Enterprises worldwide are working to understand and capitalize on the potential of Web 2.0 to cost-effectively support and extend internal and outward-facing initiatives - from sales and marketing efforts to corporate learning and employee recruitment and retention.

In the traditionally conservative insurance industry, we see considerable discussion among insurers about where and how to begin the Web 2.0 journey. For insurers already living in this realm, the focus is on taking their Web 2.0 initiatives to a new level. Regardless of where a company stands in the adoption curve, there are compelling reasons to enter and stay on the Web 2.0 highway.

WHY ALL THE BUZZ?

Web 2.0 refers to the second generation of Web development and design that enables a more dynamic and lively user interface, as well as greater information sharing and collaboration. It has spurred the development and evolution of Web-based communities, hosted services and Web applications, including social applications that allow individuals to communicate and collaborate online. Web 2.0 communication tools and social applications include blogs, video-sharing sites, micro blogging and Wikis.

Insurers have taken note of these developments. Consumers are relying more on the Internet as their transactional channel of choice. More than 17 million U.S. consumers completed transactions on an insurance Web site in 2008, according to Nielsen Online, a service of New York-based Nielsen Co.

Successful insurers are embracing this trend through extended Web functionality and online transactional capabilities. In today's economic reality, online collaboration and transactional tools offer insurers new ways to interact with, serve and market to customers in an immediate and cost-effective way. Equally important, the social Web is becoming the new norm. Facebook, for example, has more than 250 million active users worldwide. Web 2.0 tools are also second nature to the growing Gen Y workforce. Insurers that do not attempt to understand and map a strategy for participating in the Web 2.0 wave now will likely to have to play catch up.

REAL-WORLD APPLICATIONS

We are seeing a number of insurers leverage Web 2.0 applications to make strides in a number of areas:

Creating and supporting brand awareness. Web 2.0 and social media tools enable insurers to bring their message and brand to a tailored audience in a highly personalized and extremely cost-effective manner. San Francisco-based Esurance Inc., for example, has created Erin Esurance, a virtual character and star of the company's advertising campaigns, who also has an official Facebook page and more than a dozen fan-created Facebook pages and YouTube videos.

Supporting sales and service. Insurers are taking steps to integrate social networking into sales and customer service initiatives to deliver faster, more personalized service through intelligent Web interaction. For example, each New York Life Insurance Co. Web page now includes a "Read This Page" button, which enables visitors to stream audio of the text on the page, freeing them to surf other pages while "reading" information about available products.

Fostering collaboration and consistency. The influx of Gen Y to the workforce requires insurers to evaluate how they communicate with younger employees who grew up on the Internet, and how they build community and culture across the organization.

Supporting employee recruitment and training. Insurers are finding that they can improve the effectiveness of recruiting and training initiatives by reaching candidates and current employees through the channels they are most comfortable using.

TAKING PARTICIPATION TO A NEW LEVEL

Insurers that have experienced initial success with Web 2.0 initiatives are now looking to realize the potential of Enterprise 2.0 - the application of Web 2.0 and social applications to solving business problems.

The first wave of adoption, which is where we are today, represents the application of non-business tools for business problems. The next wave of social tools, designed specifically for business use, will help insurers optimize the value derived from collaborative tools, while ensuring the scalability and security demanded by insurance enterprises. Utilizing enterprise-specific social networks, insurers will be able to:

* more effectively interact with customers/prospects, and gain increased insight into their preferences

* use collective customer information to improve predictions on prospects and products

* leverage the collective knowledge of the enterprise social network to optimize sales efficiency and effectiveness through sharing and reuse of campaign components

* improve company productivity and efficiency by categorizing, rating and tagging content for improved organization.

Web 2.0 technologies, and the evolution to Enterprise 2.0 capabilities, offer insurers great potential to capitalize on the behavior and preferences of the next generation. The flexible and social nature of these tools will enable carriers to extend their ability to effectively and efficiently market to, and service, a new generation of customers, build and reinforce a shared corporate culture, and recruit, train and retain the next generation of industry employees.

Srini Venkatasantham is VP of product strategy at Oracle Insurance, Redwood Shores, Calif.

(c) 2009 Insurance Networking News and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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