The Intelligent Quarterly from the publishers of The Insurance Insider

Spring 2018

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Survival of the tweetest

Mark Huxley

There is little doubt now that to one extent or another the vast majority of the insurance sector is thinking seriously about its digital footprint and in particular how it can be harnessed as a channel to help spread companies' own messages in a different way.

It is equally fair to say that the sector still lags behind many others, but is catching up quickly.

Why are businesses looking to it? At its most basic level it has helped many insurance brands showcase the diversity in their thinking, but above all enabled them to be a bit more "human" and let their personality come through. It has directly helped build awareness and reputation, create loyalty and improve dialogue both internally and externally. And not forgetting of course that it helps drive sales leads and conversions as well as delivering better service to existing clients and customers.

This last element is of particular importance given the complexity of the industry's distribution methods, where there may be many companies in the chain between insurer and end customer.

Being able to build real reputation-driven worth via social media has become regarded as a real "value-add". It helps appeal to the emotional rather than rational motivations as, when delivered properly, it does become more about the personality and personification of the business, rather than pure corporate messaging.

Direct engagement

Ultimately the best results come from having an approach that is open, transparent and has direct engagement. As social media has taken hold some trends have emerged.

LinkedIn is positioned as a social network for professionals where, in the words of the site, it "connects you to trusted contacts and helps you exchange knowledge, ideas and opportunities with a broader network of professionals".

In a market that has always been driven by networking and reputation, it is easy to see why it became the first stop for many on their journey into mixing their traditional business life with social communities.

From building individual networks of friends and colleagues old and new, curiosity drives many to then explore its specialist groups and, as LinkedIn increasingly focuses upon company profiling, develop their own corporate footprint and then use it to showcase services, products and people.

Secondly, there has been a marked change in the appetite for insurance businesses to communicate more publicly about what they are doing and, more specifically, what their people are thinking.

Self-publishing of this kind, alongside the more formal press activity, is becoming much more the norm on company websites, with "news and insights"-style blogs increasingly appearing.

Linking these to individual LinkedIn profiles or to those of companies has proliferated hugely and those managing business's brands have realised, when properly done, just how powerful they can be in distinguishing companies from their competition and increasing direct engagement.

With appetites whetted and the benefits identified, it is then seen as a natural step for businesses to look to the more publicly ubiquitous social media channels such as Twitter, or in some cases Facebook, in order to broadcast to the widest possible audience.

It is at this point that we always express caution and where real care needs to be taken. It demands a full appreciation of what is driving society's mass adoption of living "socially" and what its public scrutiny can really mean.

The Generation Game

When contemplating a digital strategy - and even more so when harnessing social media - many overlook the demography of the current working population and view their options as being something that is still in its infancy, something that is only just emerging or something that will be the norm at a non-specific point in the future. The truth could not be any more different to those beliefs.

Broadly speaking, today's working population fall into three groupings: Baby boomers born from 1945-1960, Generation X born in 1961-1980 and Generation Y born in 1981-1995. Notwithstanding this is the latest addition - Generation Z, born after 1995.

Looking at how native these generations are to the digital era, it quickly becomes clear that anyone from the mid-Generation X era onwards was born at a time when personal computing created the first stages of the digital journey. It is a journey that has taken us through a complete sociological change, driven by the now historic domination of emails and the internet; the huge increase, and now reliance upon, mobile telephony - leading to today's smartphones with their one-stop lifestyle experience; social media; and the whole plethora of personal broadcasting (the so-called YouTube generation).

Numerous studies have shown that these generations live their lives online, have an utter dependency upon technology, and compulsively and constantly check their smartphones for emails, texts and social media updates - with many admitting to experiencing real anxiety or panic if they cannot check them.

One then needs to realise that those in Generations X and Y now comprise two-thirds of the working population, and that with early Generation Zs now entering tertiary education or the workplace it will be only a matter of a decade before they dominate the entire workforce.

Given that the insurance industry does not operate in a sociological vacuum, with two-thirds of those who have businesses in this sector already being influenced by social media in every part of their personal lives, it is obvious that there is now an opportunity to likewise harness the influence of social media to help positively shape their professional thinking.

Adapt or die

Charles Darwin famously said: "It's not the strongest of the species that survives, not the most intelligent that survives. It is the one who is most adaptable to change."

So what should this mean to any business setting out to build their social media campaign?

Firstly, it is key that the decisions and drive to deliver the campaign comes from the very top of any organisation. Unlike traditional corporate communications, social sharing is more about building the brand personality and personification of the business.

It is therefore vital that it portrays the core cultures and philosophies. This can never be achieved if it is seen as just another tactical delivery from the mid-tier of the organisation as the output soon starts to look disconnected from the business's real strategies and therefore lacks resonance.

It is paramount to understand the range of target audiences and how their motivations, personalities and preferred communication channels differ. This must be properly considered when selecting the most appropriate channels, with all content being tailored and engaging, offering real worth and, depending upon the personality wanting to be portrayed, informative, educational and perhaps entertaining.

In planning the strategy it must always be remembered that it is only one part of any integrated marketing campaign and using it must not deflect from other efforts - rather it must complement them and, at every touch point, be seen to add value to your overall brand worth.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, whether a company elects to engage themselves with social media, in reality there is not an opt-in or opt-out.

Brands across the globe are being spoken about every minute of every day across the entirety of social media in all its various guises. It is the world's largest largely un-moderated meritocracy where news travels at the speed of light and where reputations can be made as well broken in quite literally a matter of minutes.

Mark Huxley is a director at Brand Formula

This article was published as part of issue Summer 2014

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