Think Before You Market

The ethical and intelligent use of social media as a marketing tool

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I’ve talked a fair amount about the bonuses social media can bring to the table in terms of marketing and client retention, but I recently read this article on TheHealthCareBlog.com and took pause. The article describes a situation in which a health care service provider created a Facebook account for phantom consumer Sara Baker. While the marketing ploy is fairly transparent in that Miss Baker, hair playfully dancing across her face as she smiles carelessly with the joy only her creator company could bring to the otherwise dismal world of health information technology, admits to being a figment of some creative marketing strategists imagination, it raises real issues about the ethical and intelligent use of social media as a marketing tool.

While I have a good many opinions about this ad I’d love to share with you, let’s look at it from the standpoint of what questions arise from it and what answers can you as an agent take away from it.

Deceit. Alright, this is a no brainer. Many people took issue with Sara Baker because they thought she was a real person at first, second and even third glance (as I said before, it states at the top of the page she is merely a symbol of our shared human experience in the quest to access medical information online). People even commented on pictures of her fake twins. There lesson here isn’t “don’t lie” (you should already know that), it is to make sure you are VERY transparent in everything you say and do in social media interaction with clients/prospects. If people feel duped, regardless of whose fault it is, they’re going to be angry.

It’s dangerous outside of the box. We all want to be the bold pioneers of some idea that’s so crazy it might just work, but that’s a risky move in marketing. If you’re not sure how your audience will react to an idea, then either 1) don’t do it or 2) take it down a level. We know not to believe everything we see on TV (unless it’s a 24 hour news channel host that shares our political affiliations), but Facebook is relatively new to the game, so any rocking of the boat will be slightly exaggerated in terms of waves made.

Facebook Fan Page. Sara was created as a fan page, which should have been hint numero uno she wasn’t your average Sally Citizen- she had a reason and intent to promote. Know who else has promotional intent? You do! Even if you have a normal Facebook page, why not make a fan page for yourself? The Internet’s a big place, so don’t feel bad about throwing yourself out there as much as possible.

Establish guidelines. There are already some guidelines set forth by different entities in the insurance industry regarding appropriate social media use. You would be wise to adhere to these, even if they don’t pertain directly to your sector of the market. ASJ ran an article reviewing FINRA’s social media guidelines for agents selling securities but could be implemented by anyone.

So there are some lessons we can all learn from the tale of Sara Baker. Personally, I thought it was a good, but poorly executed idea. Short of her pulling a modern-day Pinocchio, it looks like the only moral Sara Baker is going to teach us is to think before you market.

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