Why you should 'like' your insurance company on Facebook

You've just hit a deer while driving to work. Or, your pipes burst and there's 3 inches of water in your basement. You need to contact your insurance company -- quickly. But you have no idea where your policy is, or what number to call.

Facebook can help.

Connecting with your insurance company via Facebook can often result in a prompt response. It's also a useful way to:

  • Learn about products and services.
  • Find advice in times of crisis.
  • Get complaints resolved.
  • Enter contests to win prizes.

"Insurance companies can seem so faceless," says Joanna Belbey, social media and compliance specialist at Actiance, a company that helps businesses secure their social media networks. But by using Facebook effectively, she says, insurers can change that dynamic.

For instance, insurers can use the social media site to build trust with consumers, engage them in dialogue about relevant issues, and even highlight the insurer's playful image --like promoting Flo, the face of Progressive, who has more than 3 million Facebook fans.

A study by Unmetric, a firm that studies social media metrics for big companies for the month of September looked at the popularity of 15 insurance companies' Facebook pages. It tracked the number of fans they added and the frequency of every company's posts.

While companies averaged almost 6,000 fans in the month, MetLife did especially well, chalking up 35,000 new fans. MetLife also earned high marks for engaging with its community, as did SafeAuto Insurance Co.

The Hartford and Liberty Mutual both were praised for the positive sentiment on their Facebook walls.

While Farmers Insurance Group's Facebook page has a huge following, with more than 2 million fans, its posts are few and far between compared to many insurers that post daily.

Lakshmanan "Lux" Narayan, CEO and co-founder of Unmetric, says "a lot of companies really fly blind on social media." So, he hopes his company will help provide them with a gauge of how well they're doing, particularly when compared to other companies in their field.

If an insurer gets 5,000 "likes" in a month, it will have an idea of how it stacks up against peers, he says.

Key to social media? Making insurance sexy

But numbers aren't everything, Narayan cautions. Insurance companies also need to make sure their social media presence resonates with customers.

"Social media has to be scintillating, witty and engaging on a daily basis," Narayan says.

At MetLife, the company wants its customers not just to drop in, "like" the company, then leave. Instead, it wants them to "engage in positive conversation. That's one of the goals we set from early on," says Debra Cruz, MetLife's assistant vice president of interactive user experience and global brand and marketing services.

But does it work? What do these people say at insurance Facebook pages?

One recent MetLife company post asked, "Will you be growing a mustache for Movember?" - tied to the month of November, when men are encouraged to grow mustaches to increase awareness of men's health issues and prostate cancer. Among the replies by visitors to the page: "goatee" and "I hate facial hair. Guys, don't do it!"

Peanuts characters are interspersed on the wall, along with "Good Grief" tips and pop quizzes tied to insurance issues. One quiz asked about what you should do if a driver becomes aggressive toward you. A respondent urged consumers to remember: "The poor fellow has nothing against me personally. Maybe his wife burned the toast this morning or … he can't pay the rent, or his boss chewed him out like bubblegum."

The MassMutual page features its new "Kids Take Charge" advertising campaign, with kids touting life insurance. More than 1,200 people are "talking about it." One woman says, "These are FANTASTIC! Fabulous child actors and it's a great way to get people aware! It did me :)."

John Chandler, chief marketing officer at MassMutual, says the company is pleased with how widely the campaign has been shared. With life insurance ownership at an all-time low, "it increases awareness of the core issue."

Many adults are hesitant to discuss the subject, so MassMutual hopes the campaign will prompt them to open up on the topic. Through content and links, Facebook "helps people self-educate on their terms," Chandler says. And fans help educate one another by sharing insurance or financial advice.

State Farm is among the companies that gets the most fan posts, Unmetric found. One recent company post asked followers which dance move they'd do if they starred in the company's new TV commercial, instead of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The insurer tantalized followers with the possibility of winning a trip to the Super Bowl by showing off their dance moves.

The Hartford has been using its Facebook page to support the 2012 Paralympic Games and introduce customers to the athletes. As a founding partner of U.S. Paralympics, "it's a good place to talk about the things we're passionate about," and a way to be seen as more than just the sender of a monthly statement or a bill, says Seth Brewer, the company's director of social media.

Often, consumers want to "buy from firms that might share our consciousness," Belbey says. So, a company can strengthen its relationship with its clients by tying itself to a worthy cause.

Facebook also can provide customers with quick updates on information that is relevant to their lives, such as how to prepare for a hurricane or file a claim once it has struck, she says.

Airing complaints on claims often done at Facebook sites

But not everything posted on Facebook is positive or light. It's not unusual for customers to use the social media site as a means to gripe.

Brewer says Facebook can serve to resolve issues, but advises that you should begin the discussion diplomatically."

Often, if you post a complaint at an insurer's Facebook page, you will get a prompt response.

For instance, one post dated Oct. 31 and time-stamped 4:57 p.m. expresses dismay over not receiving reimbursement for a rental car after hitting a deer. A State Farm rep responded by 5:03 p.m. , "Did you have a rental agreement on your policy? If this is something you'd like me to have our executive customer service team look into email me the claim details."

Granted, using Facebook to complain about a claim doesn't mean you'll get the resolution you want. But you will at least get a speedy response to discuss the issue.

MetLife created a rapid business resolution process. So, if a client has a complaint, the insurer tries to address it within two hours. Cruz says more than half of the consumers who post a complaint returned to thank the company for its assistance.

Before MetLife launched its Facebook page in November 2010, some of the company's leaders were concerned that consumers would say something negative about the company. Cruz's attitude was, "they will because it's Facebook." But that gives MetLife, or any company, "the opportunity to take a negative experience and turn it into a positive one."

For consumers, using social media such as Facebook "is a great way to get attention if you're having an issue with a company," Belbey says.

She equates it to the "old days" when consumers would send a letter of complaint. Today, they should politely and professionally state their problem with the company on Faceback, and ask for a solution.

By responding, companies feed into consumers' desires for them to "be transparent," Belbey says. "It's better to know about a complaint and respond than not."

The original article can be found at Insurance.com:Why you should 'like' your insurance company on Facebook