There is a lot of buzz about the use of social media, but most companies are only beginning to look at how to make it work in insurance. The experimentation continues, but I had not heard of an approach that blends this new opportunity with the realities of our industry ... until today.

Almost all of the discussions concerning using these tools involve going direct to the consumer. For example, it is common to hear the suggestion that a company set up a Facebook page where insureds can sign up as “fans.” However, the majority of insurance sold in the United States is done so through an intermediary, usually an independent agent. How can an insurance company best leverage social media given the distribution realities of the marketplace?

One way is through providing services to agents that have affinity marketing schemes already in place. These services would include education to the agent (what is social media and why should I care?), strategy planning with them (where should my agency establish presences—Facebook? LinkedIn?), and implementation assistance (how do I get started and how does my agency use it on an ongoing basis to drive business?).

As an example, consider an agency that has a program in which it sells personal insurance products to teachers. An insurance carrier can add value to its agency force and create goodwill with the agency by providing some advice and direction to the distributor about where best to find teachers on the Web, what tools will best reach them and how to follow up with postings that will be made.

Most insurers already have the infrastructure in place to manage agents with affinity relationships, so this service can be an addition to that—not a new department that requires significant investment. Some cross-functional knowledge transfer between IT and marketing can establish a skill base that agents will find most valuable.

In these days where revenue is shrinking and funding is constrained, an innovative approach that is low-cost and leverages existing relationship is a winner.

This blog has been reprinted with permission from Celent. Mike Fitzgerald is a senior analyst in Celent's insurance practice, and can be reached at mfitzgerald@celent.com.

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

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