IBM used this light installation to get attendees at the CeBIT technology fair in Hanover, Germany, to think about technology. (AP Photo/Joerg Sarbach)

One of the failures of the age of automation in maintaining customer relationships was the resulting disconnect created between businesses and customers.

This chasm was particularly pronounced in the insurance industry, where the sales relationship slowly shifted from valuing rich one-on-one interactions with potential customers, to pursuing the creation of automated Web portals that drove high volume sales.

Fortunately, the adoption of new media gives us an opportunity to reestablish one-on-one relationships with health and disability insurance customers through such old-school business values as conversation and availability. With new media, you provide customers with information where they want it, when they want it, and how they want it while maintaining the high volume of growth that is possible through online sales.

Over the course of the past few years I have spent countless hours building the new media strategy of the insurance provider I work with, and honestly, it has been a hard road. Developing a new media strategy is a demanding process. As I built an online network of over 130,000 followers, I found that the launch process can be simplified by following a few steps that help begin any new media campaign with purpose, drive, and a great chance for success.

Consult with the compliance term early.

Avoid aggravation and last-minute changes by making sure you know exactly what you can and can’t say and what kinds of communications you can and can’t elicit from potential customers.

Reserve your new media accounts.

This may seem like an obvious first step, but it is a very important one. Register your business name and the names of all of your products. Make sure that the account names and handles you choose are consistent with your brand image.

Use the character limit in each user name intelligently. For example, the name HCC Medical Insurance Services is incredibly long and would not work as a Twitter handle. To get around that problem, I used our commonly known abbreviation HCCMIS. This option was still very recognizable for our customers and conveyed the brand. Make sure you keep consistency. HCCMIS’s Facebook and YouTube profiles use the same abbreviation: HCCMIS.

After your accounts are reserved, do not jump the gun. There is no need to start producing content right away, as there is still work to be done.

Best Practice: When you reserve your social network handles, be consistent. If you cannot get the name you want on Twitter, come up with something that will work for that network, and that you can use on all of your other networks.

Monitor new media conversations BEFORE you interact.

Have you ever been to a professional networking event and witnessed someone disrupt a great conversation by jumping into the middle of it with no idea of what is being discussed? You do not want to emulate that person in social media. The culture of interaction is different in each social network and existing members can be very judgmental of brands that do not interact in a way that matches the culture of the network.

Listening to others in new media outlets is just as important as releasing your own information and promoting your insurance product. Make sure you see what topics consumers, and other industry leaders, are discussing. Most social media platforms offer a search feature to review posted activity. Use tools to perform searches on your company name, product names, and any keywords applicable to your company and industry,

Best Practice: Crisis control is a hugely important part of any social media strategy, but don’t lose your head. If you find negative buzz, consult with the rest of your team and take time to develop an appropriate response that conveys your concern, and offers a viable resolution. Sometimes, the best response is no response at all!

Set goals.

Review your company’s marketing, customer service, and sales goals to create actions for social media that support these goals. The information you collected when you were monitoring media conversation should help you create realistic goals.

Once you have launched your program, checking your performance is one of the most important aspects of maintaining a strong media presence. Make sure you have analytics to measure engagement with your content, ongoing sentiment towards your brand, and the return on investment (ROI) of your lead generation activities. Use checkpoints to measure your growth, and compare them to the goals you set in the planning stages.

Best Practice: As you review your statistics and reports, adjust your media plan as needed. Drop content that isn’t working, ramp up what is, and learn to be open to new ideas.

Interact.

Once the accounts are registered, you have done your research and your goals fit within your overarching marketing plan, it is time to interact. You can now create your own original and creative content for your new media sites. Remember, conversation is key. The more interaction you have with customers via new media, the faster your following and level of influence will increase. Add helpful and insightful dialog. Make it personal. The relationships you build, and maintain, can help your bottom line.

Best Practice: When you see your customers sharing positive experiences on your fan page, make sure to respond immediately and reinforce those good feelings.

Running a new media campaign is not rocket science, but it can have an extremely positive affect on your business if done properly. Do not rush into anything. With these easy steps, you and your business will have a highly successful plan underway soon. Your customers will love the interaction and one-on-one time you will be giving them. New media is meant to be fun and entertaining, so enjoy it!