Social Media and the customer

As consumer affairs director for the Canadian Life & Health Insurance Association, Erica Hiemstra demonstrates how social media can be utilized to the fullest to the benefit of the company and customer.
As consumer affairs director for the Canadian Life & Health Insurance Association, Erica Hiemstra demonstrates how social media can be utilized to the fullest to the benefit of the company and customer.

Erica Hiemstra, director, Distribution and Consumer Affairs, Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association, Inc. brought everyone up to speed on social media and its application to the insurance industry.

Hiemstra helped the audience understand the total impact of social media within the insurance industry from consumer protections to the future of social media within the industry.

Hiemstra stated that social media is of extreme importance to the industry because social media helps empower consumers and can fuel a positive and lasting consumer-company relationship by building trust.   Empowered consumers are using social media for research on companies by seeking to find out what other consumers say, think, and feel about companies and advisors.   Suddenly, via social media, the consumer has a third-party referral system over which companies have little control.  Hiemstra pointed out that most companies have chatter via the social media networks—regardless if the company is a part of the conversation.

But companies do have some options.

Listening is key in social media
Hiemstra gave attendees an action plan for how to proceed and succeed in the world of social media.  Specifically, she encouraged any company or organization seeking to steer its presence on social media to:

  • Have a plan for negative, neutral and positive interactions;
  • Understand social is the new word of mouth, or kitchen table around which consumers gather;
  • Recognize that likeability is what consumers seek, not persuasion;
  • Provide something to empower the consumer such as training or information sharing; and
  • Ensure all outreach campaigns are integrated for consistent messaging.

Social media can have bad apples
Just as with any other distribution channel, social media can generate fraud schemes. And, just as with any other distribution channel, consumers must beware.  Hiemstra noted insurance professionals and regulators should be vigilant in monitoring this distribution channel—and encouraged all attendees to be at the forefront of social media regulation.

As always, agent licensing is important because unprecedented levels of information are now available, but that information needs to be understandable for consumers (see related article on Communicating Health Insurance).   In addition, all companies and organizations need to start with the self-discipline of having a clear social media policy that includes a defined code of conduct that sets expectations for professionalism for all industry professionals—including the producers (advisors) who are most likely to use social media for sales.  Further, Hiemstra believes the policy should have demonstrated controls in place and provide for guidance and training to anyone who represents a brand.

Know what you’re getting
Well, if all the right safeguards are in place for both consumer and carriers, social media can enhance the reach of a branding resulting in enhanced business opportunities.   However, insurers and regulators must know what social media is, how to use it—and how their audiences will use it before jumping into the channel.

As basic first steps, Hiemstra suggests the industry adopt technologies that address exact business and compliance needs.  More specifically, carriers and regulators need to understand the total impact of social media on internal resources before committing to the channel.  In addition, any organization must know what their messages are,  what requirements surround those messages, who the audience is—and the frequency with which the message needs to be delivered.

Remember the customer
Hiemstra left all attendees more knowledgeable about—but slightly in awe of—the power of social media.  She echoed the messages of all presenters at the Exchange with the caution that all should be deliberate about jumping into the social media channel by ensuring every resource devoted to the channel is working in the best interest of the client.


Erica Hiemstra
Director, Distribution and Consumer Affairs
Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association
1 Queen Street East, Suite 1700
Toronto, Ontario   M5C 2X9

Click here to view the social media and the consumer presentation

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