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Many brokers are enthusiastically using social media to help them better communicate with clients and attract new prospects, experts say.
LinkedIn is probably the most popular social media network used by brokers, with Twitter the second-most popular, they say.
Eric Joost, New York-based chief executive, North America Specialties at Willis North America, said social media's use by brokers is “the natural extension of what we already do. Twenty years ago, it was paper. More recently, maybe what you see is a website or what we do over email,” he said.
“We've got a lot of activity” on social media, including Facebook and Twitter, he said. “At the end of the day, it's just fundamentally more distribution” of “what we think, what we know or how we're reacting to certain things. To me, it's a content game and how you organize it, and how you deliver it.
“I think people are doing a better and better job in getting organized and relevant in how they distribute information” using LinkedIn and Twitter,'' Mr. Joost said.
Claude Yoder, New York-based global head of analytics for Marsh Inc., said, “It's very attractive, because you can create a much more dynamic experience rather than serving (data) up with PowerPoint” or on paper.
“At Crystal & Co., our overriding desire is to build great relationships with our clients and prospects and we feel like the very best way to do that is face to face,” said Mike Champion, the brokerage's New York-based senior managing director. “We think of (social media) as being an adjunct to the relationship, in helping us connect with both.”
John Thorbahn, president of NFP Thorbahn in Norwell, Mass., a unit of National Financial Partners Corp., said, “We are a very strongly based people-oriented company, and we're always looking for better ways to communicate and connect with our customers and our community.
“Our employees were pushing me, and they were very eager” to use more social media to grow the company, he said. After an assessment, “we thought it was worth the time and commitment, if it was strategically managed,” Mr. Thorbahn said.
“I'd say we're in the preliminary rounds of figuring out how to make it really work,” said Dean Davison, director of communications at Kansas City, Mo.-based brokerage Lockton Cos. L.L.C. “I feel a little bit like people must have felt in the early days of the telephone, when you had people saying, "Why do I need a telephone? I can write a letter or go visit my client,' while others say "Gosh, there's a million and one ways to use this,' and are trying to use all at once. It's just a balancing act, trying to get what's right, and what's right isn't always obvious.”
While Lockton producers have found social media useful, “it's not a replacement, though, for traditional methods,” Mr. Davison said. “When you approach a client in our business, you are asking them to place a significant amount of ... financial and business trust in you, and that's not an email (or) social media transaction.”
LinkedIn and other social media tools “can spark a conversation, and help you find one another, but they can't replace the trust-building process that's vital to establishing long-term relationships,” he said.
Carol Ziecik, vice president, corporate communications, at Southfield, Mich.-based Meadowbrook Insurance Group Inc., said the brokerage encourages its associates to use LinkedIn. “It's the most used professional social media channel,” she said.
“It's a wonderful branding tool,” Ms. Ziecik said. “By doing this training we endeavor to get our associates promoting a consistent brand about the company and themselves.”
Social media also has helped brokers generate new business.
“I'm sure we can't measure that,” Willis' Mr. Joost said.”You certainly get anecdotal stories about opportunities that come at us because of our presence” on social media.
Some of the business-related groups at LinkedIn “are starting to get into a very good place,” while “Twitter is very effective because it's very issue based,” he said.
At Crystal & Co., the brokerage not only has its own LinkedIn page, “but we utilize the brand message to professionalize our associates' LinkedIn pages,” Mr. Champion said. LinkedIn is used to connect with current clients and has been “extremely helpful” as an outreach tool as well, he said.
Mike Gelin, Miami-based vice president at CBIZ Benefits & Insurance Services of Florida, a unit of CBIZ Benefits & Insurance Services Inc., said, if a prospect has been given an award for a significant accomplishment, “then I'll reach out to them with traditional email” but also congratulate them via Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. “It's just another way to stay in front of the client and show your face,” he said.
Risk managers are struggling with a series of challenging balancing acts regarding the explosion of social media in the workplace. One is between giving workers freedom of expression and protecting company assets, including trade secrets and proprietary information.