Podcast

Social media is ingrained into modern, every day life. It’s a virtual network mirroring very real populations, so it’s important for businesses to be visible on there too. Even companies which operate in highly-regulated environments, like the insurance industry, can use social to their advantage.  Conservative organisations needn’t label it a ‘no no’ – they just have to work around red tape and regulation, set out a clear strategy and monitor the exposure. The secret is to carefully cultivate the right storytelling culture online, which will help build a safe social brand that not only sells products, but paints the company as a desirable employer.

To get some details, I speak to Keith Lewis of Zurich Insurance in the UK to learn how they use LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube to tell stories to their target audiences of consumers, brokers and employees.

Listen to the interview on SoundCloud, iTunes or keep reading for a summary of our conversation. This week’s tip of the week is Inbox by Google and our big shout goes out to Digital Mums. There’s still time to get involved with #smlondon LIVE!, just let us know here.

Tell us about Zurich Insurance and what you do there?

We’re a global insurance company with 60,000 people across the world, 120 odd countries, and I look after social media here in the UK. We look after both our life insurance business, so pensions, protections and investment, but primarily the stuff we’re doing across social are general insurance. So we ensure everything from your car, my home, individual property, all the way up to global companies. We also do have a whole arm of risk engineering. So generally speaking if you can see a lift or an escalator in the UK, it’s likely that a Zurich engineer has given it a seal of approval. We do all sorts of things to make sure people are protected in their day-to-day lives.

What are some of the challenges you face with social media?

We’re a highly regulated industry and different regulations apply to different parts of the business that we operate. We always have to be very acutely aware of that when we’re operating in the space. But it’s mainly around the actual selling of insurance. So in my mind, I divvy what we do into two brackets. We’re obviously there to sell products around all the different things that we already talked about. But we’re also here to talk about Zurich as a company in the UK. We’ve got 22 locations here, we’ve got 5,500 people who work across all those different things that I talked about earlier.

So we use social a lot to tell the Zurich story, or start to tell the Zurich story about how we operate in our local environments. Because of course as a big company, we’ve got all the usual things you might expect us to do. But people don’t necessarily associate insurance with things like that. So we’ve got a big community trust, all our employees do two or three days of charity work at least a year. We do our local engagement around our different sites. We do lots of different things, that’s all part of telling the Zurich story, really.

What are your social media objectives?

Of course we’ve got to drive business value from it, and so I take sort of Andrew Grill‘s definition from IBM of social business, and of social media. So creating networks and building collaborations to tell the stories, but it has to drive a value. So into telling the story, we’ve got to make sure that people see us as perhaps an employer of choice or someone they want to work with, or actually recognising that we do all the things that I’ve talked about. But also we’ve got to try and make sure that people are aware that your average consumer or business owner or executive is aware of the importance that insurance has.

“Insurance, god it’s dull isn’t it?” Frankly it is, it’s not the sort of glamorous product that you’d naturally associated with social media. We don’t actually have a product that people have in their properties. We used to have an insurance certificate, nowadays that’s just electronic. People very rarely get excited about their renewal premiums coming in. So we have to find ways, interesting ways of explaining what we do and the value that we offer to whatever it is that the customer wants.

How do you go about generating a story telling culture inside the business?

It’s a part of the thing we’ve not really done very well at in the past and we’re now recognising that, perhaps that I’ve come into the role helps do that. To kind of free people up. We’re very much, we’re very conservative organisation and the structure and culture of the organisation has been like that for years, as you’d expect perhaps from a complex regulated world. That we’re inherently nervous about allowing people to speak out loud. But now with social, the world has changed. Social has absolutely shifted that.

Now we’re reversing that, all those decades of culture that we’ve had and changed, trying to change that. So part of my role is to get out across all our UK offices, to give people permission really. They thought for a number of years they weren’t allowed to talk about Zurich and talk about all the good stuff that we do. Or even the real small stuff that we take for granted in sharing some of that content. But we’ve now got it written into our, what we call Zurich Basics, which is our global sort of behavioural framework. Zurich Basics tells, makes it explicitly clear that all our employees can operate in a social media environment about work related matters. If they chose not to, that’s fine.

I’m on a journey now to try and give people permission to start sharing, to start engaging. To build those networks of their own, in their own lives, whether it is a professional network or a personal network, and to start to explain what they do.

I think we’ve got to recognise that not everyone in our organisation, across any organisation is going to naturally be a social media expert. They might be quite happy to do what they do and perhaps have Facebook as a purely personal thing, like most of us do. Having the ability and the permission to expand their networks. We’re all far busier and we’re less able to get out and perhaps do those face-to-face networking that perhaps people did 10, 15, 20 years ago. A lot of that networking now happens in an online space. We’re kind of having to give people permission to operate and to get back out there. It’s good to see people around our organisation starting to make those inroads.

How do you encourage employees to be social? Talk us through the tactics.

A lot of it at the moment is I’ve got a presentation I talk through to explain that they’re allowed to, and how to have that, that we are Zurich as a corporate group we’ve got lots of social media channels that we use across all different parts of the business. So we’re doing it, so you can too. So we’re kind of doing the, me preaching the gospel there. I say to people, I will go and perform at any group, however big or small or individual or town hall meetings and come and give you the message. Then it’s kind of figuring out from them what they want.

So developing things like a video walk-through of how LinkedIn now looks. Because lots of people perhaps in our organisation, maybe remember signing up to LinkedIn years ago and haven’t been on there for the last year, two years, and haven’t realised how much it’s changed. So we kind of have to show people do that and people do that in different ways. So whether it’s a fact book, fact guide on the intranet or a video that they can look at that shows them the different features of these platforms and how they might use it, just trying to leave all those tips.

How is Zurich’s golf sponsorship helping your social media efforts?

We’ve been in golf for decades, actually. It started in the U.S. where we were the sponsor of the Zurich Classic in New Orleans. At the time where the Hurricane Katrina blew through and we obviously were part of rebuilding Katrina. Taking that forward we realised that lots of our core customers, whether that’s the age bracket of personal customers that we’ve got, or brokers, or business people, community groups, golf is a really good fit for that. So we still insure some of those global tournaments, but we’ve also got global ambassadors. We’re sponsors of Justin Rose and Jamie Donaldson, along with about six or seven other players.

We’re also now bringing that to the UK, so increasing our visibility around the British Masters golf event in October. Came back after a big break last year. So we’re doing more of that. But then we’re taking golf out to our brokers, we’re doing a golf tournament with one of the trade publications for brokers. We do an employee golf tournaments and encourage our employees to go out and play and live that as well. People might have seen our golf love test that we did with our global brand ambassadors, where we put them up to a lie detector machine and figured out whether they did truly love golf.

We’ve got to find ways of taking the insurance message, which is quite serious and quite dull in different ways, and golf is a really good way of bringing that out. Seeing the Zurich logo all over the globe there, given that we’re a global operation is helpful.

What social platforms deliver the best results for Zurich?

LinkedIn is one that’s working mainly for us at the moment. We’ve used Twitter as a broadcast tool really over the years. Part of what we’re trying to do now is to change that from broadcast to engagement. But we’ve got to remember that lots of people are engaging our brokers as B2B, not necessarily B2C. So we’re using more LinkedIn and that’s why I hop back to the employee advocacy pieces, that people have their own networks. So we need to equip our employees with a content that they can then share with their own networks, which starts to bring the brand, and LinkedIn is a great tool to allow people to do that.

It also feels, when you’re taking people on a journey, that LinkedIn is a safe place to do it. It’s just clearly a professional environment and you’re there professionally. So you’ve automatically got those built in limits perhaps in your mind, as to what sort of things you’re going to talk about. So that’s a good comfort blanket.

I’m on Twitter a lot, because I come to this from a media perspective, media relations is my background. So that’s where journalist sell, that’s where news breaks. So using that more and trying to pick out the key people around our organisation, to work their networks that are all on Twitter. But for me the message I take to people is I’m not bothered what platform you choose, as long as you understand what you’re trying to achieve by being on there and where you’re audience is.

So for us, perhaps some of our more, let’s call them less exciting areas so our underwriter community are actuaries. Where do actuaries hang out online? It might be that they’re in a chat forum that’s attached to a trade magazine for actuaries. If that’s where the community is and that’s where they go, that’s where I want them to play. So it’s understanding that audience piece, where they want and where you can create that business value that I hark back to.

What’s the return on investment from social media and how do you measure it?

We’re in that position where we’re actually trying to retrofit strategy and ROI to our material that we’ve been using for years. So kind of proving, now that we have someone in role doing my job as social media manager, I have to A, prove my worth, and that might be how do we prove our HR employer brand piece works? Are we getting people to walk through the door purely off the back of our social activity? Yes we are. Then you can attach a sum to that. Because we’re not having to pay for traditional job adverts for it. That’s starting to happen and often as more people recruit online, but sometimes there is a cost to it, others it’s word of mouth. So it’s identifying why we’re doing it for each area and how that works.

Is it broker relationship building? As ever, how do you put a value on that relationship building process? Hopefully they will renew that business, that customer’s business, where those as an individual customer you’ll renew. But how can you pinpoint that renewal decision to a piece of social activity or any other marketing activity? So we’re working through all that all the time, and I’m really interested to follow the debates that are going on in the PR and comms world about moving metrics. How do we park AVE well in the past? You might have seen Stephen Waddington’s blog, it’s got a whole chunk of metrics that we could use and said nicely that replicate elsewhere as well. So it’s finding those things that work for the business and actually accepting that might be different for different channels, different markets, different parts of the organisation.

What tech, tools and apps can you recommend to fellow marketers?

Oh blimey, I’m more an IOS man, so apologies to Android. So I tend to use all the usual tools to be fair. I tend to use the native ones. I think they tend to work better. We use the Salesforce social studio package internally. Given that I’m part of a global operation as well as a UK one, we like to be able to share content easily and I like to be able to re-use content that perhaps my North American colleagues have used or our group colleagues have used in Switzerland or even in the far East now.

Using one tool as a global operation allows me to dip into their content and re-purpose it in an easy way, rather than me having to either get up very early to get somebody on the phone in Kuala Lumpur to say, “Can you send me that picture?” Or conversely, having to wait up, to stay up late to get a piece of an image or a graphic from our U.S. team. Having a tool like Social Studio and there are plenty of others that do the same thing to allow you to share and re-purpose and re-use content is really useful. Of course it has built-in analytics as well, which I know they’ve improved a lot lately. So I quite like that.

Personally I like TweetDeck, because I like to see things using the lists. Twitter lists I think are a massively underused tool and I can’t quite get my head around the fact that Twitter doesn’t seem to want us to use them. You have to really hunt for Twitter lists on the native app.

What brands inspire you on social?

I tend to think about personal brands rather than the corporate ones. I’ve already mentioned both Stephen Waddington, Andrew Grill are great leaders in this space. There’s a bunch of guys in the U.S. who I have been following in the last year. Who, as I’ve been learning the social media trade, people like Amy Schmittauer who is a big YouTuber, Vincenzo Landino is a podcaster, and Sue B Zimmermann I looked up on Instagram. There are people like that who you can hook onto and I learned a lot by that.

Just kind of answering your brand question, my other world is rugby. So I like what some of the rugby unions are doing. As a Welshman I kind of follow the Wales Rugby Union. But I like lots of the English Rugby Football Union do to engage their audiences. To tell the rugby story, to get more people into rugby and following. I like how they’ve done that in terms of sending players out to deliver people’s match tickets, great video. It really drives some fun and engagement. I kind of think about those ways of how we as perhaps a less obvious brand, could learn some lessons that rugby people do in clubs, and there’s loads of great social being in the sports arena and how we can bring that into our world.

In the insurance world, Endsleigh the student insurer. People don’t realise that Endsleigh is part of the Zurich world as well. All looking at different markets, creating content for those people. So it’s really how we bring those people out. But I kind of like what the others in the market are doing, Aviva obviously have a lot of brand visibility and I like to see how that’s being played through. How do they use that brand sponsorship that they have with athletics and rugby and how does that play through, and seeing how those things work. If you’ve got those great grand platforms, how you work them is always good to watch.

What’s next for social media in the insurance world?

I think it’s how we talk to customers. People don’t realise that complaints are regulated in the financial services world, and we have to report on them. So we are sometimes criticised for taking complaints off-line and dealing with them. That’s kind of because we have to, because we have to report those. How we make that a smoother process is certainly something we could improve on. We’ve put in some software to our operation that allows social to be part of the normal interaction. So a call handler might have a phone call coming in. The next on the list might be a tweet to deal with it, it might be a Facebook message to deal with. So we need to get smarter about doing that.

The big thing for us is how we tell our stories. Inherently, most people thinking of insurance start on a negative. Because they remember their renewal premium coming in, it may have gone up. They’ve not had a claim, the market is changing for a bit. We’re a business after all, so we have to make money. We’ve had some big losses in the last 12 months in the UK and globally. So we need to factor all that and somehow we need to take customers with us on the journey. They’re legally obliged to have car insurance and we have to tell our story better about how we help, how we’re a part of helping them to keep going, keep driving their cars in the way that they want to.

The Internet of things changes a load of things for us as insurance companies. Think about the way driverless cars is going, as an insurance company that solves our problem. Or does it? It perhaps changes the insurance debate into a liability debate. Because now or in the not too distant future, you won’t be driving your car when it crashes. Your software will be driving it. So who looks after the software? Who’s responsible when that software goes wrong and how do we as insurers build for the future and get ready for that debate? So there’s lots of really exciting things going on there, in the insurance space that we’re working towards and trying to find the way we can help customers in the future.

Follow Keith on Twitter @KeithLewisComms.

Image credit: Shutterstock

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About Jörgen Sundberg

Founder of Undercover Recruiter & CEO at Link Humans, an employer branding agency.

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