Technology In-Depth Series (Part 3): Creating a New Social Compact
By CYRIL TUOHY, managing editor of Risk & Insurance®; and PATRICIA VOWINKEL, who has worked for national media outlets for more than 20 years
Who knew social networking pages belonging to insurance carriers could be so current and compelling?
On Chubb's Facebook page, there's a link to an article appearing in The Independent newspaper warning that teens who listen to loud music on iPods for more two hours a day could exceed the workplace standards set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
And another link about an article appearing in Sports Car Digest Weekly by one of Chubb's own, Bill Crowley, is about the two biggest risks facing sports car owners: collision and fires.
The Hartford is in on the social media action, too. Scroll down to the bottom right of its homepage and there is a link for YouTube.
Click to the YouTube page and you find a wider variety of video than you would have found on a typical corporate website--everything from employee vignettes to philanthropic initiatives to TV commercials, to an interview with Chevrolet racing driver Clint Bowyer, sponsored by The Hartford.
At the homepage of the Risk and Insurance Management Society Inc., next to the Facebook and Twitter icons in the top right-hand corner, a "rims community" icon indicates RIMS has its own social networking community, giving risk management professionals a forum where they can share their information and ideas in real time.
These kinds of industry communities replicate some of the features that have made social networking sites like Facebook so popular--the ability for people to connect and share information.
A number of consumer-oriented social media sites have emerged in recent years. These sites include Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LindedIn and YouTube.
Facebook, founded in 2004, had more than 500 million active users as of July and is the most used social network, followed by MySpace. LinkedIn is a business-oriented social networking site that allows users to connect with people they know in business.
Twitter, a social networking and microblogging service, is different from Facebook and MySpace in that it allows users to send short posts of a maximum of 140 characters, called tweets.
YouTube, a subsidiary of Google, meanwhile, is a site that allows users to share and view videos.
Of the Fortune Global 100 companies, 65 percent have active Twitter accounts, 54 percent have Facebook fan pages, 50 percent have YouTube video channels and 33 percent have corporate blogs, according to Burson-Marsteller's
"The Global Social Media Check-up" report.
More than three-quarters (79 percent) of the top 100 companies in the rankings are using at least one of those social media platforms to engage with stakeholders, according to the report.
That puts the insurance industry in good company.
Nine out of the 10 largest nonlife insurers have at least one Twitter account, and eight of those have at least one Facebook page, according to a recent report by research and consulting firm Celent.
Nationwide, Allstate, Chubb, The Hartford, Berkshire Hathaway and Progressive are among the insurers building followings through Facebook and Twitter. Broker, Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., includes Facebook and Twitter icons at the bottom of its homepage.
More insurance carriers and brokers are likely to join the social media parade over the next three years and carriers are expected to increase marketing spending on social networks, according to a report titled "Digital Marketing in Insurance," issued by the consulting firm Celent.
Sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are providing carriers with new ways to reach customers, who have come to expect to find information about businesses on sites such as these.
While businesses are putting social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to good use to engage with customers and build brand loyalty, now they are using social media in the workplace to improve the way people collaborate on the job.
In the business world today, most people still use e-mail and the phone when they want to share information with co-workers about projects or accounts.
A new generation, however, has grown up using social media and the features available on these platforms, such as news feeds and status updates. That is changing expectations about how workers of all types--from marketing executives to lawyers, from human resources executives to college administrators, from risk managers to disability managers and brokers--should communicate on the job.
"As people have shown their interest in these consumer tools, businesses have realized there's a communication mechanism there that they can latch on to that may be more productive for them," said Andrew Walls, research director in the Security, Risk & Privacy group at research firm Gartner Group.
Those communication mechanisms are known as enterprise social software--platforms designed to bring social media tools into the workplace, allowing employees to have work-related conversations and share information about projects in a secure environment.
It's taking the Facebook concept one step further and using it, not just for marketing, but to make it easier for employees to collaborate on projects. "At first, people said: 'Should there be a Facebook (page) for the enterprise?'" said Ariel Kelman, vice president of Platform Marketing at Salesforce.com, a leading customer relationship management and cloud-computing firm.
Salesforce.com began offering its customers a collaboration application called Salesforce Chatter in June. "I think maybe that was the wrong question. It's 'What can we learn from the technology, from the user experience that Facebook has created and how can we use that to make our business applications more collaborative and easy to use?'"
And that is going to propel business productivity to the next level, said Murali Sitaram, vice president and general manager for the Enterprise Collaboration Platform at Cisco Systems Inc.
Risk managers have an opportunity to be on the cutting edge of this new technology through a feature offered by Marietta, Ga.-based Riskonnect, a vendor of risk management information systems.
Riskonnect, which uses Salesforce Chatter and rebrands the service to its own customers as Riskonnect Chatter, offers the service across its suite of products. It is available in a secure, private medium, so it is used for collaboration and communication about risk-related issues.
Cisco rolled out its enterprise collaboration platform, Cisco Quad, in July to clients in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Ireland. Microsoft and IBM, which are among the most popular vendors to the insurance industry, also offer enterprise-level collaboration platforms.
"Traditional models have come to a point where they are almost at breakpoint," Sitaram said. "It's hard to grow productivity at the size of organizations like Cisco, doing things the way you've always done them, restricting the decision-making process to just a handful right at the top of the company," he said.
Cisco's Quad platform--named after a college quad where people gather to talk, share and collaborate--offers users the ability to interact through social networks. The Quad platform offers users the ability to store and share documents and to communicate via instant messages, e-mail or voice all on one platform.
"We think bringing these new social capabilities to the enterprise is what the future of work is going to be all about," Sitaram said.
For companies belonging to the technology avant garde, enterprise social collaboration signals the end of the siloed, traditional--read 20th century--model of communication and collaboration, from telephones to pagers to e-mail to voice mail.
Sitaram envisions a day in the not-too-distant future when e-mail will fall out of use. "We think while e-mail is still a good tool, we think most people will start going to a different place to get their information at work," Sitaram said.
Walls of Gartner agreed, saying that in five to eight years, "e-mail as we currently think of it gets absorbed by a more comprehensive or complex social media environment.
In the coming years, expect more companies to use enterprise social software platforms to collaborate in the workplace. As they do, they will find new ways to boost productivity as workers interact in more efficient ways.
And expect them to establish a greater presence on consumer social media networks such as Facebook as they look for new channels to reach customers. This will help them to be responsive, develop new products and respond to customer concerns.
Just as e-mail transformed the workplace, relegating the fax machine to the virtual dustbin of history, so social media is transforming the marketing and collaborative workplace efforts today.
"The collaboration technology of today has the potential to transform the way people work together, yet the technology capabilities have barely been tapped," said Bob Morrell, CEO of Riskonnect.
October 1, 2010
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