Those LinkedIn purists who are so quick to remind users that “this isn’t Facebook/Twitter/Snapchat/Instagram, this is a professional networking platform” are surely smarting at the plethora of non-strictly work-related content that has found its way on to the site in the early weeks of 2022. For with January inevitably comes the deluge of pledges, promises and predictions for what the next 12 months may bring.
More palatable to these purists, surely, is the endless stream of role updates and company changes precipitated by the urge to make a change that follows the marking of a new year as surely as day follows night. These are no doubt at least in part fanned by reports of ‘The Great Resignation’ but, regardless of the reason, January’s LinkedIn feed does not seem to have been as hampered by resolutions to stay clear of social media as it has in previous years.
As a phenomenon, since its inception, social media has generated a level of discourse in keeping with the amount of content to which it offers a platform. At the click of a button, you could find 1,000s of articles that alternatively vilify or exalt it, depending only on which keywords you have used to search. For many insurance professionals, social media has long posed something of a Jack in the Beanstalk conundrum – where high risks are battling the tempting spectre of high rewards. But do the benefits of this communication channel outweigh its underlying challenges?
Perhaps the most enticing opportunity that social media can present to broking professionals and their businesses is the possibility of solidifying their existing industry and client relationships while simultaneously reaching new audiences. There are perhaps no other engagement channels that offer this proposition for the relatively low-touch, low-cost implications of these platforms, so it makes sense that those who use them well extol their values.
Using social media channels appropriately is the key. When done well, these platforms offer the opportunity for businesses to engage in a dialogue with their customers rather than to produce a monologue that may or may not find the right audience. A two-way street has become critical to creating a strong client proposition, given the omnichannel experience that customers now receive from other financial services providers. Customers increasingly expect to be able to reach out to their insurance providers and partners in the manner they see fit – and for many, social media is that way.
Insurance brokers can use these channels to reveal the human face(s) working behind the scenes of the insurance proposition and bring this into the light. With so many conversations about repairing the reputational harm done to insurance over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, this seems a necessary step towards setting the table for discussions around the “true purpose” of insurance. In addition, social media sites present brokers with a ready-made opportunity to substantiate the claims they make regarding the strength of their customer proposition and their focus on employee wellbeing.
Inevitably, there’s a downside to that too. Social media turns the iron fortress of a business into a well-built but still firmly translucent glasshouse. If you’re going to make self-affirming assertions about the quality of your business, these need to be stone-proof. Social media platforms can become magnets for attention, and despite the lazy adage about there being no such thing as bad publicity, it does not take many negative comments to damage the reputation of even the most respected brand.
While conversations debating the negative aspects of social media tend to focus on the societal implications of the channel and the mental health implications it can have for users, there is also the matter of the exposures that professionals can face. In conversation with Insurance Business last year, Aviva’s Peter Hazlewood highlighted how social media is creating new opportunities for fraud. He advised professionals to always assume that their social media activity may bleed into their work life and to be very careful when it comes to posting sensitive information.
But beyond the business case for or against social media, there is also the personal aspect of what an individual’s online presence represents. This was skilfully summarised by Carpenter Group’s Donna Scully (whose own LinkedIn presence has been a delight to behold during the pandemic) during a recent chat when she highlighted that, while the business case for social media channels can easily be made by digital marketing teams, the fact also remains that it can be great fun, and can also translate into real and lasting friendships that eventually find their way out of the virtual world.
Of course, at the end of the day, like everything in insurance the utilisation of social media comes down to a question of risk versus reward. To ignore the risks posed by this channel would be negligent, to ignore the rewards it can bring would be narrow-minded. And who better to judge their own exposures than risk management professionals?