Social Media & Technology – More Tips

My post last week was about a presentation made by Steve Anderson on the use of social media by insurance agents and agencies.  Since then I have come across some articles on tips for making the most out of the time spent on social media that I would like to pass on to my readers.  But before doing so, Mr. Anderson’s presentation also touched on the topic of the use, or more appropriately, the lack of use of technology by agents and agencies to help streamline their business activities.  He mentioned that Best Practices agencies spend 1.9% of their annual budget on technology up from 1.5% a few years ago. In that same time period, the profitability of those Best Practices agencies has doubled.

One way that agencies can streamline their business activities is to increase the downloading of insurance policies and other documents from insurance companies.  The more such documents are downloaded the less time is spent handling and distributing them.  There is an online software program that allows an agency to see up to date information on those insurance companies from which they are currently downloading documents and those companies from which they could be downloading documents but are not.  The cost to use this program could be easily made up in greater efficiency through the increased downloading of documents from your agency’s companies.

Another technology mentioned by Mr. Anderson, which he said offers the largest productivity boost for an agency, is the ACORD eDocs system that allows insurance companies to send messages and documents directly to the agency’s management system, which in some cases can be programmed to automatically push those messages or documents to a portal for the affected customer.  If your agency does not use this system to communicate with its companies, it should look into doing so.

In planning how your agency will use social media and the other technology now available to it, Mr. Anderson made a comment about the three types of insurance customers that makes a lot of sense to me.  He said there are those customers who want to do it themselves, those who want the agent to do it with them, and those who want the agent to do it for them. Ideally, your agency should do what it takes to appeal to all three types of customers, but that may not be possible.  If not, decide what type of customer you want to focus on and then direct your social media and other marketing efforts to reaching them.

In a post earlier this year on the Employer Benefit Adviser site, the author suggested that you concentrate on only a few social media tools to avoid the feeling of being overwhelmed.  Mr. Anderson suggested Facebook and LinkedIn, the author choose LinkedIn and Twitter because he was already using them.  He also suggested that you share your own experience in your posts, not just repost content from other sources, and that everyone that you meet or have contact with in some other way be made a part of your social media world.  Above all, realize that it will take time and consistent effort to make the use of social media beneficial for your agency.

A later post on the Employee Benefit Adviser site offered more technical tips to make the best use of social media.  One such tip was to tag the people or companies that may be referred to in your posts, especially if you are saying something good about them.  By doing so, your posts may be visible to their followers and if what you said about them was favorable they are likely to share, like, or re-tweet your content, thereby exposing it to more people.

Social Media – A Plan of Action

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about how what the Georgia Young Agents Committee was doing in marketing itself to current and potential new members could be applied to an insurance agency.  They are using social media, as well as other electronic delivery systems, to get their message out and tailor it to particular segments of their target audience.  The following weekend, I attended a conference at which a well-known speaker made a great presentation on how to use Facebook and LinkedIn to generate more business.

The speaker’s name was Steve Anderson.  His website has a great amount of information that would be of benefit to any insurance agent or agency.  I highly recommend subscribing to his TechTips newsletter.  It has given me some ideas on how better to use technology in my law practice.  His presentation at the conference was titled “Master Your Internet Presence: Learning to be Visible to the Digital Consumer” (click here for a copy of his presentation slides).

After talking about the trends that are enabling greater and greater use of the internet for business purposes and thus, requiring all businesses to develop a digital presence, he discussed some specifics about the use of Facebook and LinkedIn.  He considers it essential for insurance agencies to use both these forms of social media and to connect them with the agency’s website, which should be the hub for all an agency’s digital activities.  The idea is to use these and other social media tools to direct potential customers to specific landing pages on the agency’s website depending on the interests of those customers, so they don’t have to hunt through the website to find what they are looking for.

Facebook is especially important for reaching out to current and potential personal lines customers, as one of every two people in the United States has a Facebook page. Facebook offers over 200 different data points that can be used to target an agency’s message in the form of ads that provide information about the agency and lead interested customers back to a page on its website that is customized for such customers.  These data points enable an agency to find a lot of information about potential customers in its market area and then target its message to the customers it is interested in and no one else, unlike a newspaper or radio or TV ad or even a billboard.  The best part about these data points is that obtaining this information costs very little and in some cases, nothing. (Click here for an article that goes into detail about one way these data points can be used.)

There are 11 different types of Facebook ads and their cost is comparable to what an agency would pay for more traditional advertising and in some cases, much less.  As part of the cost of the ads, Facebook offers analytics that let an agency see which ads are working and which ones aren’t.  It is even possible to put a code on the agency’s website that will generate an ad in Facebook that goes only to the people who visit that part of the website.

LinkedIn is best used for current and potential commercial lines customers due to its more business oriented users.  Much of the same types of things that can be done to target ads on Facebook can also be done on LinkedIn, but it does not have as many data points to use for targeting ads and they cost more.  For those of my readers who are interested in learning more, Mr. Anderson has developed online courses that provide a step by step guide for the use of both Facebook and LinkedIn for maximum effectiveness. (Click here for three free video presentations about ads on Facebook).


Can an Agent Require a Customer to Buy More Than One Policy?

A recent caller to the Free Legal Service Program that I offer for members of the Independent Insurance Agents of Georgia asked the above question in the context of a potential commercial lines customer who wanted a policy on which the agent would not have made much, if any, commission.  The agent wanted to know if they could require the customer to buy another policy on which the agent would make some commission as a condition to selling the customer the policy requested.

My review of the Georgia Insurance Code did not reveal any statute that specifically addressed the subject of the agent’s question, but the regulations issued by the Insurance Commissioner’s Office did contain prohibitions on requiring a potential purchaser of one insurance policy to buy another policy in two situations.  Those situations involve a customer who is a natural person and wants to buy either a “private passenger automobile policy” or a policy covering “residential property at a specifically described location.”  In both instances, the regulations state that an agent who refuses to sell such a policy because the potential insured is not willing or able to buy another type of policy or one with limits above those required by law engages in the grouping of risks.  If requiring the insured to buy another type of policy is (i) “not actuarially supported”, (ii) “not relevant to risk”, (iii) “not based on a reasonable consideration allowed” for the creation of rates by insurance companies, or (iv) “is based in whole or in part, directly or indirectly, upon race, creed or ethnic extraction”, such a requirement is unlawful as a fictitious grouping of risks that constitutes unfair discrimination.  It is unlikely that a requirement that a potential personal lines customer be required to buy a policy they had not requested to obtain a policy they want will meet any of the above requirements.

Whether the Insurance Commissioner would apply the same rationale to the sale of commercial lines policies is unknown.  If not or if any of the above requirements could be satisfied with respect to the commercial lines policies in question, the general rule is that an agent is free to do business or not do business with whomever they want on whatever terms they want, subject of course to the federal and state anti-discrimination laws.  If an agent decides to institute a requirement that a commercial lines customer who wants a certain type of policy must also buy another type of policy, I suggest that this requirement be applied consistently to every such customer.  Otherwise, the agent would run the risk of violating the anti-discrimination laws.     

If any of my readers have implemented such a requirement, please let me know, as I would like to find out how it has worked out.