?Does anyone really need to go through research to know that Social Media is exploding around us? Not really. After the "Arab Spring" surprised the world with the power of social media to revolutionize political dissent, governments are racing to develop strategies to respond to, and even control, the new player in the political arena -- social media.
According to Alec Ross, one of the creators of technology policy for Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign and now senior advisor for innovation to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, "If you are not open to social media spaces then you are not attuned to the dynamics on the street and you sacrifice both understanding and power." Diplomats at every level are being trained to use it to explain US policy and, more importantly, listen to what is being said and written in the countries in which they operate. Ross says that as an early adopter of the technology, the US State Department is now becoming an advisor to other governments on social media.
Social media is touching everybody as lifestyles go digital. What we need to do is imagine a little to predict what will happen in the Social Media space a few years from now and see if there is anything in it for Insurers. Can users of Social Media sites like Foursquare, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube help Insurers create new products for tomorrow's needs, create new segments, influence the customer thinking and thereby impact top and bottom lines? How can Social Media help Insurers transform themselves into true digital businesses that are nimble, responsive and not afraid to experiment? Are other organizations globally extracting such value from Social Media?
First, let's understand the pervasiveness of the phenomenon (and it does make sense to look up research for this): according to a study released by InSites Consulting (http://blog.insites.eu/?p=3673) in September 2011, 73% of European Internet users – or about 347 million people – were using social network sites. 44% would like to co-create new products and services with their favorite brands. Over 1 billion people or more than 70% of the Internet population worldwide uses Social Media. Social media is a contagion that has not differentiated between the baby boomers, generation x, generation y, genders whom have flocked to and adopted the twitter, Facebook and other internet collaboration sites. 16% of Facebook users are 55+.
51% of social network users followed a brand. 5 Europeans out of 10, who have a social network site profile, follow at least one brand. Some consumers are keen to be involved in their favorite brand's management. 53% of all European social network users would love to share ideas with a company; 44% would love nothing more than to co-create new products and services with a fun brand.
Those are numbers no one can ignore. It gives a whole new meaning to the term 'crowdsourcing' coined way back in 2006. I reckon it is one of the most cost-effective product development models, if implemented intelligently. As we speak there are a host of ongoing brand sponsored initiatives or forums that are focused on product development, allowing customers to customize their products and channeling the power of online crowds. Nike, Coca-Cola, McDonalds, MasterCard are all doing it.
There is no reason why an Insurer cannot use Social Media to crowd source insurance products. Large companies are making sales driven by Twitter. It's not much to start with, but it is better than nothing. It tells us that new products, customer loyalty and bottom lines can be built using Social Media.
In a commodity business like insurance, where even an Ikea can sell home insurance, we need to see how we can connect with people using Social Media and leverage it. When it comes to crowdsourcing in the context of an Insurer it is more about 'trying something new' and letting the outcome decide the future as opposed to maintaining status quo, which may leave you at the back end of the pack. Becoming a digital business will mean experimenting; trying new things; checking if they work; making something happen. The best bit about usage of social media is that it does not come with a huge price tag of running the erstwhile large and scary IT programs that promised more but seldom delivered. It's neither tough nor expensive for large Insurers to at the very least dabble in it. And that's half the reason to try it.
Things are changing very quickly. For Insurers to invest in Social Media we need to look ahead. The focus should be on being social, making money or making a real difference to our customers. Here are some ideas for Insurers around Social Media and new product development, claiming, risk management and customer relationship management that some of us at Wipro have come up with:
- Online Reputation Risk Insurance/ Social Insurance: As Social Media grows exponentially; one of the bigger problems is someone trashing your reputation online. What if there is someone on Facebook or Twitter smearing your reputation? What do you do? I think people will turn to getting insured against this risk.
- Claims and Fraud Management: Let's assume that a customer gets a discount on premiums because of not smoking. But a picture of the customer smoking appears on Facebook. Can this be used to impact claims? Let's assume that a customer has real time data about her geographical presence on a Social Media site and her car gets stolen from the garage because the burglar knows she is not home. Can this be used to impact claims? These are Social Media inputs that make business sense.
- Community Support: There are insurance customers who just can't get hold of someone in their insurance company to give them the right advice. So they send out a Tweet and eventually someone -- another insurance customer in the network – provides support saying that he too was facing the same problem and the solution he came up with. Can Insurers encourage customers to share their stories, ensuring that additional CRM becomes a community driven effort as well?
- Social Loyalty: Insurance companies need to think about how they are structured to manage Social Media and the opportunities it presents. Are Insurers diligently talking to people online? Are customers being rewarded for saying nice things about you? The reward could be a simple “Thank you” or could be a policy discount. You don't have to necessarily control and direct what people say; it is about understanding them and acknowledging their sentiments.
- Social Listening and analytics: Listening to what your customers are saying is critical. Delta Airlines has a dozen people monitoring and responding to Tweets about their business. If someone Tweets of a long line at a Delta check in counter, the team takes note, provides solutions and talks to the customer. An Insurer can leverage the tweets or posts by including meaningful conversation with existing and potential customers? That is being reactive, but how about clubbing the output of 'listening' with the power of predictive analytics to stay ahead of the game? Wipro is helping its customers today to not only enable social listening but also offering ways to deliver insight on wider trends and snapshots of online debate thereby enabling intuitive and strategic decision making that helps with customer segmentation, campaign management and effective management of customer experience. All of this is available to an Insurer as a 'cloud' offering in a 'variable' cost model.
- Dynamic Real Time Insurance: Can Insurers offer real time advice to customers when crime is happening in certain parts of the city? If geographical presence data on Social Media for a customer shows threat from a crime, can it be used to sell additional insurance? Were the recent riots and the hurricane in states not an opportunity for growing top line and 'being there' for the customers on social media?
- Social Gaming: Online gaming is massive and addictive. Insurers can create exciting games that educate people around risk and where branded game avatars use weapons (Insurers products) to fight off the 'risks'. Players doing well at the game get discounts and rewards from the Insurer. Insurance companies must be careful not to evade the area of Social Media. Rather, they should do everything to evaluate it because they have not even scratched the surface of Social Media. If you want to be part of a vibrant, global marketplace and build a knowledge-based business, you have to embrace social media to maximize the benefits and minimize the negative impact of living in a hyper-networked world. Insurers have real opportunity to take some bold steps and become innovators in the Social Media space.