Las Vegas — Twitter and other social media services can be useful for health insurance agents and brokers who are looking for new ways to track the news and share ideas.
Kevin Roberts, the outgoing president of the Golden Gate Association of Health Underwriters, gave that assessment Wednesday during an interview at the annual convention of the National Association of Health Underwriters (NAHU), Washington.
Twitter runs a website that gives users a quick, easy way to post a stream of short text messages on the Internet. The maximum length of a post is 140 characters. The short, no-frills format makes tweets relatively easy to post from just about any mobile phone that has some Internet access.
NAHU itself posts regular tweet s about its activities.
Roberts, who tweets under the handle BrokerManCA, is one of several active NAHU leaders who is especially visible as a source of tweets about news of interest to health insurance producers. He was trying to “live tweet” from the convention, for example, before signal problems at the convention site, the Wynn Las Vegas, got in the way.
Roberts now has about 824 followers, or Twitter subscribers, including some other active NAHU members who have become regular Twitter users.
Roberts signed up for a Twitter account about two years ago and began actively tweeting 18 months ago. He also uses LinkedIn, FourSquare and other social media sites and often cross posts the same message, or similar messages, to multiple services.
Roberts said he started out using Twitter mainly as a tool to follow news about personal interests, such as baseball and baking.
He later developed a list of about 100 Twitter feeds of interest to health insurance producers and other health policy followers. The list generates many items each day.
Twitter is “a great place to be in the current of what’s happening in the moment,” Roberts said. “Because Twitter tends to be enabled by younger people, I think it also gives me a look into the future.”
Roberts tries to search for reasonably neutral keywords, to find tweeters who take a reasonably balanced approach to news about hot, controversial topics such as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and a California health insurance rate review bill.
He mixes posts about business and personal interests in his own feed, which he regards as being his own personal feed. He said he thinks a company with at corporate Twitter feed should take a circumspect approach to posting and focus mainly on posts about its own activities, ways it’s serving customers and wants to serve its customers, and pride in the activities of its employees.
As a resident of the San Francisco area, Roberts has many friends at technology companies who are active tweeters.
“The insurance companies are like the last to the party,” Roberts said.
One challenge, Roberts said, is that tweeting can occasionally produce leads but is more of a medium for sharing ideas and advertising a brand than it is for drumming up sales.
Roberts cites Jim Angstadt of Cigna Corp., Bloomfield, Conn. (NYSE:CI), and Mark Bertolini, the president of Aetna In., Hartford (NYSE:AET), as examples of health insurance company executives who he feels are doing an especially good job of tweeting.
Angstadt often posts about wellness topics, such as childhood obesity.
Bertolini, who has a personal feed that is separate from the main Aetna corporate feed, posts about his own personal activities and perceptions, Roberts said.
Roberts also likes following small businesses, especially independents, to see how they market themselves.
Correction: An earlier version of this article described NAHU’s location incorrectly. NAHU has moved to Washington.