If you’re not taking full advantage of social networking sites, then you may be missing out on good opportunities to expand your business — or make new connections that could lead to new business.
Even just over the last two or three years, social networking has surged. According to a recent report by the Pew Research Center, 65 percent of adults now use social networking sites, while in terms of daily usage, 43 percent of online adults use social networking — up from 38 percent a year ago and just 13 percent in 2008. "Only email and search engines are used more frequently than social networking tools," noted the researchers.
And it’s not just people posting pictures of their pets on Facebook. Businesses, industry groups and professionals are increasingly using sites such as Twitter and LinkedIn to establish a presence online, connect with customers and potential customers, or take part in online conversations. According to a widely reported survey of LinkedIn users by market research firm lab42, an estimated 35 percent of LinkedIn’s 120 million members log into the site every day and another 32 percent of LinkedIn users log into the site at least a few times a week. Also according to the survey, 81 percent of LinkedIn users belong to at least one group on the site; of these, 52 percent participate in group discussions.
I’m using LinkedIn as an example because it has become the preferred site for business networking, and is a great place to establish an online presence if you’re just starting out.
Over the past few months we’ve held a series of workshops to educate our sales reps and producers about the opportunities available through social networking sites such as LinkedIn and Twitter. Based on the questions and feedback we’ve received, here are the five top takeaway points on social media for insurance professionals:
1. Joining the online community gives you control. Establishing a social media presence gives you greater control of your online identity and makes it easier for people to connect with you. Here’s a quick experiment: search for yourself on Google (by name and company), and see what kind of results you get. If you have a LinkedIn or Twitter account, your profile would likely be listed among the top results, and would likely be the first link people would click if they were looking for information about you online.
2. Getting started is easy. Using LinkedIn as an example, it takes just a few minutes to open a free account. From there, you can explore the site by searching for people and company names, or broader topical terms. If you’re not comfortable posting content, don’t feel the need to dive in immediately — take your time getting a lay of the land, viewing other users’ profiles and activities and examining what makes some people more compelling than others. This will help you develop your online strategy and voice.
3. It helps to be thorough. Make sure your profile is complete and includes a professional picture. Having an incomplete profile or unprofessional picture puts you at a serious disadvantage. Often people won’t even bother to read further.
4. Your activity will help establish yourself as a trusted advisor. Once you feel comfortable and are ready to start generating content, you can begin to build your online brand as someone who understands the market and the challenges employers face. Finding interesting articles in other forums and posting summaries with links to the articles is a great way to do this, and most news sites make it easier to post their article with "Share This" features.
5. Make sure you’re compliant. Companies and regulatory agencies are still catching up with changes and new questions posed by social media, so brokers or carrier reps should consult their company policies for guidance. As a rule of thumb, we advise our team members that the same rules apply to posting comments in groups or on their profile pages as if they were sending an email to someone.
Model your social-media activities after those who are successful. It’s easy to find them — and that is the point of social media!