posts before creating your own. Plus, you can apply what you’re learning from online chatter to shape quoting and in-person conversations with your customers.
- Clearly outline actions and responsibilities within your agency to prevent redundancy, maintain focus and meet your social media goals. For example, you could assign a single person in your agency to review Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn for one hour, twice a week.
- “Like” competitor Facebook pages from your personal profile to more easily follow their updates when you’re online.
- Search Twitter and third party directories like WeFollow and Twellow to identify popular profiles associated with insurance. Create Twitter lists to organize the people you follow by category (customers, competitors, etc.), and use programs like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck to monitor your Twitter lists at a glance.
- Use a reputation management tool to monitor what people are saying about your agency. Consider using free services likeSocialMention and Google Alerts, or more robust paid services like ChatMeter, LocationMonitor, or Trackur.
- Create a Google Reader account for one-stop monitoring of key insurance blogs and publications. Content hubs can save you hours a week by better organizing content for quick review.
Respond (2-5 hours a week)
After taking some time to listen, join the conversation by responding to questions, posts, and comments with a helpful link or thoughtful answer. Note that while answering questions or directing people to another online resource builds goodwill and trust, “hijacking” an online conversation to explicitly promote your agency can undermine your efforts.
Provide helpful advice over time and associate comments with your agency through hyperlinks or a simple signature with contact information. Remember, showing your value doesn’t require you to give “pro bono” advice. Asking the right questions and outlining relevant points customers should consider can demonstrate the value of an independent agent, and lead to a follow-up phone call.
- Focus on a few active online communities rather than jumping around looking for every opportunity to respond. You’ll get to know the members better and your participation will build credibility that can lead to references across the social network.
- Develop a FAQ of common topics, your responses, and online resources you can share. Using these responses as a starting point can save time when responding to similar questions or comments.
Publish (5+ hours a week)
The final level of social media engagement is proactively communicating to your audience. Although most businesses prefer to jump right into engagement, by listening and responding first, you’ll be more comfortable with the medium and your audience. By starting slow, you’ll also have a better understanding of the time you have for social media, and you’ll be more likely to provide the consistent presence necessary to build trust.
- Put a process in place to keep your involvement consistent and efficient. Assign a producer, CSR, or a marketing intern from a local college as your social media manager to ensure a single point of contact. Make sure they work alongside everyone in your agency to get questions answered and develop content without bottlenecks. Remember that effective social media engagement is timely and human. Delayed responses and overly-corporate language limit your effectiveness online.
- Share any quality information you think followers may be interested in—it doesn’t always need to be about insurance. Not only can this save you time developing your own content, it provides value to fans, followers and readers and increases the chance that others will share your content with their communities.
- Distribute the work among a few employees to keep it manageable. This adds variety to your posts, and prevents disruption due to vacation, job changes, or illness.
- Mix up your content. A thought-provoking question can be as effective as a blog post, and takes a fraction of the time to compose. Discussing community events or commenting on your favorite sports team can also engage your audience without the research and writing time longer posts may require. Plus, consumers will appreciate seeing the personality of your agency and its employees.
Editor’s Note: Please visit the “Websites & Social Media” quick link at www.iiaba.net/act for more articles and recorded webinars on social media issues.
Matthew Marko is a Marketing Process Manager for Progressive Insurance. He works to provide local marketing strategies, tools and co-branded collateral to help independent agencies grow their businesses. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Matt prepared this article for 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.