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Leading insurance companies use social media listening to improve customer service, uncover fraud and generate sales leads. MetLife, Cigna, Liberty Mutual, State Farm Group, Aegon, Northwestern Mutual are among the many insurance companies that benefit from social media monitoring. The following are some of the main benefits.

Sales Leads

Life insurance companies can place insurance products in front of consumers at opportune times on social media.

“People post about life events on social media and search for information about life insurance. Carriers simply need to utilize tools such as social-media listening platforms to identify touchpoints and launch initiatives to reach out proactively to potential customers,” said experts at McKinsey & Company.

When people mention on social media that they have new job, are getting married, or are expecting a baby, they can be approached with life or health insurance plans. When they announce travel plans, they can be approached with travel insurance plans.

“The opportunities to generate sales leads on social media are huge be it life, health, travel, property or any other insurance product,” states Nitesh Kumar at Analytics Saves at Work.

Fraud detection. Social media listening provides a cost-effective way to uncover insurance fraud. Someone who filed a claim for a serious injury might be running a marathon. Or someone who reported stolen property might appear in a photo with the missing item. Those types of fraudulent claims are estimated at $80 billion a year in the U.S. alone, Kumar says. Costs are passed on to policy holders in the form of higher premiums.

Data for marketing. Social media monitoring provides a wealth of insights into the consumer beliefs and behavior. An insurance company monitored social media to learn how consumers view attributes like “guaranteed income” and “lifetime benefits,” according to PWC. It used the research to develop marketing messages based on what prospects and consumers valued most and to frame attributes not associated with competitors.

Engagement. Social media listening reveals opportunity for engagement. With social listening, State Farm learned that someone had tweeted “Like a good neighbor State Farm is there…I need food.” In response, State Farm offered to send food from the Twitter user’s favorite restaurant.

Its character, Jake at State Farm, provides a tool for engaging customers and humanizing its brand. In its commercial, a wife finds her husband on the phone with someone at 3 a.m. Thinking he must be up to some improper dalliance, she grabs the phone and asks, “What are you wearing, Jake from State Farm?”

Jake answers: “Uh…khakis.” State Farm followed up by creating the Twitter handle @JakeStateFarm that humorously emphasizes wearing khakis.

Advice for Gaining the Most from Social Media Listening

Emphasize listening over content publishing. Joe Strupek, assistant vice president of public affairs at State Farm Insurance, recommends a 70 percent listening and 30 percent content formula. “I think we would all agree that you learn more by listening and helping than you do just publishing,” the told Social Shake-Up.

You don’t need to publically respond to every comment. Some brands like to share customers’ positive comments. That can be risky. The customer may not want to become a company spokesperson. When customers complain, experts recommend taking the conversation to private channel such a Twitter direct message.

Monitor social media, most notably Twitter, for news reports about your company. Journalists may tweet about breaking news on Twitter before the article is published online.

Monitor your stock symbol. Short sellers sometimes try to temporarily drive down a company’s stock prices through their tweets. Companies can quickly respond by monitoring their names and stock symbols and employing a social media monitoring service that sends real-time alerts.

Beware of setting precedents. A few years ago, a man suffering colon cancer asked his insurance company, Aetna, for additional coverage. After a few days of exchanges in what writers called a Twitter war, the Aetna CEO agreed to waive the lifetime insurance cap on his policy. Although compassionate, the decision set a dangerous precedent: Anyone who wants special treatment needs only to ask for it on social media.

Bottom Line: Insurance companies can obtain substantial benefits through social media listening, including generating sales leads, preventing fraud and improving perception of their brands.