(Photo credit: Shutterstock.)
One of the key questions about new insurance distribution-related technologies is whether agents will even use them. That has turned out not to be a problem for Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, which has enjoyed such a high level of adoption of its social media training program that it has expanded it to include its national wholesaler network. Eighty-one percent of Guardian’s financial representatives have completed its social media training program, which prepares them to use Guardian’s social media platform, centered on Socialware’s (Austin, Texas) software. Through the platform, Guardian give reps the ability to use tools to listen to social media connections, share relevant content, engage with contacts and grow business on social media sites, such as LinkedIn and Facebook. Insurance Innovation Reporter caught up with Beth Wood, Guardian’s VP of Marketing Development and Distribution, to discuss the company’s social media program.
Insurance Innovation Reporter: What is the importance of social media for insurance distribution generally, and for Guardian Life in particular?
Beth Wood, VP, Marketing Development and Distribution, Guardian Life: From a distribution perspective, it’s important for our representatives to understand the emerging omnichannel consumer and reach people where they are. People are online, operating in social networks, and our representatives need to be present and establish their authority on their subject matter through the content they post.
IIR: Tell us a little about your distribution force and explain why Guardian started a training program for its reps.
BW: We have captive reps in about 90 agencies across the country. There are about 3,500 representatives in total, and about 2,500 are very active in the social media space. Every day we bring in new reps and some depart, given turnover rates in the industry. So we’re constantly training reps on social media, helping them to optimize their use of social and leverage tools that the platforms provide – which are evolving constantly.
IIR: Were you surprised at the adoption rate of your training program and of your social media platform?
BW: I have to admit that I was. I’m also surprised by the number of heavy users we have, people who have immersed themselves. It seems to be working, and the more success stories we can share, the more adoption will grow over time.
IIR: Why did you choose Socialware for your social media program?
BW: Socialware’s culture is compliance-oriented. They are focused on making sure our reps are protected and that there are controls. We put guardrails around what our reps do on the social platforms – for example, they can’t write recommendations because [securities regulator] FINRA considers that a testimonial. Socialware has a tool called Profile Manager that allows us to review reps’ profiles before posting or making changes to an existing profile.
Socialware also helps us to work with our captives on a very entrepreneurial model – it allows them to have their own personality displayed within their LinkedIn profile. This is an advantage over other offerings, where the system has to compare profiles with company boilerplate and make sure there are no deviations. In that case, the result is generic headlines and titles. With Socialware, reps can express their own personality and flavor.
IIR: How do you track reps’ business activity on social media?
BW: We’ve embraced the latest version of LinkedIn sales navigator, which gives opportunities for reps to deepen social activity. We have a social activity algorithm, which is essentially a collection of KPIs. We tell reps that metrics need to be at a certain level, and that’s based on a combination of network size, invites, number of LinkedIn InMails and posts.
IIR: What about other social media sites, such as Facebook?
BW: LinkedIn is our priority platform because there’s a match between brand personality and our reps. We use Facebook primarily to showcase agency culture. It’s a great tool for recruiting, and agencies are able to post local content. For example, an agency in Boston might post on the Marathon; there’s been a great deal of content on reps who have been in military service, etc.
So Facebook has a distinct role in our distribution organization, just as LinkedIn does. LinkedIn is used much more as a networking platform and aggregator. One of the best ways to touch clients and prospects frequently is to post content on LinkedIn. In the world of the omnichannel consumer you can stand out by posting relevant, quality content.
IIR: The 81 percent participation rate for your social media training program was impressive. What challenges do you face getting from there to effective practical use of social media sites?
BW: The challenge is essentially helping reps manage a “convergent” marketing strategy, mixing traditional practices with approaches that address the behavior of the emerging omnichannel consumer. I don’t mean to stereotype, but this is especially the case with older reps. The younger ones just come in and pick it up.
IIR: Life insurance sales is a challenging career, and according to LIMRA, individual life insurance sales are at a 50-year low. Can social media help?
BW: It takes a unique person, and if you can help them get through the first few years, retention improves dramatically. The greatest challenge is to get your reps in front of qualified prospects, giving them people to talk to. Given that there are about 300 million people on LinkedIn and over 1 billion on Facebook, having effective social media capabilities can only help.