By Cyril Tuohy
If financial advisors look at Las Vegas-based insurance agent Kent Larson’s Facebook page with a hint of envy, it’s easy to see why. His page resembles that of a socially connected 20-something.
Larson’s Facebook page mixes the text character-intensive site Twitter and photo-posting site Pinterest. This is from an insurance agent who represents Thrivent Financial, a conservative no-nonsense financial institution based in Appleton, Wis.
Yet even agents and advisors in this famously buttoned down industry see the importance of social media to cultivate relationships and build their brand. While few if any are using this resource to sell policies, they are using it increasingly to provide information for consumers and to interact with them. They see social media as a key to increasing sales.
“Still unsure how the Affordable Care Act might affect you?” he writes in a Nov. 14 entry. “Here is a simple guide [URL] (via Thrivent Federal Credit Union.)” Underneath the post, a particular Meagan Herfkens and Martha Reed signal they “like” the post.
Click on the “photos” tab and dozens of stock images point to the importance of financial planning. Click on a specific photo and the Facebook page will redirect you to another landing page explaining the importance of power of attorney, for instance, or how to handle college debt – courtesy of Thrivent. Larson even sprinkles his content with biblical passages.
Behind Larson’s Facebook page is an enterprise-level social media organization, Hearsay Social. The San Francisco-headquartered company helps sales representatives in the financial services, insurance and real estate industries track consumers’ activity on social media sites. The information can boost sales.
Clara Shih, chief executive officer of Hearsay Social, said that successful salespeople always stay in front of audiences and properly managed social media does just that.
“There simply aren’t enough hours in the day to be high-touch with everyone all the time, so the smart salesperson strives to be low-touch until it’s the right time to become high-touch,” Shih wrote in an April article for the Harvard Business Review.
Carriers signing on with Hearsay Social include Allstate, AXA Equitable, Farmers, Modern Woodmen Fraternal Financial, Primerica, SWBC, Western & Southern Financial Group and Raymond James.
Northwestern Mutual is one of the latest carriers to sign onto the social media platform, and Country Financial rolled out the Hearsay platform in September to more than 1,000 financial representatives.
“On a single platform, Hearsay Social empowers our financial representatives to they can easily manage their presence on both Facebook and LinkedIn simultaneously,” Fanette Singer, senior vice president of marketing at Country Financial, said in a news release.
Country’s social audience has gone up by more than 700 percent in just a few months, she added. Another agent, James Peregrino with Farmers Insurance, claimed that 62 percent of his business his first year came from Facebook.
Kyle Marie Woods, marketing strategies for Thrivent Financial, said the Hearsay technology is intuitive, handles thorny compliance challenges and collects reams of metrics to track the effectiveness of social media on sales.
Hearsay Social’s technology connects different social media sites. The Hearsay platform, for example, knows when an advisor’s LinkedIn page has collected 5,000 hits, and when that same advisor’s Facebook page has collected 50,000 hits.
“The demand’s there for social. I think they realize the potential that’s there and they know that if they are not there their competitor is going to be there,” Woods said in a video posting. “We needed a way to automate that supervision and that retention.”
User feedback has also been positive, Woods added.
“You always get nervous especially because our agents are not all 20-somethings who grew up with social media and its second nature,” she said. “One day they are playing around with the tools and they get it and rave about it.”
A study conducted earlier this year by LIMRA found that 90 percent of surveyed companies are using social media, with Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube and Google+ clicking in as the top social media sites. Some sites are stronger at building awareness, while others are more likely to be used as a recruiting tool.
Norah Denley, a distribution and technology researcher for LIMRA, said in an interview over the summer with InsuranceNewsNet that while sharing content across social media sites is vital for brand awareness, few advisors if any are selling policies through social media.
The two – communicating about a product and closing a sale, however – are intimately connected, Denley said. “People buy from those they know,” she said.
Cyril Tuohy is a writer based in Pennsylvania. He has covered the financial services industry for more than 15 years. Cyril may be reached at email@example.com.
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