Social media is a nearly ubiquitous endeavor among insurers, and a surprisingly large number identified customer service as a critical area of potential value, according to a new survey from Celent, which encourages insurers to build social tools into their marketing, product delivery and customer service processes.

A little less surprising, the biggest barriers to entry, as indicated by respondents, were legal, regulatory and compliance uncertainties. This makes even more sense considering that more than one-third of insurers admitted they have not established a social media strategy. “This can create a risk management issue in the areas of employment law, regulatory compliance and protection of intellectual property rights,” Celent said.

Other top challenges in the successful adoption of social media, in order behind compliance, were: lack of top management support; shortage of skills/know-how; and lack of link with company strategy.

This hasn’t stopped most insurers from engaging social, however: 80 percent of insurers use social media in their business, and of those that don’t yet use it, 45 percent plan to implement such tools within the next year. When asked if they would increase the use of social media over the next year, “Yes, somewhat” (60 percent) and “Yes, significantly” (38 percent) dominated, as a mere two percent indicated that their social media use has peaked.

Meanwhile, none of the respondents rated their social media technology tools as excellent; however, the immature nature of the technology is evidenced by the fact that most said they could not offer an opinion on the usefulness of these tools.

While customer service is seen as the most obvious opportunity to gain competitive advantage from social media, few insurers are offering assistance to agents using the tools; in the report, 55 percent of agents confirmed using social media in their sales efforts.

Celent encourages insurers to look into the benefits of extending social services to agents, as well as urging auto, disability, workers’ compensation and employer liability insurers to “evaluate the benefits of social as a fraud mitigation tool in both underwriting and claims functions.”

The survey outlined in the report was administered during a two-week period in January 2013, the online survey attracted 114 North American insurer respondents.

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