Mairi Mallon, aka @reinsurancegirl, explains why social media has to be become part of the DNA of all communications
Over the years I've heard the phrase "I don't believe in social media" more times than I could care to mention from insurance and reinsurance professionals.
Social or 'new2 media', however, is not the tooth fairy to be believed in (or not, depending on your age and gullibility).
It is simply a useful communications tool, which when used well can be highly effective.
In the same way that we all have to learn how to use a new mobile phone, the applications of the different types of social media simply have to be understood and mastered by individuals, then corporations.
Without these basic building blocks of knowledge, companies cannot expect to harness the very real communication power these tools have, let alone deal with a fully-blown 21st century crisis exploding in the twitterverse.
There are some platforms that are more useful than others. There are very few people who have not worked out the power of platforms such as LinkedIn. These are not just for networking, but can act as a customer relationship management tool, used for research, hiring and market intelligence. They can also be an effective way of directly reaching thousands of relevant contacts instantly via groups and individuals posting content.
Blogging is also a useful way of getting very specialist knowledge out to an audience. The more specific and select the topic, the more hungry individuals and companies are for detailed and useful information.
Facebook, often dismissed in financial services, is great for corporate social responsibility and reaching graduates.
The power of Twitter as a news source or a way to talk to journalists is well proven, but a harder medium to master. Information needs to be filtered and dialogues made real, avoiding celebrity gossip in favour of industry knowledge.
YouTube is a winner for broadcasting clear and succinct video podcasts, while Google + well, it does wonders for your Google rankings if nothing else.
And check out other useful, industry-specific sites like YouTalk Insurance and Slipcase.com - both growing in reach and depth of content.
Starter tips - keep it clean
Mastering these tools as an individual is very different from mastering them as a large financial services corporate. But there is no way a corporate can effectively use these tools without a team that knows how to use them. And there are a few basic rules that should keep individuals safe. The first is 'don't be an idiot' - don't post anything you would not want your boss to read or your mother to see. It is a very handy rule of thumb. If you are in doubt about posting something, then listen to that small niggling voice and don't do it.
Included in this are all the terms of your employment contract - so never disclose proprietary information, details about clients or deals without permission, or post pictures of colleagues or clients or documents from work.
The same rules that apply at work apply online. Don't say anything offensive about other people. Don't swear. Avoid religion and politics. Be professional in your dealings with others. Then there are laws that apply just as much in real life as in print and online - libel and defamation. If you RT (re-tweet) a post that is wrong and defames someone, you will be held liable for this. So be careful when you RT anything contentious or potentially libellous or defamatory.
Once the tools and etiquette are mastered, you can then move on to a more sophisticated use for your company, in sales and marketing and public relations.
The big corporate (or small)
The old model of reaching your audience through articles or advertising in the press is starting to date. New media is an effective way of reaching clients or potential clients directly, without going through a third party (and often paying for it). But it all takes thought, planning and common sense in the way you communicate.
Firstly, get training, for the old and the young. The older members of staff need to learn the new ways and younger staff need to learn how to be corporate on these platforms (there are many stories of inappropriate online behaviour with younger staff) and how to be professional at all times.
Then plan. A plan that integrates traditional marketing, PR and sales over a long period of time is the ideal. This is a simple thing to say, but can be very hard to execute as these teams are often not used to working together as tightly as they should for a common goal. This plan should have a budget, and people to execute it - without a dedicated resource the plan will not be effective.
New media has to be learned and used, but it is only part of a large tool kit at your disposal to communicate.
Remember your audience. Most of us, whether we like it or not, are trying to reach a particular demographic.
In insurance and reinsurance it tends to be affluent, white males who are in their 50s or over. Many of these men have tablets and know their way around a smartphone. It does not mean they are necessarily active on Twitter or Facebook. Remember that social media is only a part of a communications or marketing plan - and traditional methods of reaching this demographic are still highly effective. If you only need to reach 70 of these people, perhaps the most effective way is not new media, but old school - meet them all individually, have a party or take them all for lunch. Spending an inordinate amount of time/money/effort on, say, Twitter, when your audience is simply not there is just not sensible. Find where your audience is and talk to them in the way that they want to be talked to.
All crisis communications plans should include social media. There was a moment when the Deep Water Horizon crisis turned from people hating BP to hating Britain. That moment happened on Twitter. And BP was so concerned about the print media and blind to Twitter, it did not even know it was happening.
Monitoring what is being said online about your company or executives is vital. Only by doing this will you know how to react in a measured, corporate way. Simulations can be a good way to prepare for this, but a deep understanding of the company, the corporate culture and social media will always be the key to effectively deal with a crisis.
It is good risk management to lock down all your social media channels, and the names of your executives on them, even if you decide not to use them.
As part of this risk management you also need to work out the kind of damage that could be done online to your reputation and how this can quickly escalate without an effective plan. Insurance can be taken out against reputational damage.
Good communication is good communication regardless of the tools you use. This is important to remember when setting out any plan. Whatever you do, stay true to your corporate voice and vision.
So, train, plan, be sensible, and allocate a budget. Remember, you can crash and burn in all types of communications - but with social media you can do it faster.