"I get teased about my social media," said Carol Harnett, "until I say I've gotten more than 20 consulting jobs."
Harnett, a Hartford-based health, disability and workers' comp consultant and speaker has been "tweeting" (the term for posting entries on Twitter) for about two years and says it has changed her life. Her various Twitter lists provide information on the latest developments in her areas of interest, including health and wellness, disability, and workers' comp.
Twitter is one of many social media venues. Each has distinct characteristics and advantages. What they share is the chance to gain insights from people you would otherwise never meet.
"By using social media, I can post a question on a discussion board and have it viewed by literally hundreds of people who are potential experts who could help me out," said Mark Walls, assistant vice president of claims for St. Louis-based Safety National. "The reach of it is so much greater than going through your traditional contacts."
If you think social media is only for the under-30 crowd, Walls has evidence to the contrary. Nearly 1,000 members of his Workers' Comp Analysis group on LinkedIn responded to a recent survey he conducted.
"Sixty-three percent of the members who responded have at least 16 years of industry experience," he said. "Typically, I add 50 to 75 people a week. That's been pretty steady." At last check, his group had more than 6,000 members.
Advantages to employers. The advantages to business are multifaceted.
"It allows [a company] to further its brand and philosophy and messages to all its constituents," said Julie Ferguson, a workers' comp communications consultant and longtime blogger. "It's a good marketing tool." However, that must be done with care, she added, as building relationships is key to using social media.
"If your goal is sell, sell, sell, you're not going to be all that successful," Ferguson said. "You need to use it as a communications channel."
Social media is also educational and can help employers and employees understand many of the nuances of workers' comp as well as health and safety.
Smaller companies are finding distinct advantages through the reach of social media, especially blogging. "It's a way for smaller experts if they put in the time and effort -- and there is a lot -- to level the playing field," Ferguson said.
Keep it safe.
One of the concerns of non-social media users is that proprietary or even personal information can get into the wrong hands.
Harnett realizes she can't eradicate her name from the Internet, especially given her high profile due to her many speaking engagements, but she has learned to control the situation.
"You have to take charge of what your presence on the Internet looks like," Harnett said.
Walls agreed. "You just don't want to disclose more than you need to disclose -- your name and where you work," he said. "Chances are that's out on the Internet anyway."
For that very reason, those familiar with social media say it's imperative that every employer at least monitor social networking sites. There are likely comments about your company on social media sites at any given time.
"Some of the more savvy insurance companies and maybe a third-party administrator or two are monitoring the [social media] stream to see what people are saying about them, and what their customers and claimants are saying about them," Harnett said.
Does that mean every company should immediately jump into the social media fray with both feet to replace all other forms of communications? No.
"I'd say, you have to do it proportionately," Ferguson said. "Don't stop going to trade shows. Don't throw out your print publications. Don't stop direct mail. Take measured steps and feel comfortable."
At the same time, Ferguson said it's incumbent on everyone in workers' comp to at least start looking into social media. "Whether we go there kicking and screaming or as innovators, we're going there."
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
November 1, 2010
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