My colleague, Josh Bernoff, wrote a very relevant and entertaining research piece called Social Technology Strategies For “Boring” Consumer Brands. The premise of his research is that firms don’t have to be popular consumer brands (e.g. Coca-Cola) in order to create an effective social technology strategy. Focus on your customers and tap into what Bernoff calls “borrowed relevance”—creating an application that's about your customers' problems, and then leveraging that within your social application.

Bernoff highlighted insurance, which “is inarguably the dullest possible category.” Apparently, others agree that insurance does not rate high on the fun-o-meter of consumer brands. For example, John Swigart, chief marketing officer of Esurance, which invests heavily in social networking, summed it up best by stating, "We sell the most boring product in the world."

Forrester data shows that consumers' use of social technologies exploded in 2008, with 75% of U.S. online adults now participating in or consuming social media content at least once a month. So how should an insurance company, steward of boring products and brands, fully leverage social technologies?

Follow The Leaders

Several insurers have used the borrowed relevance strategy to implement effective social technology platforms for consumers and agents including:

• GEICO’s MyGreatRides and Allstate’s Allstate Garage tap into the need for customized content for motorcycle enthusiasts

• American Family’s Facebook page and New York Life’s LinkedIn page help improve agent recruitment, development and retention

• Nationwide’s HaveTheTalkAmerica and Liberty Mutual’s ResponsibilityProject offer educational content to help consumers address financial, social and moral topics

Insurance marketing and eBusiness executives should also look outside of their industry to identify innovative and effective social technology strategies. Here are a few examples from other leading firms who addressed customer problems through a social technology strategy:

• Compass Bank’s (a subsidiary of Spain’s BBVA) Built-to-Order social application removes unnecessary checking account features. Consumers can create a personalized checking account (within underwriting parameters) that meets their needs.

• EA Sports' Madden General Discussion group captures more than 1,200 user-generated topics and 15,000 messages helping gamers learn, share and improve game playing

• Starbucks' includes more than 75,000 customer suggestions, helping Starbucks improve customer service and generate new product ideas

Develop an Insurance Social Technology Strategy

What will the future look like for insurance social technology strategy? I believe we will continue to see improved online social technology applications. Insurers will embrace borrowed relevance, and continue developing content and tools to solve customer problems and improve customer experiences.

In order to achieve this, insurers must:

• Get legal involved early to proactively address and develop governance and language that protects consumers, agents, employees and your brand

• Develop social platforms that are relevant to your policyholders’ daily lives, and address risk, protection, financial and social issues

• Innovate through your customers by enabling policyholders to build their own products; share good and bad experiences through ratings and reviews; and manage all of their financial inventory (e.g. insurance, banking, retirement) through your social application Who knows…maybe other industries will start to look at insurers as the innovators in social technology versus the world’s most boring industry.

Chad Mitchell is a senior analyst with Forrester Research. He covers trends in global insurance; eBusiness and channel strategy; emerging Web and call center technologies; consumer trends in researching and buying insurance; and best practices and rankings of leading insurers. He can be reached at

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