Posted by: Dal Watson | September 23, 2011

How/Why I use Social Media (from an insurance agents’ perspective):

Writing is really not my gift, so beware of run-on sentences, etc. I’m trying to convey ideas here. I’ve proof read this post many times, but I’m sure I’ve missed some things that should be corrected. Having said that… recently, a fellow insurance broker from another state asked me for some tips on gaining followers, specifically on Twitter. I recently passed the 2,000 ‘follower’ mark on Twitter. This is an open post to that inquiry for information to take full advantage of hyperlinks, videos, etc. Now there are many people on Twitter that have a much greater following than I do…athletes, various celebrity types, authors, social media gurus, etc. But for my niche market, 2,000+ followers has been a good starting goal.

The ways people and (especially different) generations communicate and/or conduct business are always changing. Below is a brief video that should grab you by the shirt collar, and shake you to a ‘call for action.’ It’s by an acquaintance of mine named Erik Qualman (@equalman). He’s someone that I’ve corresponded with via social media, and he has a great book that I’d recommend you read entitled, ‘Socialnomics’. [Another recommended read would be ‘Trust Agents’ by Chris Brogan (@ChrisBrogan) and Julien Smith (@julien)…and you for sure need to ‘follow’ all the people that I reference in this post on Twitter.]

You see originally, I was really just looking for some tools to increase my name ranking/search results on Google, Bing, etc. I had decided back then that I’d try LinkedIn, mess around a little with Twitter, but I would never have anything to do with Facebook. That thought process was born out of my ignorance for and about social media. Search Engine Optimization (or SEO) is certainly an Internet marketing buzz word that you are probably already familiar with. I wanted to ‘own’ the first three pages of Google when someone ‘Googled’ my name specifically for business purposes. Type my name (Dal Watson) into Google now, and I ‘own’ more than the first three pages (minus the IMDb movie credits…sorry, that’s not me). This has happened over time. Google ranking influenced by social media is more of a marathon than a sprint…continue to ‘drip’ information at a pace of your choosing via social media, and watch your Google ranking/search results climb upward.

Here’s another video as to why social media is important to me, and in my opinion should be important to other people in business and/or in sales. Think about how we/you use Google on a DAILY basis. We use Google as a ‘verb’…I do it all the time…”I’ll just ‘google’ this, I’ll ‘google’ that.” It is so rare that I even use a telephone book anymore, and the 3 or 4 times a year that I do, it literally strikes me as odd. I try to remember (without much success) the last time I even picked up a phone book.

Now, back to the original question posed to me. Why do over 2,000 people follow me on Twitter; me , an insurance agent from West TX (in a MSA/population of 250,000+ and an area that’s not exceptionally engaged in social media outside of Facebook). The most honest answer on how I’ve achieved this over the past 2 1/2 years is , “I’m not completely certain,” but here are some educated thoughts on the ‘hows and whys.’ First, delivering interesting, engaging and consistent content is a ‘must’ in my opinion. Most people really don’t want to be ‘sold to’ on social media, they want to be engaged, intrigued, draw benefit/enjoyment from their time on/in social media (after all, the stats on how much time people are spending each day using social media is nothing short of astonishing). So, that is pretty much my model for ‘how’ I ‘do’ social media. For me, I have (like the movie title suggests) a ‘perfect storm’ scenario brewing. I’m a health insurance/employee benefit broker. Possibly you’ve heard of this new little thing in America called ‘health care reform.’ My entrance into social media happened about 45 days after President Obama was sworn into office, and he and his administration began to reveal their plan to change the U.S. health care delivery system from top to bottom. Obviously, I have a vested interest in that process. I agree that the U.S. health care system needed reform, but I don’t agree with much of the reform measures put forth by the PPACA Legislation signed into law on March 23, 2010. That’s neither here nor there. What social media has allowed me to do is to be fully engaged in this entire reform process; the before, and the after. I have, and continue to, learn a great deal about health reform from social media via experts on many fronts, and I in turn try to inform my friends and followers through social media, as well as get my name out there as a quasi-expert on the subject matter. Social media has helped me be a better consultant/adviser, and more valuable to my clients and prospects. Basically I want people to think after connecting with me in social media, “wow, that guys know his stuff” or is at least paying attention to how all this reform is unfolding, and over time ‘win the opportunity’ to be one of their trusted advisers (or as Chris and Julien in their book referenced above call it, a ‘Trust Agent’).

Twitter specifically, is an amazingly powerful tool, if used properly. Brian Solis (@briansolis) wrote something that struck me; “News no longer breaks, it Tweets” (this is true of ‘health care reform news’ too). I share my thoughts on that in this post on my blog. I channel information using my ‘Twitter Lists.’ I share some info. on Twitter Lists in this post on my blog. I also have a series of insurance industry news related e-mails (old school, I know) that show up in my inbox daily. Between Twitter and these e-mails, I don’t go searching for interesting content, it comes and finds me, and I take a small amount of time to sift through it and repackage it for my marketing purposes and benefit. It’s information that I need to know anyway, I just choose to take the process one step further re-broadcasting it for the benefit of my followers via social media. Those insurance industry news related sources are referenced in the vast majority of my Twitter posts on @DalDubya. My targets for Twitter as well as my LinkedIn are the HR professionals who may or may not be decision makers, but are at least decision influencers, as well as executives (CEOs, COOs, CFOs, etc.) and for sure, business owners. People say to me fairly often, “hey, I like/appreciate what you are sharing/informing us about on Twitter, LinkedIn, on (your) Facebook (Business Page), etc.” At the end of the day, I am a salesman…that’s how I get paid. No salesman wants someone to say to them, “gosh, I just bought (the product you sell) from ‘old so and so’…I wish I’d known that you did that kind of work. I would have bought it from you.” [Slam hand in car door for full feeling/affect]. Engaging people in social media of all types begins to reduce that possible conversation to some degree for me. If I am connected with someone on social media, they know what I do for a living; but I don’t sell, I engaged and inform in hopes of one day making a life long client out of them (or someone they know, and hopefully refer me to).

Here’s a simple idea for growing your Twitter following…follow others in your areas of interest and many of them will follow you back. I follow/connect with many people in the Human Resources profession (one of my target markets) and many of them follow/connect back with me. Just make sure you don’t violate Twitter’s ‘Terms of Service’…here is some Twitter info. for ‘Following Rules and Best Practices.’ I also have over 1,000 connections on my LinkedIn…same target audience. I formed a LinkedIn Group that now has over 1,000 members…‘Employee Benefits and Human Resources’…it has grown completely organically. I have over 1,500 connections on Facebook and approximately 1/3rd of them are ‘fans’ (old FB term) or ‘like’ (newer FB term) my Facebook Business Page. A newer idea that I use is ‘Dal Watson #EmployeeBenefits Brief’ on a free service called Paper.li. Basically, it automatically takes some of the daily tweets from people that I follow on my @HealthReform411 Twitter account and creates a daily (or weekly) electronic ‘newspaper,’ and many of them ‘follow’ me back in turn. The number of followers I mentioned above are not by accident. They were intentional social media goals. Now it’s time to set and accomplish new goals over time. It’s like Zig Ziglar said many years ago, (I’m paraphrasing) ‘help people get what they want and you will get what you want.’ You want followers, have the proper social media etiquette and edify others, and they will edify you in return. That’s not a gimmick…it’s a great way to live your life and conduct your business. Here’s an article with tips for gaining respect on Twitter.

Here are a few more suggestions with regards to growing your Twitter following. If you’ve been on Twitter for any length of time, you are familiar with ‘ReTweeting’ (if not, Google the term to learn more about it). There are at least two ways to ReTweet and subsequently gain following and/or ‘forward’ interesting content to your followers. I prefer the ‘old style’ of ReTweeting. That’s where you actually place the letters “RT@” (for ReTweet) at the front of their post vs. the newer style of simply clicking a retweet button on your Twitter app of choice. Try it both ways and see for yourself the difference, and then you decide. In my opinion, the old style RT is better for growing your following. I hope that makes sense. Sometimes, my ReTweets are simply bookmarks of articles that I’d like to share/broadcast across my other social media platforms and/or articles that I want to read when time permits. Often when I’m waiting to see a client or prospect, waiting on a meal in a restaurant, or just have a few minutes of otherwise unproductive time, I take a quick view of my favorite work-related Twitter list and ReTweet the things that look interesting to me. The ‘lists’ feature on Echofon for iPhone is my favorite app for viewing these.

Next, ‘Follow Friday (#FF).’ For more on understanding #FF, use this link. Bottomline, you are saying to your followers, ‘I follow this person on Twitter and you should too.’ Over time others will reciprocate and #FF you back and you’ll gain followers that way too. Always take time to thank others that #FF you, ReTweet (RT@) your posts, or put you in their Paper.li e-newsletter, etc., etc…it takes a matter of seconds to do it, and you build valuable rapport with them. Also, consider using a customized social media engagement bar on your Twitter account like Visibli.com. This is a great way to let others know where else to find you on the web.

Here’s one more…have you ever heard of the ’80/20 Rule?’ Well believe it or not, it applies to Twitter too…80% of the Twitter accounts have very little or absolutely no activity. The entire Twitter traffic is driven by 20% of its subscribers. People who are looking to grow their following are looking to follow active Twitter accounts (the 20%). If you are active on Twitter, people are going to follow you for various reasons, and they come from all sorts of backgrounds and have various purposes for using Twitter themselves.

Don’t forget to maximize your keywords in your Twitter account ‘bio’…that’s the 160 very important, well-thought-out characters/words you use to describe yourself to the Twitterverse and are key elements to people finding you via the Twitter ‘search’ feature.

Another way that I think I’ve gained following on Twitter is to do what other successful insurance colleagues have done using Twitter. I recommend that you go to WeFollow.com and then type in your industry keywords in the search bar at the top of the page. For me, my main one would be ‘Employee Benefits’. I’m usually ranked in the Top 10 in terms of the number of followers for my chosen keywords on WeFollow.com (I’m also in the Top 10 for the area where I live). As the great Yogi Berra once quipped, “You can observe alot by watching.” I can promise you that I’ve looked at the other top performers for my chosen keywords and have watched what they’ve done, and how they use (and engaged others on) Twitter. The best example that I can site would be Jennifer Benz (@jenbenz). Jennifer is very sharp and really good at what she does. She’s greatly influenced me on how I use social media. Also, who (for example) is Jennifer ‘retweeting.’ If she’s retweeting them, I promise you I’m going to follow them on Twitter. Jennifer’s company does a great job of communicating benefits…here’s one such example of that. Two more guys that I recommend following from an insurance perspective are Rick Morgan (@rickjmiv) and Peter van Aartrijk (@pvaartrijk). Early on, these two helped me understand how social media was/is evolving in my industry via their articles, tweets, and podcasts. [It was actually a May 2009 article in the ‘Independent Agent’ magazine entitled ‘Find Us on Facebook’ that featured Rick Morgan and other insurance professionals that were using social media that intrigued me so much, that I thought I’d give it a try. Everything you read in this blog post here got it roots from that article over two years ago.]

I do not ‘purchase’ followers on Twitter or any other social media platform for that matter. Why would I? Again, I believe people connect with me because I deliver interesting, engaging, informative, beneficial, and/or consistent content. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be knowledgeable about ways to increase your following through various techniques. One guy that I’ve learned alot from is Sean Malarkey (@SeanMalarkey). Sean has written a good e-book called, ‘Twixplode.’ Similarly, Lewis Howes (@LewisHowes) gives great information on how to grow your network on LinkedIn in a book that he co-wrote entitled ‘LinkedWorking’ along with his new ventures into the area of YouTube Marketing videos.

Finally, Social Media should be a tool, not a burden! Learn from social media, inform with social media, but do NOT spend too much time dealing with social media. Growing a following of any sort on social media is like the old riddle, ‘how do you eat an elephant?…answer: one bite at a time’. Likewise your growth in social media will take time. I have used HootSuite for quite a while now to schedule future delivery of my social media content over various social media platforms. With HootSuite, I manage my social media delivery, it doesn’t manage me. Earlier, I mentioned receiving daily a series of insurance industry news related e-mails. Again, I’m going to be reading these e-mails anyway to keep myself up on all that occurs in my industry. When I come across one that I feel like would benefit others that I’m trying to engage with, I just click my web browsers HootSuite Hootlet button and schedule a post for future delivery; sometimes weeks into the future at a time and day of my choosing [see video below]. I even schedule my Follow Friday #FF posts days in advanced based on who I’ve interacted with recently and want to promote the benefit of the information I’ve received from them at some point in the past. Because HootSuite is ‘cloud’ based, I can manage my account from anywhere I can get on the Internet. There’s a free version of HootSuite and a fee-based version…just depends how many social media accounts you want to manage from it simultaneously.

I could go into more of the same on my other social media platforms like my Facebook Business Page, or my newest Google+ profile (and my Google+ Business Profile). My Google+ profile is quickly becoming to most important piece of social media ‘real estate’ that I ‘own’ on the web because it’s tied to none other than Google itself, and my Google+ profile is the #1 thing you see when you Google my name.

My WordPress blog has over 600 different posts on a fairly wide variety of topics including (obviously) insurance and health care reform, but also lots on social media, marketing, etc. For a partial list of topics, look at the ‘categories’ section towards the bottom/center of the blog, and the ‘trending topics’ cloud on the right hand column of the blog. You can also enter in the “search my blog” section (on the upper right hand portion of my blog) keywords like ‘facebook, twitter, linkedin, facebook fan page, linkedin groups, marketing’, etc. Just below the “search my blog” area, you’ll see another area called “my social media footprint”…these are links to my other social media platforms that I have and continue to experiment with in my spare time. One more thing about my WordPress blog…I sometimes use it like my own personal Digg and/or Delicious webpage bookmark service for quick reference to article(s) that I might need to access (quickly) at any time.

“Know thy audience!” So who are you trying to speak to on your social media ‘posts’? You need to have an idea before you post. Also, the issue of ‘frequency’ comes into play. If you post alot on certain social media sites and “blow up” someone’s timeline, they probably aren’t going to like that much and it will be a turn-off…that shouldn’t be your goal. So sometimes, ‘less is more.’ Here are some practical guides for the “BIG 5.” Concerning LinkedIn (1) and Facebook (2), limit your posts to a few in a given timeframe. Remember, LinkedIn is for professionals, so conduct yourself professionally. Facebook is personal so steer away from controversial posts (in my opinion). As far as Twitter (3) and Google+ (4), I think you can get away with posting quite a bit more. As far as your blog (5)…post/blog to your hearts content. On all 5, the goal of your posts (in my opinion) should be to engage and inform your audience.

The one area that I hope to be more active in the future is in the video, screencasting and live streaming areas on YouTube, Vimeo, Justin.tv, UStream, LiveStream, etc. I guess I haven’t made it around to ‘eating that part of the elephant’ yet. I also have some ideas for podcasting and screencasting that I want to explore, so I still have lots of ideas that I look forward to working on some day when time permits. One quick plug on the subject of podcasting. A guy that I’ve learned alot from on this issue is Cliff Ravenscraft (@GSPN). Cliff has an insurance background and is a great teacher of the ‘hows and whys’ of podcasting. For tips on video production, YouTube/Vimeo, etc., look no further than Perry Lawrence (@askmrvideo). As Perry will tell you, your goal whether its making a video or posting in social media is for your audience to “know, like and trust you.” For a list of video marketing experts (including Perry), click here. If you are looking for ways to ‘optimize’ your video traffic, look no further than James Wedmore (@JamesWedmore) and his Video Traffic Academy. Below is great video from James on why you might want to consider having a presence on YouTube. Also, here’s a really neat video tip/trick from James. For tips on social media, branding, and marketing, etc., follow Maria Elena Duron (@mariaduron), Michael Stelzner (@smexaminer), as well as John Jantsch (@ducttape), author of The Referral Engine. Finally, for pointers on getting your local news media to notice you, read this.

My degree from Texas Tech University is from the School of Mass Communications, and I’ve always been and continue to be fascinated about the way companies and individuals ‘market’ themselves and their products/services to the masses. Social Media in so many ways is still in its infant stages as our society continues to connect in ways we never thought possible prior to the creation of the Internet, smart phones, tablets, etc., etc. Like the ‘Social Media Revolution 2011’ video mentions at the top of this post, “50% of the worlds population is under the age of 30.” They have embraced social media. Meet them where they are, over time adapt to their ways of interacting with and buying products or services. Otherwise consider yourself a dying breed my friend, because you are for sure on borrowed time. [CHART: Smartphone usage by age and income levels…these #’s will only go higher as time goes by, so paying attention to ‘mobile marketing ‘trends probably should be on your list of things to learn more about too…just saying!]

“The only thing that’s constant, is change” … “and the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” The ways that ‘marketers’ market is rapidly changing. Embraced social media and again, meet people where they are and on their terms. I hope you find this information useful, and please feel free to share your social media examples and success stories in the ‘comment section’ below. I close with this final comical video/view of traditional vs. modern marketing. The answer is really we still need to embrace both ways to a certain degree to bridge the generational and technological divides. I also invite you to connect with me @ DalWatson.com and my main social medial platforms listed there.

[May 2013 EBA article: A new way to market and sell — social media]


Business is Social…A Glimpse Into the Future

BONUS #1: Mashable CEO Pete Cashmore @ SXSW 2012 on why people are getting involved with social media…he is so right!!!

BONUS #2: Some very profound words spoken towards the end of this video by (Weekend) Fox & Friends (Fox News Channel) Host and Tech Guy, Clayton Morris, about ‘communities’ and new media, etc.


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