The power of social media

Written by Sevantika Bhandari | Updated: Aug 12 2013, 19:26pm hrs
Social media is an integral part of our lives today. Not only has it diluted boundaries and spaces for networking, it has

become a part of all walks of our lives today. People are connecting, sharing experiences and seeking advice. Brands that want to engage and become a part of customers lives have to look at the social medium as a platform beyond branding.

When it comes to insurance, there is a lot of apprehension and ambiguity in customers mind, and it is generally perceived as a cold industry. First, insurance by design requires customers to visualise or think about adverse situationsillness, accidents or even death. Secondly, for various reasons, there is a lack of trust for the category itself. Thirdly, understanding the product is difficult, since there are several nuances. Explaining relevant concepts, exclusions, limits and such face-to-face to the end-customer is practically difficult. This makes branding effort an uphill battle for the marketer in insurance industry.

As a marketer simply being in touch with customers in a language they understand can work wonders. Brands could then work upwards in driving positive associations with the customer. Social media can help bring warmth to the relationship between the brand and the customer. As opposed to writing an email and waiting for an auto response or being faced with long wait times on telephone lines, social platforms allow you to better connect with customers. How By driving conversationsa two way dialogue between the brand and the customers. Conversations drive the following:

Brands reach: The brand can reach out to the target audience which is increasingly spending more time on social platforms than TV/radio/print. A Deloitte study showed a dramatic shift of time spent by Indian youth from TV to the internet. Between 2009 and 2011, the preferred medium for Indians changed from 91%-9% to roughly 50%-50% for TV and internet respectively. This is dramatic and a brand needs to be where time is being spent! If a brand reaches the right audience and engages the audience continually with relevant communication, this should translate into sales.

Customer access to the brand: Used effectively, insurance brands can be accessible 24/7 when customers need them. This does away with the constraints of not being able to clarify product related doubts when needed. Being accessible is a huge first step towards delivering great customer experience. A recent KPMG report suggests that insurance industry is using social media to deliver better customer service.

Transparency and ultimately trust: Conversations help drive transparency using information sharing, which in turn helps forge trust.

Advocacy: Social networks can help spread positive comments virally through sharing. Increasingly more people look for peer recommendation about brands and products they intend to customer. Social media enables this. Therefore, more advocates (especially, influential advocates) your brand has, the higher the chance that they could influence others into buying.

With social media, insurance brands can create positive brand associations such as being a friend, advisor or a trusted partner in real terms, by simply being their when the customers need help. This is relatively difficult using traditional media which is not interactive.

Insurance brands the world over have started using social media for various means. A recent AT Kearney

report lists AllState, Travelers and State Farms as some role models who are effectively using social media for brand awareness, as a sales channel for delivering customer service.

Like other customer facing industries have, insurance in India has also embarked on enhancing their social presence. Insurance brands directly connect with nearly 3 million fans, and indirectly (driven by viral reach) perhaps 2-3x more. LIC leads in terms of social presence with nearly 1.5 million fans.

While larger communities are better, it is important to understand whether the communities represent the target audience for the brand and also whether the brand is constantly engaging with the community that has been built. Announcing availability and access and not being there could be a big negative. Few brands have gone beyond building large social communities. For example, Max Bupa has launched an application on Facebook to enable existing or prospective customers get in touch with the brand, understand various products better and even refer the brand to their friends. This is one manifestation of how brands can reach their audiences, drive access, transparency and advocacy.

Social media and platforms amplify positive as well as negative comments. The question which marketers often ask is whether being available for accolades and abuse is a good thing or not. There are two points here. First, it is no more a question of choosing to be there or not to be. Simply put, brands have to be present where their audience is. The reality today is that audience is spending time on social platforms. Secondly, by not providing a platform for conversations, we simply encourage them to voice their complaints on other social platforms or complaint boards. This could be worse, since it becomes all the more difficult for brands to reach out and help their customers on these alien platforms.

Many changessocial and behaviouralare being driven by social media today and these changes are inevitable. Brands who embrace and adapt their strategies around these changes should emerge victorious.

The writer is director, marketing, Max Bupa Health Insurance