How Farmers Insurance’s agent-driven Facebook strategy found success

The company gave its agents Facebook pages, let them discuss what they want, and saw sales go up.

People are the killer app, according to Ryon Harms, director of social media at Farmers Insurance Group.

He created a program that put its 15,000 Farmers’ agents on Facebook, and boosted sales. He won’t reveal just how much, but it’s been substantial.

In a talk at the recent BlogWell conference in San Francisco, Harms shared how Facebook has helped agents grow their businesses, and the lessons you can apply to your company.

“It’s taken us from being a commodity to actually being part of the community,” Harms said of Facebook. “Lead with your people, not with your logos.”

1. Don’t make assumptions.

Harms expected many of the older agents would be reluctant to use Facebook.

“You wouldn’t normally think of them as being the Facebook crowd,” he said of older, longtime agents.

He assumed they saw Facebook as a distraction, something their kids used, or a site for people “who didn’t know how to make friends in the real world.”

“At least that’s what I thought,” Harms admitted.

When the program began, most agents welcomed the use of social media. One agent emailed Harms that he was excited Farmers hired a social media director and took the channel seriously.

2. Talk people, not products.

The approach one agent, Joel McKinnon, took to Facebook set the tone for the Agent Page Program.

“He wasn’t using Facebook to tell people what he sells. He was using Facebook to tell people who he is,” Harms said. McKinnon doubled his business in one year by following this strategy.

For example, McKinnon ran a contest on his page and asked fans to guess the gender of his baby. The winner received a gift certificate to a local pizza place.

“The results he got were astronomical,” Harms said. “It would put any corporate social media page to shame.”

That post had a 16.75 virality, significantly higher than a corporate page, Harms said.

3. Let agents create content and messages.

In a pilot program of 200 agents, posts written by agents had 10 times the amount of engagement than corporate level posts.

“No matter how hard we tried at the corporate level to come up with interesting things, what was working was what the agents were posting and the relationships they were building out there,” Harms said.

4. Encourage agents to share why they do their job.

Posts that answer these questions do well: Why do you do what you do? Why do you get up in the morning?

Farmers’ agent James Peregrino answers it daily on his wildly successful page.

He gets to the “heart of social media” when he focuses on the deep, emotional level of his job, Harms said.

He talks about how he was able to help families through life insurance, and often posts pictures and stories about clients he was able to help. The posts are very genuine and personal.

In the past two years, 200 of the 400 policies Peregrino sold were from Facebook.

5. Educate agents about Facebook.

Harms and his team opted to use the Hearsay Social software to create the Agent Page Program, but that was one piece to the puzzle.

“It wasn’t so much what the technology and software was, it really was about the people that were working within the company,” he said.

Harms created webinars to train agents and traveled across the country for a year to discuss the program with agents and help them get started.

6. Remember the goal of Facebook.

Harms reminds agents that social media is no different from what they do every day: build relationships.

“What they talk about on Facebook is the conversation they have when somebody first walks into their office. The first thing they talk about is not insurance. The first thing they talk about is how’s your wife doing? How are the kids doing?” he says.

7. Get all agents involved.

Don’t rely just on the marketing or communications department for direction.

“Don’t get stuck in what the marketing department thinks,” Harms said. “The best ideas are going to come from the edges of the organization.”

Farmers’ agent Renee Corwin-Rey came up with a successful approach. She encourages her agents to look at what their friends talk about and reach out to them during certain life stages, when appropriate.

“Someone just had a baby, that’s a perfect opportunity for life insurance,” Harms said. “Somebody’s starting a new business, that’s a perfect opportunity for commercial insurance.”

“All these things are happening on Facebook every single day.”

Hear more from Harms here:

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