TENCon Panel: Carriers Embrace Social Media To Engage Agents, Consumers

ALTAMONTE SPRING, Fla. (December 14, 2010) – A recent Reuters newswire article says most insurers are letting consumer technology, including social media networks, get ahead of them. According to general session panelists at this year’s Technology, Education & Networking Conference (TENCon), hosted by Applied Systems Client Network (ASCnet) in Chicago, some national and regional carriers are bucking this trend.

“We are constantly looking for new ways to be relevant to our customers, to be transparent with them, to be at the places where they are,” said panelist Michael Lex, discussing his firm’s rationale for ramping up social media efforts. Lex is president of Nationwide National Partners, focusing on national agents and brokers.

The barrage of traditional media advertising-particularly ads focused on personal auto insurance-makes social media an attractive option for insurers, noted Lex. “Getting into an advertising arms race is not going to get it done,” he said. “Blogs, Facebook and other social media tools and technology represent opportunities to connect with customers and prospects. Consumers are naturally attracted to them.”

In addition to its strong presence on Facebook and Twitter, Lex said Nationwide-parent company of Des Moines-based Allied Insurance-was the first insurer to roll out an iPhone application offering consumers post-accident information and tools. It later developed and launched Cartopia, a car-buying mobile app.

Westfield Insurance also is harnessing the power of social media, said chairman and CEO Bob Joyce. “We view Facebook and LinkedIn as powerful collaboration tools.” For example, the insurer uses LinkedIn as a hub of activity for its agency technology advisory group and a number of intra-company initiatives. His advice to TENCon attendees: “Ignore social media at your own peril.”

The Ohio-based carrier maintains blogs designed to engage prospects and clients in target niche segments, and interacts with consumers through its Facebook page. “Social media is, for us, both a collaboration tool and a brand tool.” It’s also a recruitment tool. “We’ve had great success with Facebook and LinkedIn in identifying job candidates-both college students and mid-career people,” Joyce adds. “We see a wealth of talent we would not have seen otherwise, and there’s a great expense savings, too.”

Dick Dunning, president and CEO of Fremont Insurance, sees social media as a key component in his company’s brand positioning-a topic being addressed by a board level committee focused on a number of IT-related opportunities. The effective use of technology, including social media, fits in strategically with the carrier’s emphasis on ease of doing business, which has helped drive consistent growth even as other carriers saw revenues drop.

Michigan-based Fremont is working to increase the number of agencies with which it interfaces on Facebook, Twitter and Linked In. “It’s a critical aspect in further developing our relationships,” Dunning notes. “It’s yet another way for us to communicate with our agents, customers and the general public.” The firm already offers instant chat for agents and underwriters to interact in real time.

Bruce Kelley, president and CEO of EMC Insurance Companies in Des Moines, agrees with Dunning on the importance of relationship building. “The game is communicating information to our agencies about what we’re able to do for them,” he explained. To the extent social networking can support this, he adds, “we will certainly invest heavily.”

“EMC has an internal committee working on how we’re going to develop our social media presence,” Kelley added. “In the end, the main thing is talking with agents about their agency profile and how we can interface. We could develop tremendous systems and functionality, but if we can’t communicate that with the agent and encourage the agent to use it, then it’s all worthless.”

TENCon is the largest fall gathering of independent insurance agents and brokers in the world. This year’s event, which drew more than 1,500 attendees, marked 25 years of annual member conventions for ASCnet.

The carrier panel was co-hosted by ASCnet chair Lisa Parry Becker, with William B. Parry & Son Ltd., Langhorne, Pa., and Doug Johnston, vice president of partner relations at Applied Systems. “We at ASCnet see a growing impact of the Social Web in insurance, and we’ll continue to provide sessions at TENCon and other education events, and on Webinars, to help our members and carrier partners understand and benefit from customer and prospect interaction in the online community,” said Parry Becker.

About ASCnet:

Founded in 1985, the Applied Systems Client Network, Inc. (ASCnet) is an international association representing more than 80,000 insurance professionals worldwide. The only authorized user group for Applied Systems software, ASCnet promotes successful technology and business practices through communication, education, networking and advocacy. The organization is relocating to the Chicago area in January 2011. For more information: www.ascnet.org.