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Social Media and the Insurance Agent: Risk and Reward

Tricia Sharpton November 14, 2013 0


The internet and especially social media have opened many doors for insurance agents.  An agent with a smart phone and computer suddenly has world-wide capability for communication and networking.  With any new technology there opportunities – and risk.

One way to deal with risk is to avoid it.  This is simply not an option for many insurance agents in regards to social media.

At the time of this article, November, 2013, Facebook has 1.15 billion registered users. Twitter and Google + are running in second place with 500 million users each followed by LinkedIn with 238 million.  Coming on strong is Instagram with 100 million and surging Pinterest with 48 million.

One major benefit:   Raised awareness of the conversations going on about you personally or your company is a posit.  If a person has a problem with a service or product this often will surface on a social media platform.  By being aware of conversations a company is able to help shape the message rather than not know what is happening.

Here are some areas of caution for employers as well as employees.

  • The gray line between business and personal space gets blurred.  An individual often has a profile available for viewing with a social media account with their place of employment normally listed.
    • 2 major risks are:
      • If an individual makes negative comments about their work environment this can reflect back to the employer. “Facebook Firings” is a term used to refer to people who have lost their jobs because of what has appeared in their Facebook account.  This is a common occurrence.  For example, a teacher had some bad things to say about parents in her school, as well as administrators, and lost her job.  An employee with a company car had postings listed regarding a party, lots of alcohol, and photos of the evening.  A company check showed the employee had the company vehicle that evening and got fired.  In other words, people can, and have gotten fired because of what is in their social media account.  When an employer tries to prohibit employees from commenting on their job the employer runs afoul of the National Labor Relations Act.
      • There is nothing “personal” shared in the world of social media that can be considered to be confidential.  The world can  and WILL see all that you post.  What you post and comment on will reflect on you personally and professionally as an insurance agent.  This is two fold as an agent.  You have to be aware of how your actions reflect on your broker and how your actions will be perceived by your current client base and future clients.  Advertising Injury, Personal Injury, Libel and Slander are all perils inherent in making public comments about anyone or thing.  Much of the cyber liability exposure is not covered by the Personal Liability section of a Homeowners policy nor by the Comprehensive General Liability Commercial Lines Policy.
  • Instagram is one of the fastest growing social media communities and is based on photos, thus opening the door to additional risk. Most smart phones have a program for “face tagging” built into the software.  Law enforcement has long used this technology for photographing individuals and crowds.  If a face has been identified, or “tagged” linking the facial characteristics to a name then the program can scan other faces to see if there is a match.  If an embarrassing photo is posted, especially a photo of a person in a place where they have a presumed right to privacy, like in their own home, it is now easy for people to be identified by the software.  Being in public place, such as sporting events, music festivals, restaurants and the like, can lead to photos that not everyone would like to have posted.

Now let’s turn risk into opportunity!

  • Personal Lines: How many agents do you think are asking whether or not the children of family members have social media pages?  If a child is under 13 years of age, the parents have “strict liability” and are basically responsible for all their actions.  There are creative ways to handle this risk, assuming the agent is trained and stays abreast of new developments.  Umbrella policies, endorsements, cyber liability coverage can fill many of the gaps.
  • Commercial Lines: What is the cyber footprint of a business?  Are there websites, social media accounts, approved, and legal, guidelines for employees using company computers? Companies that try to discourage employee participation in social media, especially the company sites, are missing out on a benefit.  Happy employees that are proud of their job and their company are a powerful positive force to help obtain and keep customers and enhance the image of a business.

An insurance agent has personal and business cyber media exposures if they participate in social media. By learning how to protect themselves the agent can leverage this knowledge to help protect their clients.

An agent will want to check with their carriers for technical information regarding overages available and may wish to affiliate with a competent broker specializing in cyber liability.  To keep their clients informed about managing cyber liability risk social media is tailor made to do this job.

  • Branding:  The use of social media sites are the perfect way to leverage your expertise, professional values, and depth of services offered—–for FREE.  The use of Linked In groups, Facebook groups, status updates, shared nuggets of knowledge on Twitter etc can and will raise awareness of you as an insurance professional.  When leveraged properly and positively, the use of social media site and open up a prospecting pool you could not have reached before.
  • Product Knowledge:  The use of social media sites are perfect avenues to educate a large pool of people about your services and why they should consider meeting with you.  Be informative in a non threatening way so prospect view you as an expert and someone they would trust.

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