Allstate ensures community through collaboration

The Fortune 500 company is executing on its vision of improving relations with both customers and agents through social media
Written by Jennifer Leggio, Contributor

Allstate is only one of a growing number of Fortune 500 companies that is digging deep into social media help improve brand awareness and create more mutually beneficial relationships with customers. The company began developing its social media program two years ago during the upswing of industry buzz, and has since developed a strong community and social networking presence. I did a very quick Q&A with Ben Foster, senior strategy and content manager for social networking at Allstate, about the company's vision and execution of community for both consumers and its agents.

Q. [Jennifer] How long ago did Allstate launch it's social media program and what is the primary focus for it?

A. [Ben] We've been in social media since 2008 in the form of forums, Facebook,Twitter and blogs. The initiative picked up steam in mid-2008 when Allstate Financial created a social networking division.  Since then, nearly every function of our business has tried to include the social web in their initiatives.

We have 3 business objectives: 1) Improve brand equity and awareness 2) Improve the customer experience and 3) Encourage collaboration between Allstate agents.

To improve brand equity and awareness, we provide interesting and relevant content based on well-defined consumer needs through the Good Hands Community and its corresponding Twitter account. We engage with consumers through our flagship accounts on Twitter and Facebook.  And, we're working on an agent collaboration tool to help one of our most valuable assets, our agents, interact and share best practices with each other.

Q. How did the social media strategy get started and which person, or group, was the largest champion for it?

A. The social media strategy was pioneered by our marketing organization who recognized the tremendous value that the medium could bring to customers.  The largest champion for it has been our leadership who recognize that social media is a critical tactic to executing our vision of "Putting the customer at the center of all we do".  Executive level support led to the creation of our Consumer Engagement team that is primarily focused on using social media and social networks to engage with customers when and where they want to be reached.

Q. As an insurance company, how do you address inquiries / comments from customers over issues that might be confidential?

A. With inquiries that might be confidential, we have to resolve them privately to prevent the exchange of personal information.  Many times these inquiries and comments are sourced from publically available websites like Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and forums. To protect our customers, we resolve these issues directly.

Q. Do you use social media to interact with agents or just direct customers?

A. There is a huge opportunity to use social media to not only interact with agents, but also their staff.  Social Media improves the ability for agency owners and their staff to communicate with their peers from across the country on topics relevant to their businesses and their relationship with Allstate and their customers.  Agents can engage with each other in conversations and share their knowledge and expertise with peers from across the country.  It's important to note that this isn't just another way to direct information at agents.  We use social media to allow agents and staff to create and share information that works best for them.

Q. What has been one significant challenge of leveraging social for Allstate and how did you overcome it?

A. A significant challenge we've overcome is the tendency many people have to use social media without clear business objectives.  Some people want to dive into the space without clearly understanding the business problem they want to solve.  We've overcome this by working closely to define the strategy with functions looking to use social media as a tool. By focusing on the business objectives they want to solve, we select the right tool and improve the ability to execute successfully.

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