How Your Traditional Agency Can Thrive in the Social Age

Written by Mark Babbitt, originally published by Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America, Inc.

The past few years mark a tremendous shift in communication among service-based businesses.

In this new social age, how can your established business keep up? How do you maintain “the way we’ve always done it” while implementing “the way things work now” to compete and grow?

Here are five characteristics of traditional companies, agencies and local leaders that have found a way to thrive in the social age:

They know social is a mindset 

Far too many old-school organizations—and their leaders—believe being “social” is about posting on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. They don’t realize social engagement isn’t any one of these tools, and it cannot be defined by a platform or technology.

Social is about listening—sharing knowledge and engaging. It’s about meeting your customers where they are and being relevant in the communities you serve. Social is how you present yourself, virtually and in person. Social is talking with your stakeholders—customers, fellow community members and employees—not at them. And always remember: Those customers and employees talk about your brand on social and digital media, whether you’re listening or not.

They create an OPEN culture 

From “A World Gone Social,” OPEN stands for Ordinary People | Extraordinary Network. The acronym is about reconsidering how you solve problems and face challenges. It means customers, employees, vendors and even competitors can offer input that leads to innovative solutions and better service. Simply put, OPEN means getting the right people in the right room at the right time.

By breaking down the hierarchal communication barriers and gathering community members, local service providers and even underwriters at the same table, real-world insights develop faster. Everyone becomes a solution-focused contributor. Every stakeholder has a voice.

They maintain consistent public relations efforts 

It’s important to have a reputation as a charismatic leader. Even if you’re not in the news as often as Arianna Huffington, Richard Branson or Elon Musk, you should be consistently present as the face of your business online.

However, as many agencies have learned, attempts to force an unsocial person to be likeable on social media can prove disastrous.

The goal here is simple: Present a passionate member of your team as your agency’s brand ambassador. The ambassador makes in-person and online appearances that benefit the community and the agency alike. They may lead a Facebook group that supports community efforts, or create a blog or podcast about local issues. Just as important, they consistently contribute to local business associations.

The key is that this person avoids talking about themselves or the agency all the time. Instead of becoming known as self-promoting spammers, your brand ambassador should promote the work of fellow community champions on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and in person. With every appearance, the social face of your agency builds credibility and brand awareness.

They demonstrate social responsibility

In the social age, local business leaders are expected to care more—to be sincere, approachable and even vulnerable. Have something to celebrate? Talk about what it means to the community and the people you serve—but don’t mention how it impacts your business.

They thrive on testimonials. Because the social age has spawned self-promoters and spammers, many of us have become immune to people talking about themselves. Rather than place trust in advertising, consumers now flock to online sources for objective perspectives on the ways businesses serve their customers and community.

To grow your business without spamming, you must get so good at what you do that existing customers start doing the talking for you. Through endorsements and recommendations online, including social media Yelp, TripAdvisor and other sites, let others become the voice of our agency. Soon, you will no longer need to invest in huge advertising campaigns featuring enormous headshots. Instead, you will grow through genuine affection for your brand and positive word of mouth, both online and off.

By leveraging the positive aspects of the social age, many agencies find a renewed passion for their communities. Their employees and brand ambassadors have a newfound purpose: competing in the local marketplace in all the right ways.

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