I had a chance to talk to State Farm’s Griffin Hammond from their Public Affairs social media team. As State Farm began getting calls from reporters referencing social media outlets and seeing news stories about them across the blogosphere, they realized it was time to start listening and that’s exactly what they did. Listening is how they began their social media endeavors.
It may sound simple but it is often overlooked. Without listening a company can not understand the conversations and will not know how to meaningfully contribute to them. Also, it needs to gain an appreciation for the differences in each social media outlet. There are different cultures and conventions in each platform. People interacted differently so they shouldn’t be treated the same. Take for example post frequency. On Twitter, one day @StateFarm tweeted deer collision statistics state by state several times an hour throughout the day and this was OK; however, posting the same data on their Facebook wall resulted in followers complaining, “Enough already!”
As State Farm began listening, it became apparent social media isn’t magical or anything completely different from how they have managed their business. It’s an additional opportunity to reach people. The conversations occur more easily, more openly and more often but they should stay true to their mission – being there “like a good neighbor”.
Typically customers interact with an insurance company at the time of purchase and when submitting a claim. During the period between these engagements, State Farm wants to be there should there be any questions about coverage, loss mitigation tips or other information.
Twitter is a good platform for this goal since it allows for a two-way dialogue directly with individuals. Every query or complaint may touch a different group so they are triaged appropriately. For example, an answer to a claim question depends on the jurisdiction state. Claim laws are different in every state so that tweet would be directed to the appropriate claim representative and the conversation would be continued offline. They try to respond to every tweet and ignore very few things.
State Farm has a cross departmental team overseeing social media. Its members include representatives from nearly every department, for example, Public Affairs, Marketing, and EIS (Enterprise Internet Solutions a group sitting between the Systems and Business groups responsible for technology standards.) They are all jointly responsible for State Farm’s social properties so they work together on each.
State Farm has over 17,000 agents. To help them navigate the social media waters State Farm provides them training. The training gives the guidelines for using social media. Since State Farm operates in a regulated industry they must ensure their agents are complying with FINRA and other regulatory bodies. As long as they comply with these regulations, the agents are free to use social media as they see fit. The agents with the most success are the ones that become part of their community. They provide information and value rather than using it as a marketing only channel.
Griffin and I ended our conversation discussing what the future would bring in social media and when in the future social media would no longer be “social media”. At what point is it just part of business and part of what everyone brings to the table. When did we stop having telephone communication experts?
What do you think of State Farm’s use of social media? I would love to hear your two cents.