Benefit brokers hoping to position themselves as a clients trusted adviser have an enormous opportunity to do so via social media, where new technologies and mobile apps can literally put you in your clients pocket.
Increasingly, benefit advisers are using social media websites and apps to recruit new clients and network with business associates. Eighty-percent of independent agents using social media say they are using it to gather new leads, while 81% are using it for brand recognition, 77% for relationship building and half (50%) for improving service, according to Southern States Insurance.
Not so surprisingly, young advisers are leading the way. Nearly two-thirds (72%) of young advisers are now using Facebook and 74% LinkedIn, according to numbers published by the Douglasville, Ga.-based company recently. Twenty-nine percent also use Twitter, while 10% of respondents to their survey are maintaining blogs.
Geolocation social media apps like SocialRadar and Here on Biz are also gaining in popularity and taking social media networking to a new level.
Here on Biz, a location-aware social network, aims to help business professionals connect in real time. Using your LinkedIn platform, the app identifies professionals who work in the same industry you do, share similar job titles or attended the same college you did. When youre in close physical location proximity to any users you might know, or that are already in your network, the app sends you a push notification telling you theyre nearby.
The apps creators have even partnered with Virgin America airlines to bring real-time social networking to the skies. Using Gogo's in-flight Wi-Fi network and an application programming interface that calculates an aircraft's location in the sky, the Here on Biz app will allow users to message others on their flight, at their destination or on other Virgin America planes.
SocialRadar, created by a Washington-based startup of the same name, collects information like employment, relationship status, education and music preferences from Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Instagram and Google+. The app then blends that data with locations gleaned from users smartphones to present profiles of people nearby.
Creating a social presence
While mobile apps like these bring new meaning to the social media marketing mantra be findable, industry experts say agents looking to pick up new clients also need to do more.
Its not enough to ratchet up the number of likes on your Facebook page anymore. Being a trusted adviser is less about social marketing and more about social presence, according to Hearsay Social, the provider of one of the leading social business platforms for the financial services industry.
In todays on-demand society, consumers seek out information on their own more than ever. Its important for advisers to be findable on social media channels, but even more important for them to be seen as a resource one that is friendly, experienced and in-the-know.
Todays customers dont want to be sold something, they want to feel empowered to make a purchase decision after doing their own research, Hearsay Social advises in its social selling Ebook.
If you arent adding value by building a relationship and guiding prospective clients through the decision-making process, you risk losing out to someone who does play the role of trusted adviser, the company warns.
Consumers have had it with the impersonal push marketing of yesterday, including mass mailings, cold-calling and blast e-mails, says Rick Morgan, a consultant based in Broomfield, Colo. Social media fosters a new networking and is all about building and strengthening relationships, he adds.
The meteoric rise of tools like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are telling us that customers want to do business with people whom they feel like they know and trust. This should be reason enough for agents and brokers to get in the game and implement a social networking strategy, Morgan says.
Aside from building out profiles on social media outlets and apps, successful salespeople stay on their clients radar by regularly sharing helpful tips relating to the products they sell, relevant news and personal updates that build a rapport.
There are no hard and fast rules for advisers or agencies looking to use social networking, Morgan says. He reminds advisers that openness and transparency are key elements to keep in mind, with the end goal of building and strengthening trusted relationships.
Social networking isnt about you its about your online community of friends, fans, followers and connecting with them so that when they have a need for insurance, they remember they have an agent friend on the social web that specializes in that, he adds.
Compliance, compliance, compliance
Its important to remember that social media platforms are considered a medium of communication, and regulations may apply. Obviously, proprietary or confidential information should not be discussed, referred to or disseminated on social media sites.
In 2011 the National Association of Insurance Commissioners Social Media Working Group released the white paper called The Use of Social Media in Insurance, which says the responsibility lies with each insurer, agency and producer to determine whether a particular vendor, technology, system or program provides the appropriate privacy, retention and retrieval functions necessary to comply with various state statutes and rules.
The Federal Trade Commission has also provided regulations regarding disclosure and transparency of sponsored content on social media sites. It should be part of an agencys larger social media strategy to know whats within its legal obligation to disclose in social media, as well as what state and federal regulations may apply to its social media use.
An agencys social media strategy should also create a content management plan to include how content will be monitored, who will be assigned and/or allowed to post content, how to respond to positive/negative conversations and whether social media can be used within the agency for professional or personal use, or both.
An agencys social media strategy should also assign social media responsibilities, develop policies and procedures for social media use, and establish social media objectives and how to measure those objectives.
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