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Can life insurance go viral?

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Get a few social media professionals together, and they’ll undoubtedly start commiserating about higher-ups who say things like, “Let’s make this go viral!” They’ll sigh and roll their eyes. Executives. Oh, executives.

What’s so wrong with wanting something to go viral? Nothing really, but it’s just not something you can control. It’s like saying, “Let’s make this book a bestseller,” or “This pop star is going to go platinum!” Your company can produce a $2 million YouTube video that’s been extensively focus-grouped and placed on every corner of the World Wide Web … and it’ll still end up being overshadowed by some teenager’s cell phone shots of a baby seal playing a harmonica.

That’s not to say, however, that social media can’t be harnessed to dramatically raise awareness or drive a particular action. In fact, that’s one of the things social media does best, and Colorado Gives Day, which happened yesterday in our state, offers a great example.

Each year on Colorado Gives Day, donors have 24 hours to give to more than 1,000 local organizations via an online portal. All of the money goes to the organizations — processing costs or fees are waived — and a presenting sponsor usually pledges several hundred thousand dollars (as well as prizes) to be allocated proportionally among the participating nonprofits.

I absolutely love Colorado Gives Day, and a lot of it has nothing to do with the fact that it’s a worthy cause. It’s just plain brilliant marketing, especially in a social media age.

Take the whole concept of a day dedicated to giving for starters. Any day of the year, I could hop on Facebook and tell people to donate to a charity. Most likely, I’d be ignored. But when charity is part of an event, there’s an excuse for me — and anyone else who’s charitably minded — to promote our favorite causes. Nonprofits can also encourage participation in the event without looking like they’re making just another annoying plea for donations. And all this encouragement equates to a whole lot of online peer pressure for those who may have been unaware of the day or reluctant to part with their cash.

Additionally, the organization that runs Colorado Gives Day, the Community First Foundation, took several steps this year to make the event more social media friendly. Some of the elements I noticed included creating a hashtag, running its Twitter feed on the Colorado Gives Day homepage, and blogging about the event. My favorite, though, was the foundation’s creation of a digital “I Gave” sticker that donors could post on their social media accounts — a great backdoor way for donors to promote the day as well as brag a little about their philanthropy. (I should note, though, that the foundation’s efforts weren’t perfect. Their homepage Twitter feed didn’t follow the event hashtag, only the @GivingFirst handle, an account that wasn’t updated very regularly throughout the day. And I couldn’t find the hashtag on any of the event’s promotional materials. Minor fails in an otherwise superb effort, though.)

It didn’t surprise me then that initial totals showed Colorado Gives Day raised $13 million, above and beyond last year’s total, even given the shaky economy. I’ve said it before, but peer pressure is powerful, and social media only amplifies that power. We just get more social every year, and organizations like the Community First Foundation have started wising up to that fact — and using it to their advantage.

Unfortunately, the life insurance industry hasn’t been as quick to get with the program. In a business that’s well-versed in the power of referrals, why don’t we have a digital “I’m covered” sticker that users can post to their social media accounts once they’ve purchased life insurance? Why, in the entire span of Life Insurance Awareness Month, don’t we have a Buy Life Insurance Day? And while we’re at it, why do few people outside of the industry even know about Life Insurance Awareness Month?

Sure, life insurance will probably never go truly viral. It definitely lacks the cute animals, double rainbows and dentist-drugged kids of other Internet phenomena. But that doesn’t mean the industry shouldn’t try. At worst, it’ll end up exactly where it is right now. At best? Well, ask those Colorado nonprofits once they finish counting their millions.  

For more from Corey Dahl, see:

Get out of town … really!

Walmart just moved your cheese

3 election lessons for the life industry