SOCIAL MEDIA FORUM — TO BLOG OR NOT TO BLOG

Use of the new tool can benefit agents

Insurance professionals frequently ask me about blogging. “What’s the point?” they say. Or, “It’s all an ego trip.” Or, “It’s not professional—it’s too personal.”

Blogging is personal, and that’s a good thing. The effective blogger develops a relationship with his or her readers and, in so doing, earns a greater measure of credibility and trust while reaching an ever larger audience.

Credibility and trust are traits we all seek with those with whom we want to do business. It only follows, then, that blogging should be a communications tool that our industry champions and uses as widely as possible, so long as we do it right.

Fortunately, there are a number of bloggers (though not nearly enough) in our industry who do it well. In order to encourage more agents and company executives to start blogging as well as to sharpen the skills of those who already are blogging, I have consulted several of the best for some insights.

“Even though it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact ROI, there is no
question that since we started participating in social media, we have seen significant gains in retention, referrals and cross-sells.”

—Claudia McClain
McClain Insurance Services
Everett, Washington

“Blogging should not be a matter of choice in our industry,” declares Karen Yotis, an attorney, social media trainer, and insurance blogger. “We all need to reach out to policyholders, shareholders, regulators, reinsurers—in short, all our stakeholders. A blog is an ideal way to get started, too, and it’s not complicated — it’s similar to a column in the newspaper.

“It does differ from posts on Facebook and Twitter in two key ways,” Yotis continues. “One, a blog can be somewhat longer in length. Second, Facebook and Twitter carry more of a real-time aspect. A blog is also timely, but doesn’t have real-time immediacy. It’s more of a continuum.” Yotis’s own blog can be found at http://law.lexisnexis.com/author-center/Karen-C-Yotis.

“You have to use all the communications tools,” says Claudia McClain of McClain Insurance Services in Everett, Washington. “Our agency’s goal is to have 24 touches a year with every policyholder. That may seem like a lot; however, that takes in face-to-face visits, e-mails, postcards, newsletters and our blog.”

McClain covers a wide variety of topics in her blog (autohomeboat@wordpress.com), including wildfires, Lindsay Lohan (how risky behavior affects auto insurance rates) and “What If?”—a Wednesday feature in which she answers readers’ questions.

“I started to participate in social media about two years ago, first on LinkedIn and Twitter,” says McClain. “At first, I suffered from writer’s block, but once I dedicated the time to not just the writing but also the listening more closely to our clients, it came more easily.

“Our blogs are also a team effort because I will rely on others in the office for ideas and perspective,” she continues. “We also repackage our blogs and other posts, too, into fact sheets we then post on our Web site. Additionally, we use what I call ‘cracker-jack marketing’ in which we offer surprises for participating such as gift certificates, baseball tickets, even a fire extinguisher.”

Lynne McChristian spends a lot of time listening. McChristian is the Tampa-based Florida representative for the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) who writes a blog at www.insuringflorida.org. She stresses that blogging isn’t only about writing what the blogger knows or thinks is important.

“Before I start writing, I want to truly understand my audience and to know what content would resonate,” says McChristian, who worked for United Services Automobile Association (USAA) for 16 years in two separate stints before joining I.I.I. two years ago. (USAA has been a leader in the successful use of social media for some time.)

“I took the time to learn the gaps of knowledge that I could fill. I read a lot of reader comments on reporters’ blogs to find out what their readers did not understand about insurance. I wanted to know the questions the reporters were asking. So often, policyholders think they may understand how a policy works and what is covered, but just as likely they are either misinformed or underinformed. Some people don’t know they can ask questions of their agent or company or don’t know what questions to ask.”

Reporters respond to McChristian’s blog also, with feedback about readers’ questions or questions of their own that may result in more material for blogging.

Kristin Taylor did her homework, too, before she started blogging at Ohio-based Westfield Insurance, a company that has embraced social media for more than two years. Taylor is one of several bloggers for the company’s agribusiness blog, “Grains of Knowledge,” at www.agribusiness.westfieldinsurance.com.

“I like to write and I grew up on a dairy farm,” says Taylor, who is also a farm and commercial agribusiness underwriter. “Before I started blogging, though, I set up an RSS feed and spent a lot of time reading what other people wrote, gauging the tone and topics that were covered. I came across a great community called AgChat and spent a good deal of time just listening, to find out what issues people were most concerned with.”

I.I.I.’s McChristian likes to quote Mark Twain when she discusses the challenges of blogging. “Twain reportedly once said, ‘I did not have time to write a short letter so I wrote a long one,’ ” says McChristian. “A blog is short and concise, not long and rambling, so it takes me a while to write it.

“The hardest thing is to present the facts straight without editorializing,” she continues. “You can tell if a blog is written by committee. Some insurance reporters read my blog regularly, and that has generated a story or two because they come to me for ideas and perspective. The fact is, the blog can be great educational tool for our industry.”

Yotis says that insurers are using blogs in a variety of creative ways, including a discussion of family issues and how to help policyholders before and after a natural disaster.

“A blog can educate—it is much more personal and so is less likely to be deleted,” Yotis says. “It is a tool for getting to know your constituents—to create a virtual presence.”

What constitutes a good blog?

“Find your ‘blog voice,’ ” Yotis says. “It’s not corporate speak; it’s not legal but is also not sloppy conversation. You need to project a conscientious attitude, that you truly care about your subject and about providing quality content for your readers. Blogs are also hungry. Feed them, which means you need to write one at least twice a week, if not more. If you think you can’t be creative that often, keep in mind that not every post needs to be a masterpiece.”

For McClain, the challenge is maintaining the delicate balance between being concise, conversational, and factually and legally correct.

“I am a contract wonk,” she says. “I go to E&O seminars so I am conscious of making sure what I blog is on target. For example, if a policyholder asks a question about coverages, there may be many variables and interpretations so I have to be careful in my answer. That’s a big reason why blogs are so useful because one has more room to provide detail that’s not possible in a short Twitter post.”

So what’s the payoff for blogging, indeed for participation in social media? McClain is unequivocal.

“Even though it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact ROI, there is no question that since we started participating in social media, we have seen significant gains in retention, referrals and cross-sells,” she says.

So get blogging!


This article appeared in Rough Notes.

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