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Health Insurers Take Bold Steps in Social Media

Forward-thinking companies are inviting consumers to take part in conversations around health, wellness and insurance issues.

Social media might not seem like a great match for health insurance — after all, the cases payers deal with can be very personal. But some companies in that line of business are making aggressive moves to tap into consumers' increasingly social online behavior in ways that don't complicate their businesses.

Carriers aren't just limited to Facebook and Twitter, however. Humana (Louisville, Ky.) recently launched its own social network for its Medicare Advantage and Medicare Advantage Part D members. Developed by the company's wholly owned Lifesynch division, the Humanaville community includes real-world-style locations and activities such as a town square, health clinic, library, fitness center, games and relaxation spots. (In that way, it resembles a Second Life-style virtual world more than a Facebook redux).

In these locations, members will find information, games and avatar-based interaction. They can interact directly through online chat and community discussion forums where they can post original content and topics, ask questions, and respond to each other on those topics. Its major goal is to drive increase use of the Humana Member Assistance Program, also administered by Lifesynch.

"I would view this as more than just a social network like Twitter or Facebook, says Lifesynch VP Dan Clark. "When we started looking at the growth in that medium, one of the primary reasons that Medicare members were going to media like that was for health info. We wanted to leverage what we know about the Medicare Advantage population and this migration to drive greater participation in the Member Assistance program."

Clark says the strategy behind Humanaville is to provide information policyholders need in an experiential fashion. Besides facilitating learning, he adds that the Humana brand lends credibility to the content, with the company installing safeguards to ensure a positive experience.

"You can interact with other members, and people can also post articles in the forums," he says. "But we use filters to protect members from inappropriate content."

Independence Blue Cross (IBX, Philadelphia) has grown its Healthy Steps social media campaign aggressively over the past few months. Its most recent extension came in the form of a smartphone app. The app features a pedometer, GPS feature and other fitness, health and nutrition tools. Users can share their progress on Facebook, Twitter and via text message in the app as well.

Bringing together the two impactful media of mobile and social is natural to the carrier, says SVP of marketing services John Janney.

"The beauty of it is that you really can leverage the built-in capabilities of the sites to take advantage of the capabilities of the smartphone," he explains. "It's not overly complex to do and it helps us bring in as many people as possible."

IBX has found, like Humana, that consumers are becoming more comfortable with the concept of interacting with their health insurance providers on social media. This trust has been cultivated by being transparent about how the company interacts with the social data used by the app, Janney says.

"We don't log the information ourselves, so we're not monitoring everybody's daily life," he says. "The social media aspects are completely under the control of the user. If you don’t want to put your information out publicly, you don't activate that part of the application."

These are good signs, adds Doug VanWingerden, senior executive for Accenture Health, which recently put out a study on the customer experience in health insurance. When Accenture was conducting its research, it found that there was a disconnect between what the insurers were hoping to accomplish on social media and how customers perceived those interactions. If insurers are finding new, more meaningful ways to connect through the channel, Windergen says, that could help move the needle in terms of consumers' perception of the brands.

"Payers really are in a difficult place compared to other industries. They're dealing with your money and your life, two of the most critical things there are," he says. "Listening [in social media] is great, so they can understand where they might have some structural or policy-based things that are driving dissatisfaction or confusion."

Nathan Golia is senior editor of Insurance & Technology. He joined the publication in 2010 as associate editor and covers all aspects of the nexus between insurance and information technology, including mobility, distribution, core systems, customer interaction, and risk ... View Full Bio

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