Social networking websites such as Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn have a lot of draw for insurance agents. They’re essentially free marketing tools where producers can meet with prospective clients or future professional partners to further their careers.

However, with the recent slackening of Facebook’s privacy policies and FINRA’s crackdown on social media rules, many agents are concerned about getting involved with any form of social media. Sure, it’s free, but it’s also time consuming and could bring up compliance issues. So is it worth it?

Consider these facts from the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions:

  • Hospitals are increasingly using social networks for promotional purposes and to gauge consumer experiences with their organizations. More than 700 of the 5,000 hospitals in the United States have a social media presence designed to enhance their ability to market services and communicate with stakeholders. Cancer centers such as MD Anderson are developing communities to understand how their patients view their care experiences.
  • Government agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are using social networks to engage the public during product recalls and in H1N1 flu pandemic preparations.
  • Fifty-five percent of surveyed Americans receive information about a therapy or condition online.
  • Sixty percent of surveyed physicians are interested in using social networks for professional purposes; approximately one out of every six U.S. physicians are members of Sermo, an online physicians network; and 65 percent of surveyed nurses indicate they plan to use social networks for professional purposes.

Because both health care providers and patients are turning to the Internet for their care information, insurers and agents have a unique opportunity to join the dialogue and influence both parties.

For those concerned about compliance issues, there seems to be an answer. LinkedFA.com is a social network for financial advisors that allows them to engage with investors while remaining FINRA-compliant. Although the FINRA regulations don’t specifically target insurance agents, it’s still smart for agents selling insurance products to be aware of and follow FINRA protocol, so LinkedFA.com might be a site worth checking out. Financial advisors, who often work from home, can leverage their secure, FINRA-compliant network outside of the office to reach their existing customers and give on-demand advice and perspectives. This solves many of the issues raised by FINRA’s social media guidelines.

Social networking isn’t for everyone. It can be time-consuming, and if you don’t learn how to do it correctly, it can be very ineffective. But with the right training and know-how, you can leverage the power of social media – and its users – into your next sale.

Heather Trese is the associate editor of the Agent’s Sales Journal. She can be reached at HTrese@AgentMedia.com or 800-933-9449 ext. 225.