You’ve heard the phrase, “It’s not who you are, it’s who you know” — and who you know has a whole new meaning in the rapidly increasing world of social media. Finding new clients and increasing your book of business may be only a click away. But social media can be a scary place to those who haven’t ventured far into cyberspace. With the abundance of new sites popping up all the time, your options may be overwhelming and confusing. Where do you start? Following are three key strategies for using social media to expand your insurance practice marketing and prospecting efforts.

Strategy #1: Know the turf
Understanding the various social media sites will help you determine which ones are best for you. Some of the more commonly used ones follow.

  • LinkedIn is the most popular business-only social media site. It’s geared toward helping professionals from all walks of life keep in touch and network. If your market is business professionals, then you need to be on this site. You also have an opportunity to display testimonials from business associates who have used your services and purchased your products in the past and to keep in touch with other financial professionals who can help you further network and market yourself.
  • Facebook used to be just for college-aged kids. No more. Now, you can find people of all ages taking part in efforts to reconnect with friends. I’ve found a ton of my old high school classmates on this site. Facebook is a great place to go for more of a personal touch with your potential and existing clientele. It can also help improve your search engine optimization (SEO) so that when somebody Googles your name, you will appear high in the search results.
  • Twitter is a quickly developing tool that allows you to post brief (fewer than 140 characters) updates on what you are doing at a particular point in time. On this site, you will find everything from the highly personal to the self-promoting. If you have people “following” you (receiving automatic updates about your activity), then you have the opportunity to influence them. I’ve been using Twitter for the past three months and have found it a valuable place to meet prospective clients. I haven’t been hired yet, but I’ve expanded my network, and they now know what I do. That being said, a local business journalist found me on Twitter and interviewed me for an article on social media, so it can be a great place to make yourself available as an expert source, as well.

There are so many more options that it can be dizzying. How can you sort through the available tools and sites to find the ones that work best for you? First, you can ask other business professionals or friends what they’re doing. Once you get an idea of what’s out there, test, test, and test some more. Most sites are free. Try it out, and if it doesn’t feel right, let it go. You will be able to tell pretty quickly what’s comfortable and what’s not.

After joining a site, monitor your feedback from others and try inviting business associates and friends to expand your visible network. Then, give the site at least a couple of weeks to evaluate its effectiveness before deciding whether or not to move on.

Strategy #2: Develop a social media game plan
You’ll want to start by determining your game plan. If your goal is to find prospects, then you need to search for sites dedicated to the types of people you’re targeting. There are plenty of options, so start digging deeper into creating your plan. Here are some questions you may ask yourself:

  • Who is my market? Is it small-business owners, Fortune 500 CEOs, individual homeowners? Defining your market is essential; then, you can determine where those people are and join the same sites. If you are trying to reach CEOs, for example, then MySpace is not the place for you.
  • How can I reach them? Does the social media site allow you to post blogs, articles, or photos? Will you be easy to find? More importantly, will your value be easy to find?
  • How often do I want to visit the site? Consistency is a key element in social media. For instance, if you want to keep followers on Twitter, you need to post consistently or your followers will drop you. (By the way, I’ve heard that some CEOs are on Twitter.)

Strategy #3: Offer value and be consistent
Just like blogging and podcasting, consistency is the key to success. If you are posting information every week, be consistent. If you post daily, don’t skip a day. One of the truisms about the social media and Internet world is that you must remain consistent.

Use the social media outlets you’ve chosen to offer value. Post links to your articles; promote topics you speak on; improve the condition of someone else. The more you self-promote just for the sake of self-promotion, the more you look like a cheesy salesperson. If you consistently offer value, however, your community will look to you as an expert in your field and think of you when they have an insurance challenge. Wouldn’t you rather receive calls from prospects instead of chasing after them?

If you’ve never taken a look at social media as a way to gain clients, then you are missing out on the fastest-growing way to impact people, and your opportunity to sell your products and services will be greatly minimized. But if you commit to properly using social media, you will become a resource to the market that you’ve targeted and could quickly find yourself as the expert of choice, setting yourself apart as an insurance expert. Not everyone is looking for your help today, but you can be the name they think of when they do. Start building your base of “friends.” Remember, it’s not who you are, it’s who you know. Know more people, and increase your business.

Dan Weedin is owner of Toro Consulting Inc. He can be reached at dan@toroic.com or 360-697-1058.