A recent report in the National Post speaks volumes about the double-edged sword that is social media:

“A Quebec woman had her disability payments canceled by her insurance company, which claimed she was no longer depressed. The insurance company said it had seen photos of the woman on Facebook, enjoying herself on nights out and on a beach vacation.”

While the report highlights a downside of social media—loss of privacy—the benefits are too huge to ignore. IBM's Maria Azua has just published a book titled “The Social factor: Innovate, Ignite and Win Through Mass Collaboration and Social Networking,” which explores the various ways organizations can better connect with customers and boost employee innovations using the new tools at their disposal.

What can insurance companies take away from the shift to mass collaboration and social networking?  Put into practice, employing technologies and services such as wikis, blogs and social networking platforms help bring forward new innovation. Product managers, claims representatives, underwriters and agents can vet their ideas for new products or processes across the organization. Customer ideas and issues are heard and can quickly be addressed.

Consider the following changes and advantages of social media approaches, as cited by Azua:

• The social age is “leading to the rapid reappraisal of the traditional 'top-down' management hierarchies and tapping into the information that resides within the organizational layers.”

• Wikis “are powerful collaborative tools that 'pull' information to facilitate communication within communities of contributors. Wikis provide additional value by being a rich data mine for the business to anticipate future demand and new products.”

• Social media tools “can be used effectively in marketing campaigns through monitoring of conversation related to your product or company.” Tools are available that can monitor phrases such as your brand name or an industry buzzword.

• Social software connects people, locates experts and provides a collaborative platform that accelerates the ideation process along with your company's business agenda.

• Social media helps foster the “Managed Anarchy” model of innovation, which helps organizations think outside of the box.

• Adoption of social software “tends to change peoples' attitude and helps break silos. Leverage social tools to corral your organization into a common purpose.”

Already, many across the industry are trying out new approaches with social networking. For example, the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America’s Agents Council for Technology (ACT) just released a report titled “Creating a Social Web Policy for Your Independent Agency,” which outlines key steps agents can take to develop and implement a social Web policy. As Rick Morgan, ACT Web 2.0 Work Group chairman puts it: “Agency employees participating on the social Web can contribute greatly to enhance their firm’s brand online by giving the firm a ‘personality’ and revealing the quality and expertise of its staff.”

Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Wisconsin launched a program that employs Twitter to “identify members who may have questions or concerns about their health benefits.” The use of Twitter enables the insurer “to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, real-time conversation, and respond to each tweet about Anthem.” Kate Quinn, VP of corporate marketing for Anthem, said: “Social media provide a great opportunity for us to engage our members, listen to them and be more responsive.”

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

Readers are encouraged to respond to Joe using the “Add Your Comments” box below. He can also be reached at joe@mckendrickresearch.com.

The opinions of bloggers on www.insurancenetworking.com do not necessarily reflect those of Insurance Networking News.

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