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Here's a 7-point plan to step up your social media game.

Byline: Warren S. Hersch

How effectively are you using social media to connect with prospects? Which content strategies are best suited to Twitter, Google+, Facebook and LinkedIn? Are you overlooking best practices that might help you better achieve client acquisition and retention goals while also minimizing the time you spend on social networks?

If you're at a loss for answers, fear not. Hearsay Social, a provider of social media marketing software for agents and advisors, unveiled a new consulting service at the 2015 Social Media Conference for Financial Services in San Francisco last week to you help you evaluate your social media strategy. To learn more about the program, LifeHealthPro Senior Editor Warren S. Hersch interviewed Abhay Rajaram, Hearsay Social's vice president of global customer success. The following are excerpts.

Hersch: What efforts and expertise went into Hearsay Social's new product launch and how might customers benefit from the solution?

Rajaram (pictured at right): The Social Business Maturity Model represents the culmination of insights we've gathered over the past several years from more than 100 customers and 115,000 advisors. We'd like to share these insights with the industry -- learnings on how organizations are transforming their businesses by leveraging new social and digital technologies.

These learnings will give organizations and their advisors a good sense for how they rank in terms of their social media maturity, and where they stand relative to their cohorts and to the broader industry. Until now, there really was no way for a financial services organization to objectively assess how it's doing with its social and digital programs.

Hersch: How does the Maturity Model enable this objective assessment? Can you speak in more detail to how the consulting service works?

Rajaram: The model provides a quantitative metric for companies with large distribution teams to measure how well their enterprise social business programs are doing; and how well they rank relative to their peers and industry averages. By knowing their Social Business Maturity Score, firms gain a comprehensive understanding of where their business programs currently stand, as well as an actionable roadmap to steer them toward the next level of maturity. More specifically, the model lets organizations assess how they're doing in 7 practice areas. As noted in our press release, these include:

1.

Project teams dedicated to social business program;

2.

Active championing and sponsoring at the C-level suite;

3.

A robust content marketing strategy;

4.

Adoption and penetration across the entire firm and/or field;

5.

Continuing engagement and education at the individual user level;

6.

Integration with other digital initiatives; and

7.

Measurement of progress to plan and of value against key performance indicators.

In sum, we're offering a very quantitative maturity scoring system that allows organizations to not just score themselves using a uniform methodology, but also to pinpoint their areas of strength and areas of growth.

Hersch: Can you provide an example of the model in action and how the customer benefited?

Rajaram: A good example is one of our customers in the life insurance space. Two years ago, a handful of the company's agents and advisors were participating in a pilot phase of the insurer's social and digital program. Over the course of our interactions with them during these last two years, they've seen a dramatic transformation.

Today, all 6,000-plus of the company's agents and advisors participate in the program. The insurer incorporates social media metrics and management into their sales initiatives. Regional sales managers review social media activities with each of their agents and advisors on a weekly basis as part of their sales calls.

The company has an exceptionally robust content program. Generated by the marketing team, sales content is customized on a regional basis. So agents and advisors in specific regions can use tailored, corporate-approved content to provide a local touch.

The company is now objectively measuring the program's return on investment. But based on an initial analysis, they've already seen great results. Since 2013, the program has matured across each and every practice area; it's now an established, mandatory part of the sales process.

What transformed the initiative is a structured set of guidelines and best practices that we helped to implement. Just as important to the program's success was its active sponsorship by high-level executives -- from the CEO on down -- involved in marketing, compliance, sales and distribution.

Hersch: How does the Social Media Maturity Model complement Hearsay Social Predictive Social Suite for Advisors?

Rajaram: The suite, our core product, allows agents and advisors to do in the digital world what they carry out so well in the analog world: establish their brand, grow their network and prospect for new clients.

By providing an objective assessment of social and digital programs -- identifying their strengths, weaknesses and greatest opportunities -- the Maturity Model augments the technology, be it the Hearsay Social product suite or another, third-party solution.

Hersch: Does this service bring you into competition with other big players in the IT consulting space, such as Accenture, Capgemini, IBM or KPMG?

Rajaram: We don't see ourselves being in competition with these organizations. There is, to be sure, a lot of research coming out of IT consulting firms exploring the adoption of social and digital media across industries. Where we add value is in providing a deep focus on, and strong understanding of, the application of these solutions in the financial services space.

Hersch: The example you provided earlier detailed benefits of the Maturity Model at a company-wide level. Can you elaborate on how agents and advisors are benefiting from social media best practices?

Rajaram: Let's look at the key business metrics an advisor or agent would measure: growth in one's total client base; growth in share of wallet for an existing client base; and overall retention and satisfaction of existing clients. These are generic and objective benchmarks used for gauging success as an advisor.

What we've observed in our engagements with our customers in the life insurance arena -- where we've done clear and objective assessments of the value and ROI of social and digital programs -- our customers' agents and advisors have seen double-digit growth across all three of these measures.

Hersch: Were there technical, logistical or other challenges to be overcome in the development of Social Business Maturity Model? How difficult was it to bring the new offering to market?

Rajaram: If we were to outline the litany of factors that drive success in a social or digital program, it would be an extensive list. Part of our model involved taking the myriad of success factors and putting them together in an easy-to-understand methodology that is actionable, measurable and objective across the industry.

Also, a significant amount of data gathering and analysis of best practices among our customers' 115,000-plus agents and advisors went into devising a system for scoring the success factors and refining the model so as to accommodate a customer's unique business practices and focus.

The model was a big achievement for us; its rollout took a meaningful amount of effort from everyone at our company.

Hersch: Are you now working on a future iteration of the Maturity Model? Where do you expect to be with it in one to three years' time?

Rajaram: We see this new solution as a living and breathing model. We'll continue to roll out new iterations based on the additional insights we gather from our customers and the industry at large.

We also envision periodically updating a report accompanying the rollout of the Maturity Model. The studyidentifies what makes the most significant impact on a company's social business maturity. Using the Maturity Model, we evaluated social business programs of more than 100 financial services companies, including 7 of the 10 top global firms.

See also: Stats on 4 social media platforms advisors are adopting Social hackathon at the LIMRA Social Conference Why your social media campaign is 'anti-social' Twitter for insurance agents: 5 quick tips 5 ways wealthy investors use social media
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Publication:National Underwriter Life & Health
Date:Oct 1, 2015
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