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4 ways to establish trust in social media

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The verdict is in: Social media is good for business.

Countless anecdotes and case studies have been published showing significant branding and sales results achieved by professionals in industries across the board, once they begin engaging with clients and prospects through social networks. In fact, according to Accenture, 55 percent of insurance customers say they would use insurance services offered through social media. Despite that hard and fast evidence, widespread adoption of social media by insurance professionals is still lagging behind other industries.

The reason for the lag can be summed up in a single word — one that’s very important to any advisor in the insurance or financial services space: Trust. It’s not that advisors don’t believe that social media is a channel for relationship-building and prospecting. It’s a trust gap on the security, compliance and brand reputation fronts that is limiting widespread adoption.

The breakdown in trust of social media programs comes from a number of angles. Each point of contention can give a member of a firm’s C-suite or broader employee base heartburn and result in hesitation or even outright dismissal, based on perceived risk/reward.

1. Kinks in the chain of trust start on the ground floor

A foundation or lack of trust starts at the “producer” or advisor level. Employees who work in regulated industries are often quoted as saying that they don’t trust they won’t make a wrong step when using social for business, and they value their license and their reputation above all else.

It’s hard for them to internalize and keep up with industry regulations as well as the constant changes and updates rolling out from each social network, and they don’t accidentally want to be the cause of a gaffe that brings sanctions against them or their firm. After all, a recent report from the non-profit Online Trust Alliance showed that 29 percent of data breaches occurring in the first half of 2014 were simply caused by employees, rather than external hackers or forces.

There are safeguards and software solutions that can prevent compliance violations and breaches, and their most essential function is making it easy for advisors to use social and trust that they are remaining compliant with firm and industry regulations.

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2. Easing compliance and security concerns

From the converse perspective, chief compliance officers, risk professionals and legal teams are constantly concerned about an employee (intentionally or not) crossing the often fuzzy legal lines of what is permitted when producers take to social media. They’re used to having technological “allies” to help them keep human tendencies in check with the confines of stringent regulations.

They have those technological allies in the social sphere too, with multiple social compliance platforms having developed various content recommendation, monitoring, archiving and moderation features tailored for various vertical markets, including insurance.

The CCO shouldn’t feel alone or powerless in his or her mission of creating a sense of trust between themselves, informed employees and clients who are none-the-wiser that a technological safety net is in place.

On a similar plane, a firm’s IT or security team, led by the CIO or CSO, knows that social media can often be a lightly guarded in-road for cyber attacks if left unaddressed. A risk alert recently issued by the SEC states that 88 percent of broker-dealers and 74 percent of RIAs have experienced cyber attacks.

Numbers are likely similar in the insurance space and IT decision makers may be wary of any single solution or platform that claims to help shore up potential pitfalls that social creates.

Understandably, those tasked with protecting the company’s data don’t want to open up more channels or opportunities for vulnerability, but trying to approach cyber-security by denying social use altogether is not practical for the long term.

See also:

Eating our own: How compliance confusion cannibalizes common sense

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Don’t forget the big picture

Beyond compliance and security, there is also brand reputation to preserve. CMOs and business leaders find it hard to trust that employees or outside influencers won’t share something via social that will tarnish the brand or erode their reputation.

It’s also a reality that someone can get on a social network and command trust as a representative of the company, regardless of where they are around the globe or whether they have any association with the business. It’s often hard for the broad consumer audience to discern the legitimacy of accounts and brand ambassadors.

How do marketers get ahead of these potentially harmful instances and remain sure consumers can trust their brand presence across social media?

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Trust isn’t just a fleeting dream

So here we stand – seemingly in a tangled web of trust issues. Every stakeholder has a different set of concerns, all of which need to be adequately addressed in order to unlock the power of social media. It can be overwhelming to think about and often puts firms into paralysis, due to a lack of understanding about where to start.

This often results in shutting down or staving off social use altogether. Unfortunately, the firms that choose to opt out will eventually be left behind as consumers increasingly communicate over social networks. The good news is that there are examples of other technologies that were perceived as concerning upon their inception, but eventually overcame the trust barrier with business professionals.

The most obvious example that was met with skepticism but eventually became trusted and commonplace is the evolution of email communication. Many of the same concerns social media faces were raised at the onset of email. Information security threats were heightened, the potential for violation of regulations like the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act increased (even just by clicking ‘forward’) and not everyone was comfortable doing business via such an unproven channel. How do I know these emails are from a reputable source? Who can guarantee that our conversations are private, if they’re permanently in writing? Will a client ever post our conversation verbatim and issue a blow to our company’s reputation? It took time and a relatively clean track record — plus various supporting technologies — for trust to be established in this communication channel and for a window to be opened to widespread adoption and success. Now we send emails in a business context every single day without batting an eye.

Whenever a new communication channel arises, especially for business purposes, there’s always a new level of risk that’s introduced. In these situations, there’s usually an ecosystem of tech platforms that develop expertise to deal with those risks. We’re now at that point with social media.

Social media’s risk and trust deficit can and needs to be addressed through good compliance hygiene and the right technology. As firms employ compliance platforms and best practices, social media will become more trusted by regulators and the entire market. By creating an easily understood social media policy, providing employees with proper training on the ins and outs of using social networks, and implementing technologies that provide guardrails and help defend the business from potential issues, companies can make social a safe environment for conducting real business. All three of those measures are key to building the trust necessitated by all involved stakeholders; no one leg of the tripod can stand on its own.

Trust will be the final hurdle to social becoming a secure, predictable and beneficial communication channel for insurance firms and agents, and most importantly, for their customers. With that end in mind, it’s incumbent upon every company, large and small, to implement the right technologies and start laying the bricks of social trust now.

See also:

There is no excuse for online idiocy

5 tech products for advisors: Are they living up to the hype?