by Michael Idinopulos
on August 26, 2014

Social Selling in the Insurance Industry: My Takeaways from LIMRA/LOMA Social Media '14 Conference

It’s the dawn of a new day for social in the insurance industry.

I spent last week at LIMRA/LOMA’s Social Media conference in Boston. I always like LIMRA events. As an industry association, LIMRA convenes a high-powered group of insurance executives. It has traditionally been a refreshingly open and non-commercial environment, where industry leaders come together to learn from friends and colleagues across companies.

I spent some of my time going to the formal presentations, and even more of it chatting with industry executives in various hallways, lounges, and restaurants about what they’re seeing in the field. There were plenty of good insights to be found both places, and they all conveyed a consistent message: The insurance industry is ready for social.

Here, in summary, is what I heard.

The industry is quickly moving past its compliance concerns.

For the past several years, insurance companies have been concerned, even obsessed, with compliance. It has slowed down, and often stopped cold, the use of social for anyone other than the corporate marketing department. That dynamic is changing quickly.

Most companies have now implemented social media compliance tools and processes. Compliance vendors Actiance, Global Relay, Hearsay Social, Socialware were out in full force at the conference. Most if not all the companies I spoke with are already very far along with their compliance deployments. They’ve implemented the systems, defined the processes, ironed out the glitches. They’re not new at this anymore.

That seems to satisfy the regulators. From what execs told me, regulators are taking a relatively supportive position on social media. They’re not looking for absolute metaphysical certainty that no one will ever use social media inappropriately. They just want to make sure that companies have reasonable monitoring and auditing processes in place to identify potential abuses and take appropriate action. Several execs told me that their internal compliance departments are taking a much harder line than the regulators themselves (which is, of course, exactly what you want.)

Attention is now shifting from compliance to employee activation.

I wish I had an Uber voucher for every time someone said to me, “We’re struggling to get our people to do this.” Everyone, everyone, everyone was talking about how hard it is to activate and engage employees on social.

The reasons for the adoption challenge weren’t so clear or well-understood.

Quite a few executives told me they thought it was a generational thing. (“We’ve got a lot of older sales reps who are set in their ways. They don’t understand social and they don’t see the value.”) At the same time, other execs told me the generational argument was overplayed. (“When we look at who’s using social in our company and who isn’t, both sides cross generational lines. We’ve got more experienced reps who have embraced social, and we’ve got young reps who haven’t.”)

The issue seems to be less about how old someone is and more about how clearly they see social as an opportunity to improve their sales effectiveness. “The young folks may understand social,” one executive told me, “but they’re still learning how to sell. This industry can be overwhelming for new people, and it’s asking a lot to add social to the mix.”

Perhaps the most insightful point came from someone who explained to me that her company’s top producers are the biggest adoption challenges for social. “These people have been very successful using traditional methods,” she said. “Why would they change that now?”

It’s a good point, and a beautiful reflection of the Innovators Dilemma. I expect the insurance industry, like most others, will wrestle with this one for a while.

Everyone feels behind.

On my first day of graduate school, I remember my feelings of intimidation in the first meeting with the other incoming students. They had all come from the top programs and studied under academic giants in the field.  They all seemed vastly more knowledgeable and well-read than I was. I thought to myself, “Boy, I am way behind in this crowd.” After the formal meeting ended, when a few of us chatted in the lounge, I learned that everyone in the room felt exactly the way I did. We were all convinced that we were way behind the pack.

The same attitude dominates insurance companies when it comes to social media. Everyone is convinced they are way behind the pack. Nearly every executive with whom I spoke with believed that their peers had been sprinting to social while their own company had taken mere baby steps.

I think the general feeling of “we’re so far behind” comes from insurance companies’ comparing themselves to other industries. The years spent sorting out compliance mean that insurance as an industry is getting into the social starting blocks  years after non-regulated industries. Insurance marketers have spent so much time staring at examples like Oreo, Dos Equis, etc., that they’re starting to feel left out. At some of the presentations, you could almost hear the thoughts in people’s heads: Where’s our dunk-in-the-dark moment? Where’s our most interesting man in the world?

The insurance industry may be behind, but it’s catching up. The closing session of the conference featured some of the creative ways insurance companies are using social to connect with their customers and channel partners. Prudential’s Steven Webster explained how they sourced a $650 million RFP when an account manager reconnected with a former customer on LinkedIn. Sharifah Niles-Lane showed some of the truly inspiring stories that John Hancock collected from Boston Marathon runners. (Yes, I choked up a little.) Scott Bonertz talked about how Mutual of Omaha is reinventing its longstanding Wild Kingdom program for the YouTube generation.

I left Boston with a mild hangover and a decidedly upbeat outlook for the insurance industry. It’s taken a while for insurers to arrive at the social party, but they’re finally here. Now we get to see how they dance.


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