Great social-media campaigns are goal-oriented. What does American Family Insurance hope to get out of its social-media efforts?
Effective social-media strategies roll downhill. There are company-related goals and objectives to growing our business. American Family Insurance has its mission to be “the most trusted and valued service-driven insurance company.” Everything we do in social media is aligned with these goals. In social-media spaces, the context for social media embraces and enhances this. Our mission is to “celebrate and protect families” in ways that meet corporate objectives. As we do this, we drive awareness of American Family and build relationships with customers that generate referrals and quotes over time.
How are you tracking your efforts to make sure the company’s social presence is meeting the goals you described?
Referrals are the “business” of social networks. There are many types of businesses (not just insurance agents) that thrive on recommendations from friends and family. Local insurance agents are already experienced social networkers — historically, they have done this offline. They’re visible and active in the local community. The success of our program is based on helping them achieve the same level of activity on Facebook.
Have your social-media efforts improved sales or cut costs? By how much? How are tracking this?
Being connected drives sales. Business is connectivity. Connectivity is business. Our agents have made thousands of connections on Facebook and have been rewarded with hundreds of referrals. Since we’re in a regulated industry, we have unique restrictions and archiving requirements that make it difficult for agents to participate on social networks. We overcame these barriers and saved more than $3 million a year in per-agent license fees by implementing a custom infrastructure for agents. The infrastructure that we created is being integrated with our sales process so that we’ll be able to track sales that originate in social channels.
How much of the company’s ad budget is devoted to online marketing?
Andy Sernovitz says that “advertising is the price of being boring.” I couldn’t agree more. We’re not boring! For an insurance company, that’s a bold achievement. We’re the nation’s ninth-largest provider of homeowners insurance and 10th-largest provider of private passenger insurance. Key competitors HEAVILY outspend us. We’re distinguishing ourselves in the industry by being more interesting, helpful and engaging than competitors. That’s why I’m excited about initiatives like In Gayle We Trust, Clifford “Be Big!,” Business Accelerator, Teen Safe Driver and the I-Am-Fam game.
The company has different Twitter accounts for customer relations, media relations and recruiting. Are your social-media efforts all run through one department, or do different departments handle their own social presences? How do you coordinate these efforts to maximize effectiveness?
We defined nine social-media programs for the company. Each program is based on our company’s business objectives. My team facilitates all of the programs, but we only own those that are customer-facing. Our PR and HR divisions own other programs. We’re always looking for ways to leverage what’s happening in other programs. Our teams share resources and talk often. Our YouTube channel is one of the places where you can see all of these efforts coming together.
The insurance industry has some regulatory issues that many businesses don’t face — especially since most insurance regulation currently takes place on a state-by-state basis. Do those regulations present any special challenges for your online efforts? How do you overcome them?
It’s been a challenge to do things on the scale that’s required to support a regulated Fortune 500 company with more than 3,800 locations. I can’t emphasize enough how valuable the active support of company executives (and the patience of legal and corporate compliance groups) is to our efforts. We have to archive and oversee all social-media activity of our agents and employees without getting in the way. When we started in 2009, there was no turn-key solution. We had to design it, test it, and make it available to agents. We’re constantly fine-tuning it to meet regulatory requirements and adjust to rapid changes in the social-media landscape.
You’ve been in your current role with American Family since January of 2009. What have you learned about social media in the last 20 months that you wish you’d known on day 1?
Culture is the key to good social media. Period. You can’t pretend to be something you’re not. Social media is natural for American Family Insurance because we have 3,800 relationship-oriented people in local communities. We have real conversations with customers and community members every day. It’s who we are. Our approach doesn’t work for competitors who depend on a single mascot, celebrity, or persona to represent their brand.
Image credit: Troy Janisch