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The New Social World: Edge Thinking and Inside-Out Collaboration

Social media is challenging existing assumptions.  A new school of thought says that we need to move away from core competencies and closer to the ‘edge’ in order to meet, and engage, the ‘social’ customer.  A recent case study shows how world’s largest insurance broker is using social media to reshape internal and external collaboration.

We’d like to know what you think about the future of social media for insurance professionals.  The 2013 Insurance-Canada.ca Technology Conference will be including a half day ‘Boot Camp’ on use of social media in insurance, and we’d like suggestions on topics that would be interesting for you.

The Edge

Writing in Forbes, Mark Fidelman (in collaboration with Dion Hinchliffe) notes that most organizations believe that  “Social media is still a consumer phenomenon that wasn’t originally designed to support business needs.”  As a result, social media initiatives tend not to have any internal component.

The authors suggest that the corporate culture may be the strongest barrier.  Leaders have not grasped that the social world is one “where those who know how to tap into global knowledge flows in social networks on the ‘edge’ of our businesses will succeed.”  They quote John Seely Brown (of Xerox Parc fame):

“Corporations, for the most part, aren’t going to reinvent themselves by improving on the core competencies they’ve been honing for years. Instead, if they’re going to change, they’re going to do so from the outside in, allowing ideas from the edge of the company to penetrate to the core. Social media will be a part of that transformation.”

Marsh: Collaboration Inside Leads to Social Out

Back in 2009, Ben Brooks, SVP and global director of enterprise communications and colleague engagement for Marsh Inc., was not looking for a social media project, but ended up with one in his goal of creating social-learning and knowledge-sharing environment for employees.  In an interview with InformationWeek, Brooks said “In a more conservative industry like insurance, social was not the hot thing, what everyone was doing. On the other hand, collaboration was something everyone at our firm understands.”

The initiative started with Brooks being charged to operationalize a concept that came out of an executive planning session,   referred to as ‘Marsh University’.    Social platforms were selected because the project had to be done with a modest investment.  The results have exceeded expectations, with participation and employee satisfaction climbing.

It is also credited with helping to win business by encouraging collaboration among widely dispersed employees.  This sharing is a fundamental aspect of the social network.  According to Brooks, “With 25,000 people, you have to get them to introduce themselves to each other — it’s a way of making a big company feel like a much smaller place.”

The success has led to consideration of the use of social media for other collaboration, including linking insurer partners into the network and collaborating with clients.  Brooks sees cracking the latter to be most compelling, saying: “I haven’t seen too many companies crack the use of social for B-to-B, but everyone seems to be talking about it.”

Life Is Rich on the Edge

Fidelman makes a similar point.  Once organizations expose themselves in a social environment, processes open, which results in the ability to tap a new world of knowledge.  “Our biggest pool of resources is the people in our supply chain and customer base, they can accomplish many, many times what we can, if we can only tap into them,” he writes.

It also allows organizations to fully tap the power of data driven decisions:  “Social media at long last lets us see what’s really happening, when it’s happening and respond to the market in a timely fashion that will let us get ahead of our competition. … but first we must update our business processes to use this information to optimize our work.

What Do You Think?

We are just seeing first forays into the use of social in insurance, and some people believe that it will only be peripheral to enterprise systems.  Others, such as Brooks and Fidelman are putting greater stock in it.  Where do you stand on this?  If there are areas you would like to know about, let us know and we’ll try to get it included in our Social Boot Camp at the 2013 ICTC.

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