One of the most important jobs of an agency owner or manager is to look into the future and try to understand the trends that will influence the organization. As I tried to think about the major trends I expect to see over the next year, I realized that there is really only one: changes in how you communicate with your prospects and clients.
There are different labels being applied to these communication changes: Web 2.0, social media, blogs, and wikis, to name a few. The model most agencies currently use is based on a client purchasing relationship. With social media, you no longer just want prospects and clients who purchase products. You want to create long-term friends and fans. This change—from creating clients to creating fans—is hard to appreciate and understand.
But understand you must. This trend will affect every area of your agency’s operations. Here are just a few thoughts on areas that it might change.
Marketing: Marketing becomes less of a sales process and pitch and more of an open dialogue and conversation between you (the agent) and your potential prospect. Friends and fans of the agency will do more “marketing” for the agency among their peers than any marketing program could create.
For example, one agent sells boat insurance in 40 states. He has recently begun participating in a discussion forum for bass fisherman called BassBoat Central. He’s answering other users’ insurance questions, posting interesting information about insurance topics, and is becoming viewed as the boat insurance expert. He does not give a direct pitch to write their insurance. Yet his participation is creating “friends and fans” who will lead to increased business.
Client service: The trend of client self-service is well established and many agencies are already embracing this trend. An agency using social media tools will open up a conversation not just between agency and client but also between clients. An open forum where clients can post messages about how well you provide customer service would be one implementation of this concept. How scary is that!
New employees: Using these tools is second nature to the younger employees you will hire. They come out of college with these skills already in place. Yet, when they are hired by an agency, their access to these tools is blocked. In order to keep these new employees, the agency must undergo a mindset change as well as learn new management skills.
I am personally taking steps to learn and understand how this social media trend affects all of us. My first step is a new website for TAAR. The site has been completely redesigned and in the next few months, I will be introducing additional social networking tools that subscribers can use to easily communicate with me and other subscribers.
I’ve also established a presence for TAAR, as well as a personal presence, on many of the social networking platforms currently available. You can follow me on Facebook, Twitter, FriendFeed, Flickr, LinkedIn, and my blog. I’m not sure yet which of these will ultimately be the best platform to use. But I am committed to experiment and learn.
A small, but rapidly increasing number of insurance professionals are also experimenting with social media. I think you should be among them. I am committed to helping you by sharing with you what I’m learning as I go through this process. Take a deep breath and dive in.