Companies in virtually every industry are finding that social media sites can be valuable business tools, serving as mechanisms for not only engaging with customers and prospects and spreading the word about their brands, but even selling products and services.

One company that’s taking part in the trend, Country Financial, recently announced the successful rollout of a social sales platform from Hearsay Social to more than 1,000 of its sales representatives around the country.

The company, which has provided auto, home, life insurance and investments for more than 85 years and operates in 17 states, wanted to improve its process of managing and using social media. In 2012         Country Financial began looking at social media management solutions and discovered the Hearsay Social platform.

The company launched a pilot program for the platform in October 2012 with nearly 40 of its financial representatives and agency managers.

“We worked closely with that group, asked for their feedback and then used the feedback to help us as we rolled it out to the remainder of our agency force,” says Chad Allen, VP, Financial & Brokerage Solutions at Country Financial. The pilot group’s overall response was positive, Allen says, and the company decided to make the platform available to its entire agency force in March 2013.

Prior to deploying the Hearsay Social platform, Country Financial representatives’ use of social media was challenging because of time-consuming processes and compliance requirements. The firm’s compliance team would typically spend weeks at a time working with reps to update and edit social content.

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“When we began investigating social media management solutions our goal was finding something that met our compliance needs, but was also easy for our agency force to use,” Allen says.

With the Hearsay platform, compliance has become streamlined and content issues are resolved within minutes. The platform enables sales representatives to quickly and easily adopt social-selling techniques. It’s designed to boost sales productivity and incorporate best practices while ensuring brand integrity and compliance for even the most regulated industries, according to San Francisco-based Hearsay Social.

With the Hearsay Social platform, Country’s representatives are now able to more effectively get their marketing messages out, increase brand awareness and build stronger relationships with customers and prospects through social sites Facebook and LinkedIn.

Via a single platform, the financial reps can manage their presence on both Facebook business pages and LinkedIn profiles simultaneously. “What we like about most about Hearsay is that our reps can manage both a Facebook page and a LinkedIn profile from one place,” Allen says.

On the administrative side, Country Financial’s interactive and social media management team works with its public affairs department, recruiting and other key stakeholders to develop hundreds of pre-approved, compliant posts that the agency force can share with their social networks, Allen says. “At the same time, our compliance team can quickly help our financial representatives modify and revise any posts before they’re shared with the public,” he says.

So far the company has seen several benefits from using the platform. One is the rapid adoption rate among reps. “We made Hearsay an optional service for our agency force, and hoped we’d see 25 percent of them using the service after the first year,” Allen says. “We’re only six months in and more than half of our agency force has completed our social media training course.”

Prior to the Hearsay rollout, the company had about 75 different active social media accounts under its brand. “Today, we have more than 900,” Allen says. “We’re very proud of the early results.”

Another benefit is an increase in reach. “If you look at our total audience size across all social media platforms, we’ve added 100,000 new Facebook fans and LinkedIn connections” since March 2013, Allen says. “That’s great for developing awareness about the Country brand.”

Yet another benefit is the measurable reduction in compliance issues. “Prior to using Hearsay, it was very difficult for our compliance staff to monitor content for compliance,” Allen says. “Today, our compliance team can help revise content before it’s ever published on a timeline or wall. In many cases, revisions can be made in a matter of minutes.”

The platform has attracted a broad range of users, which is somewhat surprising to management at the company. “When we made Hearsay available to our agency force, we weren’t sure whether it was only our younger financial reps who would use it,” Allen says. “But we’re seeing a lot of our [generation X] and baby boomer reps embrace social media, too. Rural, urban, old and young, regardless of their age or social media savvy, it’s a nice mix of our field force.”

While there are no immediate plans to expand use of the platform, Allen says Country Financial is actively exploring how it can leverage social media interaction as a complement to more traditional forms of contact.

“At a strategic level, we’re always looking at ways to help our agency force build relationships, whether its face-to-face during an insurance and financial review, or by connecting on social media,” Allen says. The company surveyed its agency force to ask reps if they want to market themselves and their business on other social media channels besides Facebook and LinkedIn, and if so which channels they wanted to use.

“We’re taking that feedback and could make a decision on expansion [of the platform] in the near future,” Allen says.

Country Financial is not new to social media. Members of its interactive and social media management team, marketing and public affairs departments, corporate and agency recruiters, IT department, customer service department and others in the company have worked together to manage its corporate social media accounts for several years, Allen says.

“We don’t silo our social media management,” Allen says. “It’s really a team effort to get it done.” The key business drivers to using social media in the first place were similar to those of a lot of other brands, he says, including building relationships with new customers, enhancing relationships with existing customers, building brand awareness, making it easier for clients to communicate with the company, and improving regulatory compliance.

While Country Financial has been active on several social media sites, most of its growth and engagement has been on Facebook, Allen says.

One of the biggest benefits of social media in general has been from a customer service perspective, Allen says. “Our Customer Advocacy team helps monitor all of our corporate social media channels” continuously, he says. “If our customers say great things about us on Facebook or Twitter, we thank them. If they say not-so-great things about us, we reach out quickly to try and fix it. If our customers reach out to us on social, they want answers quickly. And we do everything we can to get them the answers they need.”

The social media initiatives fit well with the company’s overall business goals.

“As current and prospective customers change the way they communicate, we know we need to change along with them,” Allen says. “Today’s customer expects to be able to reach out to us via social media, and our social media initiatives help us meet those expectations.”

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