Reflecting on the United States' recent presidential election, a good deal of attention was paid to the Obama campaign, specifically in how he, as an orator, moved the masses with his message. But while he stirred voters with his rhetoric and used major media outlets en route to a victory, an army of volunteers mobilized on a grassroots level to promulgate his message utilizing methods such as personal voter interaction, e-newsletter blasts and rallies, among others. It's debatable which of the two assaults - be it from Obama or his volunteers - was most effective, but when all was said and done, he without a doubt managed to engage his audience in one medium or another. Somewhat similarly, insurers today are taking the glassroots approach to social media, engaging their target audience where they're most "at home," and spreading their brand and message from the ground up. In these settings, unlike with courting voters, which has a distinct endpoint and goal in sight, the value of social media to the insurer isn't necessarily to sell insurance, but to get the brand associated with value, and build trust with the consumer.

As discussed in last month's issue, insurers have found social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace to be fertile ground for interacting with their customer base on somewhat of a grassroots level. But in addition to establishing a presence on those sites, many carriers have begun to add more Web 2.0 functionality to their own Web sites (or related microsites), which often are tied in to the social networks, serving to engage, inform and deliver added value to customers. Chad Mitchell, a senior analyst with Forrester Research Inc., Stamford, Conn., says he's seen a strong investment among carriers in Web 2.0 for branded microsites lately, specifically motorcycles, personal watercraft and RVs. For these products, he says, the next stage of online quoting is immanent. "It's key right now to retain customers," Mitchell says, "so if they have an auto policy, insurers are now wanting to switch them from a mono-line to a multi-line policy; if they have auto and home, insurers want them to extend into all areas. But with specialty vehicles, an easy transfer is now to say, 'Hey, if we have your car or truck, why not put all your vehicles with us?'" One of the first carriers to make such an online push is Northbrook, Ill.-based Allstate Insurance Co. Having enhanced and revamped its motorcycle product line a few years back, the insurer wanted to market its new product. So, in addition to an advertising and public relations campaign, it rolled out the Allstate Garage microsite about a year ago with the intention of utilizing the Web as a means of engaging motorcyclists about their passion. "The Web is a way for motorcyclists to connect to one another, and a way for them to gather information about everything related to their interests," says Lisa Jillson, Allstate senior marketing manager, and one of the minds behind the microsite. The microsite is predicated on offering information centered on motorcyclists' passions, including the ability to plot rides, find mechanics and build and customize a virtual bike. Also included is insurer-specific information about finding an Allstate agent, a tutorial about motorcycle insurance and the ability to purchase a policy, among other options, the site is intended to be a one-stop-shop for enthusiasts. While the microsite has received many accolades, Jillson says, it isn't looked at as being a tool just to drive policy sales. "We had more to gain from prospecting than from existing customers, considering we had just revamped the product to make it more competitive, so we looked at the site as more of a prospecting tool," she says. "Some initial survey data has found that more than 70% of visitors would now consider Allstate motorcycle insurance after visiting the site, but our goal was really to promote awareness that we offer motorcycle insurance. That was the focus of year one." Allstate is currently looking expand upon the site's success, and build more reasons for visitors to return in 2009. "We know people stay on the site an average of five times longer than what Nielsen reports as being the the industry standard for consumers, so we've definitely hit a nerve," Jillson adds, "so we've definitely hit a nerve."

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