Before they look for answers in social media, brokers need to besure they're asking the right questions…

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“The real issue is that most brokers and agencies dosocial media instead of being social media,” says Rick Morgan ofRick Morgan Consulting in Broomfield, Colorado, and chairman of thesocial web work group for the Agents Council for Technology. “Manyof them have a Facebook page, post a few blogs here and there, andoften assign a younger employee or part-time person to do it.”

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Communications paradigms have changed, he says, and brokers mustkeep pace to remain relevant. “We all live in a digital society,”Morgan explains, “and we as an industry need to be fully immersedin it.”

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Deborah Sternberg, executive vice president of Always CareBenefits in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, concurs.

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“As a benefits broker, you aren't just a commodity pusher;you're a relationship builder,” she says. “And because you careabout building a relationship with your clients, social networkingneeds to become a part of your routine. There is a tremendousopportunity for you to make lasting connections online.”

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Perhaps the biggest mistake many brokers make is viewing socialmedia as an “add-on” to their traditional tactics.

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“Many social media plans have grown organically, without astrategy up front,” Morgan says. “This means much of what we do ishalf-hearted and not integrated with the rest of our messaging.It's incumbent on the management team to know who they really areand who they are trying to reach.”

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Start with a plan

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The first step in a comprehensive social media program is toidentify the target audience. Next, decide on the message. Morgansuggests several topics that can be helpful for brokers:

  • Provide a forum for discussion of social and family issues.“Agents should use their blogs, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn tostart and facilitate discussion to enable customers to engage indialogues around important and relevant social and family issues,”he says.

  • Help customers with disaster preparedness and disasterrecovery.

  • Educate customers on insurance and allow them to sharefeedback.

  • Develop communities for targeting customer segments.

  • Enhance your brand and marketing message.

  • Create a virtual presence.

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Sternberg has distinct objectives for social media.

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“Social media gives benefits brokers and insurance agents anopportunity to break the ice with potential clients,” she says.“While it's true that a prospect will not likely seek you out onFacebook without any knowledge of who you are, especially as youstart out, that is not the goal.

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“The goal when building a social media page on Facebook,LinkedIn, Twitter or Google+ is to give potential clients insightinto who you are as a broker or agent and why they should work withyou. More and more people are turning to the Internet to findconnections and answers long before they contact potential partnersdirectly.”

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When it comes to tactics, there's not much new under the sun.Most brokers rely on some combination of blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn,Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.

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“The meteoric rise of tools like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitterare all telling us that customers want to do business with peoplewhom they feel like they know and trust,” Morgan says. “This shouldbe reason enough for agents and brokers to get in the game andimplement a social networking strategy.”

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Focus on the message

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However, the message is far more important than the medium.

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“Social networking is quickly evolving, and the issues whichseem most pressing today will most likely be replaced by new onesin the future,” Morgan says. “It's important to remember that it'sthe sociology, not the technology, that's key. While the technologywill change, it's the societal transformations that represent thelasting trends and the challenges for our profession.”

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Messaging must be clear and consistent across all social mediaand traditional marketing platforms, he says.

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“Not only how you communicate but what you communicate isdifferent,” he says. “The messaging is shorter, more focused and tothe point; more human and more transparent.”

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Social networking is fostering fundamental changes in the waypeople communicate, gather information, form opinions and buildrelationships.

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“It's all about listening, building community, engaging in aconversation, sharing an experience, being transparent, beingengaging and interesting and adding value,” Morgan says. “In short,social networking is all about building and strengtheningrelationships.”

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Insurance brokering has long been conducted with a handshakeover a cup of coffee. Perhaps the best way to think of social mediais simply an extension of these one-on-one relationships.

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“They complement each other really well,” Morgan says. “Do thesame things in social media that you would do in person—don'tinterrupt, don't hog the conversation, use good etiquette. When youget to know each other better online, the in-person meeting isenriched.

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“Think of it as a virtual community where people with commoninterests can gather and connect to share stories, ideas, thoughtsand opinions. Social networking is similar to a cocktail receptionwithout constraints of time or space.”

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13 commandments of social media

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In a field as new and dynamic as social media, experience is notonly the best teacher—often, it's the only teacher. DeborahSternberg, executive vice president of Always Care Benefits inBaton Rouge, Louisiana, shares a few of the lessons she'slearned:

  • Stay away from the hard-sell social media post. Consider eachpost as if it were the first conversation with a potentialclient.

  • Become active on multiple platforms. Know where your customersare and meet them there.

  • Share things about your agency or business so visitors can getto know you.

  • Ask questions.

  • Post weekly (or more often, if possible).

  • Respond to comments and questions quickly and engage prospectsand clients where their interests lie.

  • Create interactive posts.

  • Vary your posts. Sharing a mix of text, photos, links and videoswill keep your followers engaged.

  • Stay positive and respond in a timely manner.

  • Pass valuable information along, and share your own originalcontent when possible.

  • Use praise in your posts. Complimenting a client, employee orpartner using a link or posting to them is often effective.

  • Stay professional. Remember that once it's online, it nevertruly goes away. If you wouldn't say it in a crowded room ofstrangers, don't say it at all.

  • Remember relationships developed online don't have to staythere. Use social media to start a discussion that may end upoffline.

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