By adaptive - March 28th, 2012

[U]num, an insurance company providing Income Protection, has made social media central to its integrated £5 million, 3-year campaign, which launched last year. Unum has evolved over the past for...

Unum, an insurance company providing Income Protection, has made social media central to its integrated £5 million, 3-year campaign, which launched last year. Unum has evolved over the past forty years to become the leading provider of group income protection cover in the UK. Unum have both the largest number of schemes and the largest premium income of any provider in the UK.

9 out of 10 people don’t have a back-up plan to support themselves if they lose their income due to illness or injury, so Unum has set itself the challenge of raising awareness of the impact this lack of financial protection can have in an engaging and positive way – online, in print and through prime-time TV advertising.

As part of the campaign, AskUnum was launched as a social media hub hosting blogs, comments, video content and Q&As, alongside the AskUnum Twitter page – the first time that the business opened up to online interaction.

The Back Up Plan Facebook page is designed to stimulate conversations between people and their friends, families and employers about the importance of financial protection. As well as information and toolkits, the page hosts two apps designed to make disengaged consumers aware of the protection gap in an engaging and lighthearted way.

The “Things I Like” app which aims to get people thinking about how they protect the things they love. Users pick out the things that are important to them – friends, family and  interests – to create a personalised music video, celebrating what’s important to them.

The second is the “Penny Jar” app which uses average benefits, expense figures and a few key personal facts and figures to provide a rough calculation of how long people would be able to survive financially if they lost their income.

Tim Jackson, Head of Marketing Strategy, UnumUseful Social Media spoke with Tim Jackson, Unum's Head of Marketing Strategy about the company's use of social media.

Can you outline your general approach to the social networks your company is using?

First, it’s important to say that the role our social media presence plays for us is ostensibly marketing-related. We do a limited amount of customer service-related activity, but on an ad hoc basis.

We are an insurance provider specialising in Income Protection, our business is entirely B2B. We sell ‘Group’ insurance policies to employers, who buy on behalf of a group of their employees. That cover is then put into the benefits packages of those employees.

But our biggest challenge is that few employees have either heard of Income Protection, or even thought about the problem it solves. Consequently, they don’t ask for it to be part of their benefits package. We need to change that by explaining what Income Protection is, why it’s a great back-up plan, and why it’s best got at work. We’re raising awareness that 1 in 10 employees will go on long-term sick-leave at some point in their working lives, yet 9 out of 10 have no back-up plan to support themselves if they were to lose their income in this way.

That’s too long a story to tell in a 30-second TV ad alone. So the call-to-action of our TV ads is to go online and find out more. Digital is the best way to tell the deeper, richer story. Moreover, we wanted to get conversations started between employees and their families, and ultimately their employers. We also wanted to fuel spread of the message. Social networks are ideally suited to deliver that functionality. Finally, we wanted to open up our company to consumers, and provide a channel for those interested to contact us, and interact with us as a brand. Again, social platforms give an ideal channel for that.

We’re using a combination of platforms to achieve those goals: Facebook for our primary campaign-orientated BackUpPlanUK space, our own blog platform for Q&A interaction with us as a company, and twitter and YouTube in support of both.

Are the social networks now offering corporations tangible commercial opportunities to sell their goods or services?

In our line of business – which is not only a highly regulated one, under the auspices of the Financial Services Authority today, but also a wholly intermediate one – the act of selling is a somewhat complex affair. HR managers and Finance Directors typically work face-to-face with a corporate IFA to design the insurance policy for many of their staff, and the adviser is then interacting iteratively with insurers for quotes. We are not allowed to provide that advisory component directly.

Consequently, it’s hard to see a clear way that the main social media platforms are creating new ways to make a sale happen – i.e. to activate any underlying demand. It’s also fair to say that most of our target consumer audience don’t expect to use social media in that way – they’re not anticipating going to Facebook to buy Income Protection or Life insurance, for example. That will doubtless change over time, as online habits change, but currently it’s not ‘natural’ consumer behaviour.

What social networks do offer businesses, including ours, are spaces where companies can enter conversations with consumers, and get the persuasive case across that builds the underlying demand in the first place. Unum’s social networks help us raise awareness of an issue most people will never have considered before – the importance of protecting your income – but in a way that doesn’t necessarily have them ‘running to the hills’ at the first mention of it (a common response historically!).

Our social spaces are designed to generate online discussion around the importance of Income Protection from an employee and employer perspective, but in a lighter hearted, more positive way than perhaps is traditional from life insurers. Beyond entertaining ways to engage, we help people find out more through our practical toolkits, apps, case studies and Q&As. And there is clearly a demand for this information:

Unum’s Facebook following rose from 0 to 14,300 in just 8 months, becoming comfortably the UK’s 3rd largest insurance provider’s page behind mega-brands Aviva and MoreTh>n.

Can you outline how your Facebook apps allow your company to reach its customer base?

Our apps are primarily about engaging the target audience, rather than driving reach. Nevertheless, as interesting and entertaining content, with in-built sharing functionality, they do offer an additional route for social spread.

Unum’s research showed that despite the importance of Income Protection, many people think it a difficult topic to understand and simply disengage, so we had to think of more creative ways to reach out to consumers. Facebook apps allow us to get people thinking about protection in an engaging and lighthearted way, whilst still driving home a clear and compelling message: the importance of having a back-up plan.

To date, Unum has a number of Facebook apps, including the Penny Jar app, which gives a rough calculation of how long someone would be able to survive financially if they lost their income and had to rely on their savings. Our newest app, the Perkulator that will go live soon has just been developed, and it’s designed to help employees understand how much value they get from their benefits package, on top of their salary – to encourage them to think beyond just negotiating the salary number when getting a job, since benefits are typically worth an additional 10-30% over pay.

Your company is increasingly moving to real-time customer engagement. How are the social networks helping your business achieve that goal?

The key to effective engagement is to be fresh with content and to be clearly a ‘live’ space. Responding quickly to conversation keeps both the content and page fresh. Social networks are of course designed with that responsiveness in mind.

In the early stages of a campaign, scale is important as you build your community. However, you have to ensure that you constantly keep that interaction going, rather than creating a black hole that your customer’s comments and questions simply disappear into. To do this, we launched AskUnum, a social hub where consumers, employers and brokers can have their questions answered personally by both Unum staff and independent experts. We have also built our presence on Twitter and Facebook, responding to comments from consumers and proactively reaching out to people that have been discussing us online.

Listening to those engaged consumers also helps us generate new content. For example, we saw a lot of commentary that perhaps our Tablecloth TV ad was faked, by trick photography, CGI, magnets etc. So we developed an outtakes video to demonstrate its authenticity. That video became our most shared piece of content, getting a Facebook social reach of over 850,000!

Insurance is not the most obvious product to sell via social networks, but your company has clearly been successful in this space. Do you know the DNA of the social networks you use?

As we’ve built up our following – particularly on Twitter and Facebook – we’ve certainly evolved our style and the content we share to ensure we reflect the tone and approach of that social network. For example, we know that some of our Facebook fans really enjoy lighthearted, amusing Facebook updates (into or alongside which more factual information is embedded) so we make sure that our Facebook content planner includes a balance of useful and entertaining material.

On the other hand, the role and style of our AskUnum Twitter community has evolved quite differently. Rather than being a consumer engagement tool, it’s instead become a much smaller group made up of industry commentators, media, IFA’s and brokers – alongside consumers. So our content on Twitter tends to be targeted at a better informed, slightly more serious audience. It’s role is more of a signposting tool for key influencers, to our content and opinion-leadership in other places.

The kind of conversations we have and the material we share will change further in future, to make sure we’re continually adapting to the online environments we’re engaging in.

Integration across a number of channels seems to be the best way for companies to reach their customers. What's next for Unum across the social spaces?

Unum has big plans for social in the year ahead. Following the success of our Facebook apps in 2011, we will continue with carefully targeted apps in 2012, based around helping employees understand their ideal benefits mix. As previously explained, these are designed to be engaging and fun, and above all in plain, straightforward English.

But these will be supported by some simple content too. We have links to plainly written, helpful further information on benefits and Income Protection, as well as really easy ways to start conversations with bosses and HR about Income Protection. We will also be working with various partners online, creating content across their sites and social media channels as well as on our Facebook, Twitter and YouTube channel – with some great interactive videos, webinars, surveys and info-graphics planned. We’re also using LinkedIn in slightly different ways, to approach the professional audiences of HR, Finance Directors and IFAs.  We’re of course considering the potential of new spaces all the time, like Pinterest, Instagram, Google+ etc.

What do you think the future of social networks looks like in the context of corporate users?

Increasingly, companies are realising that social media isn’t going away. But many aren’t clear what to do. They need to go into social with a clear purpose – internal comms? Customer service? Marketing? Entering social “because your competitors are there” is not a good reason!

And if the purpose is marketing, the role of social within a total campaign or marketing programme must be clear. Social is another suite of marketing tools to be applied to (part of) a marketing problem, and should be deployed according to the strengths of social in solving that problem.

But simply setting up a Twitter feed or a Facebook presence won’t be enough – with more companies competing for followers and recognition, they will increasingly have to think about new ways to engage consumers and differentiate themselves from competitors. Most importantly, they will have to think about how their brand will translate online. Social media is conversational, which means a different tone-of-voice than adverts, which are more akin to making a speech. Brand personality is of course the same, but understanding the tonal implications of social is important. Get it wrong and you can soon alienate the community you’ve worked so hard to build.

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