Continuing my People You Should Know series…
Matt and I first connected when I was pulling together a college outreach program at Eastern Illinois University for past client Donate Life Illinois. EIU’s PRSSA group was kind enough to help out with our organ donor registration efforts and Matt was a big reason the program did so well on EIU’s campus.
Matt now works as a Public Affairs Specialist on the social media team for State Farm Insurance. Enjoy Matt’s insight below and be sure to connect with him on Twitter.
State Farm is a big company. Big companies almost always have a high degree of struggle in figuring out where social fits into the larger communications platform. Tell us how it breaks down at State Farm along with your role.
There are two filters placed on us by virtue of being who we are. We’re a company of more than 68,000 employees and more than 17,000 agents in the U.S. and Canada. And we exist in one of the most regulated and risk-averse industries. So, in everything we do – both internally and externally – we must include all stakeholders in the approval process. At the same time, social media demands immediate response to be effective. And the evolution of this space has taught us we can’t expect positive return from one-way communication.
Our social effort is multi-pronged and highly coordinated. It includes representation from Public Affairs, Marketing, Strategic Resources, Human Resources, Agency, Creative Services and our IT department. Together, we’ve worked to develop both internal and external strategies. Jeremiah Owyang, Founding Partner Customer Strategy at Altimeter Group, wrote a great piece about how organizations structure social media. Without sharing proprietary information, I’d say we’re organized one of those ways.
We attend regular BlogWell conferences to garner and share best practices in the space with other large corporations. We also serve on the Social Media Business Council, which meets to collaborate, discuss and share information about issues facing top social media leaders at large enterprises like ours. We use social media as a channel to build and enhance relationships, first and foremost. Driving direct sales, managing our reputation and supporting other metrics are essential, but everything in social media starts and ends with relationships.
I’m on a tripartite team that “owns” our Twitter presence, @statefarm. We monitor all content in this space, as well as user-generated content as a whole, through search terms we set up on various sites and search engines. For the most immediate responses, this approach seems to work best. Though we certainly have measurement vendors that provide high-level overviews of State Farm in the landscape to help shape our content strategies. In addition, we create videos and photo sets from State Farm events and loss mitigation efforts that we feature on YouTube and Flickr, respectively. I personally conduct a great deal of blog outreach for our initiatives, as well as lead our measurement efforts. Currently, I’m serving as the PR program lead for one of our largest marketing efforts, the State Farm® Home Run Derby®.
In your mind, what’s the biggest challenge State Farm currently faces with social media?
There are several challenges every company faces in social media, both internally and externally. We encounter all the same obstacles in that regard. What’s interesting is, larger brands like ours have less credibility in this space than small ones. The democratization that is social media provides an opportunity for us to shape our voice and the way we engage with customers and other publics. Did I mention how many employees and agents we have? Our goal: Empower internal brand advocates while adhering to state and federal regulations, all while speaking with one voice as a company and preventing brand splintering. Those who know the power of social will agree, it’s probably the biggest opportunity we’ve ever seen.
Let’s be honest – insurance doesn’t immediately bring to mind thoughts of extremely exciting dialogue. What type of content or engagement tactics are you using to differentiate State Farm from other competitors?
Fair enough. You’re right. Insurance isn’t the most exciting category, and we don’t see as much social engagement as other, more product-oriented brands. But when people tweet us, they’re either elated or furious. Most of the time, it’s one or the other. For the furious folks, we respond to ask if there’s anything we can do to help. Because of customer privacy and regulation issues, we work directly with our executive customer service team to resolve those issues.
Several times, customers have been so excited we helped them on Twitter, they’ve blogged and created other media based on the experience. We have about 6,000 followers on Twitter, and we provide honest, authentic engagement to all of them. That’s not to say we’re the only insurer on Twitter. We’re not. But we’re the largest personal lines insurer in the U.S., and we think that is translating well. Success is relative and based on subjective metrics in this space, so it’s impossible to say we’re doing “better” than our competitors. Sure, Justin Bieber has more followers. But it’s apples to oranges.
You’re a pretty recent grad and landed a gig in the social media space. How’d you land said gig and what advice can you give to other recent grads trying to crack into our cherished niche?
Don’t narrow your internship search to social media; apply for internships everywhere, in every business category. Social media expertise is a pre-requisite for any recent graduate. You’ll be EXPECTED to be an expert communicator in this space. Read about it. Start a presence everywhere. Follow thought leaders. Learn the nuances of each channel. The more you explore, the more value you add to your brand.