Employer Branding

How Conservative Companies Can Use Social for Storytelling

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. And make sure you subscribe to the Employer Branding Podcast.

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.

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 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 and subscribe to the Employer Branding Podcast.

By Jörgen Sundberg

Founder of Undercover Recruiter & CEO of Link Humans, home of The Employer Brand Index.