You can do just about anything online these days: shop for curtains; date people in other countries; video chat with elderly relatives; share business documents; read books; publish blogs; play games about birds, farms and jewels…
Yet, in an age when you can tweet back and forth with Donald Trump, many people have a hard time locating so much as an email address — let alone a simple Facebook account — for their local insurance agent or financial advisor. A 2012 LIMRA-McKinsey financial advisor survey found just about 15 percent of advisors use social media to promote their practice, source new prospects or engage with existing clients. That’s too bad for the 61 percent of consumers who, according to another LIMRA study, go online to research individual insurance or annuity products.
Why has an industry based on relationships been so slow to adopt tools meant to drive personal connections? The fact that the insurance workforce is rapidly graying plays a role. Old-fashioned sales habits die hard, and hashtags don’t always come naturally to generations that didn’t grow up with them.
The biggest hurdle, however, is compliance. Most of FINRA’s rules governing advertising and communications with the public pre-date the social media age, but that doesn’t mean they don’t apply. For example, firms are obligated to record and retain all business-related communications made on social media sites, and any tweet or status update that suggests the recommendation of a particular product is subject to rules regarding suitability. FINRA has worked to issue notices (and even podcasts) explaining the rules, but they’re lengthy, detailed messages that may be difficult for the average producer to retain. Adhering to all the rules also adds an extra layer of work and, in most cases, expense.
The compliance problem is sticky — but not unsolvable, and there’s a small, but growing, social-savvy vanguard of advisors and carriers to prove it. Here, three social media leaders in the industry share their success stories — and their tips for how others can follow in their footsteps.
A thriving social media program
Two years ago, you couldn’t find a Thrivent Financial representative on Facebook. Today? You’ll find several hundred on the platform. And on LinkedIn, too.
In fact, Thrivent’s hoping to have more than half of its 2,300 total representatives on social media by this summer.
What drove the rapid about-face? A combination of agent demand and a thoughtful pilot program that launched in 2011, says Kyle Marie Woods, Thrivent’s marketing strategist. “Really [the impetus for the social media effort] was the demand and interest from the field reps,” Wood says. “They were really excited about it and saw the potential.”
Thrivent did, too, but it didn’t want to rush into anything, especially given compliance considerations. So the company began with a small pilot program, recruiting 20 top-performing reps to set up personal LinkedIn and Facebook business pages. As comfort levels and resources increased, 15 to 20 more field representatives were allowed to join the program at a time.
Then, about a year into the effort, Thrivent connected with Hearsay Social, one of several firms — along with companies like Socialware and Actiance — helping the financial services industry with social media compliance challenges. These companies’ automated tools can do things like monitor agents’ posts, flag unapproved content, and provide agents with a library of pre-approved materials to post. The service “really did allow us to quickly bring more field reps into the program,” Woods says.
As a result, the program moved out of pilot mode earlier this year to become one of the company’s in-line marketing applications. More than 400 agents are now enrolled, and Woods hopes to have 1,500 signed up by mid-year. “There’s been much more interest than spots available,” Wood says. “We’ve definitely been met with excitement and enthusiasm.”
Or mostly, anyway. Woods has come across reps who have no interest in using social media. “And that’s okay,” she says. “We don’t want to force anyone to do anything they’re not comfortable with.” But she’s also most proud of the reps who are initially intimidated by Facebook and LinkedIn but forge ahead anyway. “I really like seeing those who aren’t necessarily social media savvy, but they heard about it from their kids or their grandkids, and they’re stepping outside their comfort zone and trying something new,” she says. Being brave can pay off, too. The social media program has already had 12 reported business cases in the first three months of 2013, according to Woods.
The Thrivent team’s goal for this year is to grow the current Facebook/LinkedIn program, with plans to expand to Google+ and Twitter down the road. “We’ll keep learning and testing and trying and hopefully have the majority of our field force, or at least anyone who wants to be, on social media,” Woods says. “We’ve been doing this for two years, but we’re really just scratching the surface.”
Next: One advisor’s success story
One advisor’s social success story
When one of financial advisor John Groth’s clients passed away recently, he knew right away.
It wasn’t because he has a spooky sixth sense or a nosy connection at the local funeral home. It was because he has Facebook.
“His family had posted about it, and as soon as I saw it, I called up the wife right away and expressed my condolences,” he says. “They really appreciated it.”
It’s just one way Groth, CFP, CLU, CLTC, ChFC, a financial advisor with Northwestern Mutual in Cleveland, is using social media to better connect with his clients and, ultimately, boost business.
Groth started using social media about three years ago, after receiving invitations to connect on various networks from several of his clients. “Some of my clients were on it and said, ‘Why don’t you get on it?’” he says. “So I did.”
After firing up his Facebook and LinkedIn accounts, though, he was promptly contacted by his compliance department. A chat with Northwestern Mutual’s team led him to Hearsay Social, which, he soon discovered, not only helped him remain compliant but also allowed him to better keep up with messages and updates from his connections.