State Farm, Other Insurance Companies Finding Clients on Facebook

By Sara Inés Calderón Comment

Like players in many other industries, insurance companies have begun experimenting with how to use Facebook to reach more users and customers. The trend is to try to connect people around real-life topics — not sales pitches.

Searching for insurance agents on Facebook reveals that many of these companies have launched marketing campaigns on the site. Overall, State Farm appears to be the most ambitious.

Of the insurance Pages we reviewed, the most used tools appear to be status updates, where agents often post tips, reminders, cautionary tales or other information helpful for home and auto owners, for example; comments on these updates is where the agents engage in conversations with their fans.

In one example, James Oiler, an insurance agent in Omaha, Nebraska, links his blog to his Page so his fans can read about real-life experiences he has had in saving his clients money. Liberty Mutual agent Quinton Spratt in Towson, Maryland comments back and forth with fans and clients about ways they can save money with his insurance products.

Photos are scarce and most agents have between 10 and 150 fans, although some of the insurance company Pages had more than 400. For example, Vera Insurance Agency in Los Fresnos, Texas is affiliated with Farmers Insurance and has only 13 fans while Ronald Dwyer of Waterford, Michigan has 421. The number of fans depends on how the Page itself is managed. The discussions and events functions were also sparsely used, but as most agents are local and serve a set number of people/communities, it’s not surprising that volume would be limited.

For our observations, we focused on State Farm, because the insurance giant has been experimenting with Facebook for some time. Most recently, it launched a Facebook training initiative for its more than 17,000 agents on March 1. The company has also tried its hand at Twitter and YouTube and created an application for iPhone, which its agents have promoted on their Facebook Pages.

“They’re not encouraged to sell product on Facebook,” said Matt Edwards, part of State Farm’s social media team that created the training program. “They are encouraged to be out there as a member of the Facebook community. It’s easier to connect with people, they can provide interesting insights if their policy holders are following them.”

State Farm has its own Page with more than 10,000 fans, and it launched a pilot program for agents with Facebook Pages last year, Edwards tells us. On March 1, the internal online training program was made available to all agents to train them in ways to use Facebook and how best to represent State Farm and their businesses on the social network. Using State Farm’s internal organizational structure, company content may now be made available to agents in different states, allowing agents to provide localized State Farm content to their fans after completion of the training course.

One State Farm agent we spoke to said the most important thing about having Facebook Page for an insurance agent is knowing people are listening.

“It’s been very helpful for me. I use it with my existing clients as a way to broadcast need-to-know information specific to State Farm, as well as the industry,” said Chad Gregorini, an agent in Aspinwall, Pennsylvania, outside of Pittsburgh. Gregorini’s Page has 167 fans and he tells us his Page was part of State Farm’s pilot program, so he’s been using Facebook professionally for a year and a half.

He echoed the company’s larger goals about interacting with clients rather than trying to do hard sells. Recent record snowfall in earlier this year provided him with a particularly insightful example of how Facebook is augmenting his marketing strategy. Gregorini said during this time he posted information about snow, ice and rain and how to protect your home from resulting damage.

“We had such a large amount of claims — claims people had very little familiarity with. I was getting phone calls specifically off of my posts on Facebook and people wanted more,” he said. “I had people who didn’t even have State Farm insurance calling me because of Facebook.”

Gregorini’s experiences, and State Farm’s investment in social media training, show that Facebook is a valuable tool for marketing even when a Page doesn’t necessarily promote direct sales. But, as the disparities in Page fan numbers show, Facebook marketing can be highly nuanced, so not every agent enjoys the same results. The most successful marketers on Facebook invest, like State Farm did, in training to understand guidelines and opportunities. Despite their dispersed work force and individualized marketing efforts, State Farm on the whole is starting to see results not just because it set up Pages, but because it has taken time to learn Facebook marketing and to test what works. For marketers looking to get the most out of their Facebook campaigns, more detailed how-to information can be found in the Facebook Marketing Bible, our guide to creating winning marketing campaigns on Facebook for businesses of any size.