“What some agents and brokers appreciate is that the content allows them to brand themselves. It elevates their thought leadership and their expertise.”
Corporate Communications Manager
Benefits Products & Services
Unum and Colonial Life deliver practical tips and stories, with help from social media
Study after study indicates that benefit plan participants have—at best—an incomplete understanding of the benefits they are offered by their employer. With the expansion of voluntary product offerings, it’s never been more important to “talk to” employee benefit plan participants about their needs and the product choices available within their plans. The trouble is, they may not be listening.
“No one gets up in the morning and wants to talk about life insurance, disability and critical illness,” says Chris Winston, corporate communications manager for Colonial Life. “We’re the only ones who do that. The world at large has a lot of other topics they’re more interested in.”
About two and a half years ago Colonial Life and its parent company, Unum, began looking at ways to engage customers and potential customers more completely in the messages the company was sending them. They decided to broaden the subject matter of those messages beyond information on benefits products. Get their attention first, and worry about product information later.
In March of 2016 the companies launched two websites—WorkWell for Unum and WorkLife for Colonial Life—consisting of weekly-updated posts on workplace issues, career development, healthy living issues and benefits topics. The posts are short articles written by professional journalists, designed to be shared.
“The sites are part of a broader effort to communicate better with our policyholders,” says Winston. “We don’t want them to communicate with us only when they have a need and they’re at a stressful point in their lives. So, we email them with links to the sites, and can say, ‘Here are some tips on ways to live healthier or reduce workday stress,’ for example.”
Interspersed among these general topics are articles on employee benefits or charitable initiatives conducted by employees of the two companies. Testimonials are developed from the companies’ own claims files and are used to humanize the discussion and illustrate the importance of purchasing insurance.
Since Colonial Life and Unum began creating this content for consumers, they have been able to reach out to their other key audiences—plan administrators and brokers—in much the same way. Colonial Life sends links to the WorkWell and WorkLife sites to about 20,000 plan administrators each week.
“We send the administrators an email telling them we’re signing them up to receive the newsletters (a link to WorkWell or WorkLife),” says Winston. “They can unsubscribe at any time, and if they don’t engage with it, we discontinue, but we’re seeing tremendous open rates and click-through rates on those emails.
“We also send the content from WorkWell and WorkLife to non-customers who are prospects for our products. When we add together the contacts from the three audiences—current customers, plan administrators and prospective customers—60% to 70% of those who are visiting the WorkWell and WorkLife sites have never been to an Unum or Colonial Life web property before.
“These are new ‘eyeballs,’” he adds. “They might be policyholders who’ve never needed our services before or brand-new people who’ve never heard of our companies. So, we’re starting to build that brand awareness of who we are and what we do.”
Brokers become the messengers
Winston says the use of social media has supercharged the communications effort and benefited brokers as well. “Social media is driving a lot of it,” he says. “At about the same time we launched the WorkWell and WorkLife sites we started a program called Brand Ambassador, working with a social media platform partner called GaggleAMP out of Boston. It enables us to pass along our content to brokers as well as others connected to our companies—content that they can then share with their own audiences via social media.
“These aren’t sales pitches for Colonial Life,” Winston stresses. “The content could be thought leadership on topics like voluntary benefits in the workplace, healthy living or workplace issues. It could be an article from a benefits trade magazine or the mainstream media.” A broker does not have to represent Colonial Life or Unum to use the program.
To participate, says Winston, “an agent would click a button and then receive an email stating, ‘Here’s a new social media post we’re recommending.’ They can then share it via their LinkedIn followers, Facebook friends or people who follow them on Twitter, GooglePlus or Instagram.” They can also share it via a link in an email.
“What some agents and brokers appreciate,” Winston says, “is that the content allows them to brand themselves. It elevates their thought leadership and their expertise. They can take one of the posts and send it to their clients, saying, ‘Here’s something to help your employees reach their goals.’”
The Brand Ambassador program started out a year and a half ago with 50 participants for Unum and Colonial Life. In the coming year they expect to reach 750—a number that includes participants from their own companies as well as brokers—who are distributing these posts to their selected recipients. “The whole idea is to share with as many people as possible,” Winston says.
For Colonial Life and Unum’s own salespeople, Winston continues, “They know they need to be involved on social media, but they don’t want to be tied to their desks or phones trying to find good content and figure out what to say about it. What’s legal? What’s compliant? When we create the posts for them, it achieves their purpose.”
Some of the posts that have been shared extensively, Winston says, are testimonials to the worth of insurance products—personal stories from claimants.
Sometimes topics are keyed to a relevant time frame—such as one posting during October that provided ideas for celebrating Halloween at work.
To help produce fresh posts each week that will interest consumers, Unum and Colonial Life have tapped into a network of professional writers with expertise in health, workplace issues, and everyday work-life balance topics. “Many of them write their own blogs or articles on these issues,” says Winston. “We commission them to write original material for us.”
When Unum or Colonial Life provides a post from an outside writer that deals with insurance coverage, they do so without promoting Unum or Colonial Life. Sharing one of these posts is like passing along a column from a personal finance magazine.
An example is a recent post titled “Long-term disability insurance gets little attention but can pay off.” It is a piece of earned media, shared with permission from Kaiser Health News. The writer quotes statistics from LIMRA, Mercer, the Council for Disability Awareness, the Federal Reserve Board and the Social Security Administration. It explains the need for the coverage, describes general features common to many disability plans and provides some advice for navigating enrollment. (It does mention Mike Simonds, CEO of Unum, but only to provide auto-enrollment statistics.)
Although the recipient of this and other posts knows that the article is coming from the Unum or Colonial Life website, the purpose is clearly informational. It raises the stature of the broker or plan administrator who is part of delivering the article.
For Unum and Colonial Life, their WorkWell and WorkLife sites and Brand Ambassador program achieve the purpose of opening communication channels with their customers. That’s important at a time when benefits consumers have so many choices to make.
Thomas A. McCoy, CLU, retired in 2013 as editor-in-chief of Rough Notes magazine.