Even relative to other fast-growing Web 2.0 entities, Twitter's star has risen quickly. The micro-blogging site was launched in 2006, got its big break at the 2007 South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival and even more recently reached mainstream critical mass. As a result, insurance companies have had little time to identify the benefits a presence on Twitter can provide and determine how best to manage such a presence.
Fortunately a few insurers identified Twitter's potential early on -- way back in the halcyon days of 2008 -- and are providing the industry with some early examples of how carriers can leverage the social networking site to engage prospects and existing customers.
Mayfield Village, Ohio-based Progressive ($13.6 billion in net written premium, 2008) is among a handful of insurers with a visible and active presence on Twitter. Matt Lehman, Progressive's Web experience director, says the company started monitoring Twitter in earnest in 2008 and expanded from there. "It started to be a really effective listening mechanism for us -- a really quick feedback loop and a really good way to reach out to customers when timeliness is of importance," Lehman recalls.
Progressive has demonstrated the validity of Twitter to the business by using it as a communication channel during catastrophe events, such as this past spring's North Dakota floods and summer hailstorms in New Mexico. According to Lehman, the company used Twitter and its hashtag function to drive traffic to ProgressiveResponds.com, a Web site on which the carrier posts information when responding to catastrophe events. "In a post-catastrophe situation, you might not have access to a PC, and your phone lines might be down, but Twitter is very accessible via a mobile device," Lehman relates. "We were able to use Twitter to let people know when information that was relevant to them was posted on ProgressiveResponds.com. We were able to track very closely the spikes in hits to the site and to the information, and we could attribute it pretty closely to Twitter."
A Formal Strategy
Leveraging Twitter has become a part of the Progressive's formalized social media strategy, which essentially tasks Lehman and his team to listen and react to customers and prospects over various social media channels and then provide various levels of customer service or acquisition. "Whether it's Facebook or Twitter or YouTube, we're going to execute the [the social media] strategy slightly differently," Lehman explains. "With Twitter, we have clearly seen that it's a very powerful real-time communications mechanism for reaching out to customers, listening to them and understanding what they're saying about Progressive and what issues they're having with our products and services, and also what they're thinking about the industry in general as well as competitors."
The carrier first started interacting with other users on Twitter in early 2009. At first, Lehman reports, the interactions were limited to thanking individuals who used Twitter to share positive experiences they had with the carrier. Since then, however, Progressive has expanded its presence, reaching out to Twitterers who complain about the company or inquire about its products and services. he adds.
One key to Progressive's Twitter strategy appears to be personalization. When the carrier comes across positive or negative tweets about Progressive, it tries to respond in a way that is specific to that customer's comment. When the comments involve a service issue, Progressive refers the customer to a dedicated team within its call center organization to service the issue.
"It's great to see the moment when a customer didn't exactly put an issue out for us but we're able to find it, react to it and get them to the right place to get service, and then have them actually get their issue resolved," Lehman says. "Customers go from potentially being detractors or having issues with a Progressive product to being recommenders of our products because they've had a positive experience."
Lehman's team monitors Twitter as a group and uses TweetDeck's third-party application, to search Twitter in real-time for mentions of the company and to aggregate related searches in a single feed. In addition, the company is considering applications such as CoTweet (San Francisco) and Invoke Media's (Vancouver) HootSuite, which would enable Progressive to manage its corporate account, allowing multiple workers to access a single Twitter account while enabling Progressive to audit which workers provide responses.
While developing prospective customers is a part of the carrier's social media approach, Progressive has determined that Twitter is more useful for customer engagement, according to Lehman, who says the insurer only directs Twitter users to distribution channels when those individuals specifically ask for such information. The carrier's efforts on Facebook and YouTube, however, feature slightly more sales-related content.
"We generally see social media as a really good way to create good engagement with current customers," Lehman says. "Ultimately, this is a great way to provide useful content. It's not just a sales tool."
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