There probably isn't a more “social” business than insurance – relationships are built on trust and guidance from agents or advisers, one customer at a time.

But there's been a drive lately among many insurers to become “social” businesses in the online sense—making greater use of social media channels to interact with customers as well as gather market research.

Dion Hinchliffe of Dachis Group, who has been a leading thinker in the social enterprise and Web 2.0 space for a number of years now, recently published some helpful guidelines on what it takes to become a more social business—advice every insurance company can benefit from.

Here is Dion's 18-point plan on what it takes to get into the social game. The first 9 focus on the internal social business, and the second 9 on external social business:

Internal Social Business

1) Establish a clear purpose. “Ill-defined and vague social business efforts end up with a similar outcome.”

2) Identify and engage adoption champions. Unofficial leaders in your target community “will ultimately do the bulk of the work during the early adoption phase in drawing in participation using the social networks and good reputation.”

3) Help leadership set the tone. “All it takes is direct, regular, and public involvement by several well-respected executives.”

4) Communicate clear policies for usage (cans and cannots): “The lessons learned over the years have distilled to focus on explaining exactly what employees can and can’t do in the most understandable terms.”

5) Test social usability with employees: “Inexplicably, usability of a social business design is too often under-tested or performed as an afterthought despite it being one of the biggest drivers of early adoption.”

6) Promote with a consumer-style marketing campaign: “It must be credible but it must also be memorable and convey what’s new and provide motivation to join and try it.”

7) Employ strategic community management. “Community building is a critical element of social business success and typically organizations cannot get there by deploying social technologies alone.”

8) Connect to business purposes. “Many look at social business approaches as a horizontal or general purpose communications method more akin to e-mail to IM than a way to improve a specific business activity.”

9) Proactively share the adoption process. “Communities are built by their members, not companies alone.”

External Social Business

10) Identify and engage influencers: “Engagement with influencers takes many forms and should be connected to adoption whenever possible early on.”

11) Use content as a participation seed. “At first, there’s little in a new community to draw in initial participation.”

12) Go to the audience, draw them in: “Facebook pages have become popular by going directly to where a vast, already social and participative audience is. There are many approaches to this but it can greatly aid adoption when integrated properly.”

13) Encourage personal engagement from key business stakeholders: “Having the presence of company leaders and providing structured access to them by recognized members of the social business ecosystem provides the deep engagement that’s more likely to both increase participation and lead to useful outcomes.”

14) Reward the remarkable 1 percent: “The key to driving adoption is ensuring that your most valuable contributors are incentivized appropriately to contribute, once you identify who they are.”

15) Encourage proactive community management: “Community management continues to make my top list of what helps define a successful, vibrant social business.”

16) Keep it simple: “Keep the functional environment simple so new members quickly grasp how to participate.“

17) Be authentic, don’t overproduce: “The fanciest and slickest social business experiences don’t necessarily achieve nearly the uptake as ones that are simple, basic, and straightforward.”

18) Build trust and a culture of sharing: “It’s not just enough to build trust, the culture must be one where the free exchange of ideas is valued and encouraged, because that’s the observable value that drives innovation, better decisions, and more.”

Joe McKendrick is an author, consultant, blogger and frequent INN contributor specializing in information technology.

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