As I traveled during this autumn conference season, listening and speaking on social media in the insurance industry, I often heard from companies that block social media. But is this a good idea?
“Staff will spend all day on Facebook” was one reason given—but if this is true, it is more likely that these staff members are just poor or unmotivated employees; this is a management, not social media, problem. Besides, they probably have Facebook on the smartphone in their pocket, so blocking has no real effect.
“Social media will chew up internal bandwidth.” It can, yes, especially if staff members watch YouTube all day—but do motivated staffs do that? Could they not alternatively watch Hulu or Netflix all day?
“Staff will post unauthorized information.” Again, with the smartphone in the pocket and a laptop at home, people will post on social media regardless.
This is not a new experience; we worried about staff with direct-dial telephones calling friends all day. We were convinced that access to copy machines would encourage unbridled copying just because staff could make copies—and I do admit the concern about photocopying butts was a real one. Email was a disaster waiting to happen; staff would send confidential information and files to competitors without limitation, and as for the high-speed work Internet, that spelled the end of workday productivity as we knew it. Sure, Cyber Monday always causes a bit of a slowdown, but we survive.
Blocking social media is papering over cracks and misses a much bigger point. You need employees to be familiar with social media and the dumb things that people can do. Almost all corporate social media blunders are the result of human error; staff accidentally tweeting from corporate accounts instead of personal ones, making inappropriate comments or posting regrettable photos while proudly announcing their place of employment, berating customers online, or making explicit policy recommendations and guarantees.
Social media can reach all parts of an insurance company, and everyone needs to gain an appreciation of and respect for its potential destructive power. Refused claims always have the potential of “going viral,” sponsorship deals can backfire, poor customer service can be damaging.
Most of your employees have access to social media even if you block it, and the risk-averse thing to do is to teach people how to use social media effectively, focusing on what they should do and not so much on what they should not do.
This is not only the smart thing to do, but it also makes business sense—employees on social media can have a positive effect for insurers. Who is most likely to “like” the company’s Facebook page or to follow tweets? It is less likely to be prospects or customers than it is the people connected to the company; examine the Facebook “shares” for any insurer—for most, you’ll find 90 percent are by agents and employees.
Social media allows employees to be proud of and even promote their workplace. While insurers are spending thousands recruiting fans and followers that will rarely see any of your messages (according to Facebook, fewer than 16 percent of fans see messages), you are ignoring the people who make a point of tuning in. The real power of social media is as an influence engine, with the average person connected to 236 friends, neighbors and family members. If you could encourage 5,000 employees to share your news, this would have a potential reach of over 1 million people, with all this coming from someone they know and trust.
So block social media if you wish, but you cannot say “We are a conservative insurance company, and therefore, we block social media.” Managing risk by opening up access, training employees and making them more aware while expanding the reach of your message—that is the real conservative approach.