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Message to Advisors: Put the 'Custom' in Your Customer Experiences

Remember when it used to feel like Big Brother was watching you when a website remembered you had visited it before? These days, one could argue it would be downright annoying if a site you signed up with didn’t remember who you are, where you live, how you want to pay and what actions you performed in the past, whether they were things you had searched or purchased.
Thanks to technology, our expectations around the customer experience have changed dramatically in just a few short years. We are more comfortable with providing information about ourselves, as long as there’s a benefit or payoff that we want. At the other end, companies are innovating the way they use that personal data to provide increasingly customized experiences, which in turn make it easier for customers to offer up even more personal information.
In Mary Meeker’s recently released 2015 report on Internet trends, she makes the case that we’re now at a point where consumers not only want, but expect experiences on their terms – getting what they want, when they want it, and how they want it. She points to several technology startups who are leveraging smartphones and GPS to provide consumers with personalized, on-demand products and services via a few taps of a mobile app. These companies are disrupting a variety of industries, including transportation (Uber, Lyft), food (Caviar, Munchery, Sprig) and travel (Airbnb). As technology startups that use data to provide an ultra-personalized, ultra-convenient experience capture more and more market share, the threat to institutional companies is real.
For financial advisors and agents, the lesson here is clear: You need to engage with your clients and prospects when they want to hear from you and how they want from you.
Consider these three tips:
1. Listen for life signals
You’re well aware that there are certain key events in a person’s life that are opportune moments to reassess their financial situation: a new child, marriage, car, living situation, educational opportunity. And thanks to social media, many people announce these changes to their social networks. Rather than leave it up to luck to be in the right place at the right time – or, worse, be in the dark altogether – build your social media presence and leverage technology to help you quickly identify these important life events happening in your social networks.
2. Be omni-channel
A big part of providing a personalized customer experience is giving them a choice in how to communicate with you. The ability to provide an omni-channel experience – where interactions move seamlessly between online and mobile SMS and phone and in-person – is increasingly important in this hyper-connected era. By being findable and available on multiple channels and platforms, the easier it is for customers to engage with you.
3. Focus on the relationship
At the end of the day, the financial services business is built on personal relationships, and that means showing customers and prospects that you’re more than just an advisor selling financial products and services. Thanks to social media and technology, you can easily share the non-professional side of your life – your interests, friends and family, community service work. You might be surprised at how many customers are happy to share the same with you.
How are you delighting your clients and prospects with custom experiences?
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Disrupting the buyer journey at the Digital Marketing for Financial Services Summit

Digital Marketing SummitLast week we participated in the first Digital Marketing for Financial Services Summit held in New York. Although the organization has held successful events in Canada, this was the first time it had brought the Summit to the U.S. as well as the first time that Hearsay Social participated as a sponsor.
The two-day event focused on challenges, opportunities and trends facing marketing professionals in financial services. Attendees representing wealth management, asset management, banking and insurance heard from industry thought leaders, influencers, and their peers in a number of sessions covering everything from 2015 trends to social media to gamification. Zeroing in on the marketer’s experience, the Summit brought to light the value of digital technologies to promote the brand and build awareness. Compared to other conferences I’ve attended, I found the conversations and themes more macro and strategic than tactical and field oriented.
Here were some of the main themes from the Summit:

Disruption

The key word of 2014 and this summit was disruption. It’s become clear to marketers today that the increased volume of potential marketing channels is challenging the way brands position their products and services to address their market. With the increasing number of mediums, cutting through the clutter of white noise is getting more and more difficult, and attracting consumer attention is requiring more creative approaches.
In his presentation, “Blending Heritage and Innovation,” Bryan VanDyke (Executive Director, Head of Digital Strategy, Morgan Stanley) shared that digital disruption shows no sign of slowing, affecting everything from how we buy travel and pay our bills to how we consume media (newspapers, music, movies, and television). The financial services industry will not be immune to these digital disruptions and are being challenged to adapt.  He suggested that firms consider adjusting by providing the following:

  1. Global presence: Be everywhere, always on, on all devices, service all needs.
  2. Be personal: Be relevant, actionable, and clear respective of your audience.
  3. Be insightful: Be thoughtful, holistic, visual and easy to grasp.
Hearsay Social booth at Digital Marketing Summit
Michael Gardineer manning the Hearsay Social booth at the Digital Marketing for Financial Services Summit

Digital is not just about technology

Digital is not just about technology because it’s more importantly about building connections with your customers. Firms getting caught up in technology challenges are overlooking the value in establishing a strong strategy first and then proceeding with a methodical approach that’s aimed at strengthening relationships.
In his presentation, “Strategy Considerations for Digital Marketing Transformation and Innovation in Financial Services,” Bill Barrett (Managing Director and Global Head of Digital Marketing, BNY Mellon) challenged participants to be disciplined in their digital adoption, and suggested 10 tips to follow:

  1. Develop an achievable strategy
  2. Ensure executive sponsorship
  3. Socialize with key internal stakeholders
  4. Seek out advocates in all areas of the company
  5. Listen to your audience
  6. Start from scratch if necessary
  7. Avoid “design by committee”
  8. Don’t believe everything you hear
  9. Don’t take on too much at once
  10. Keep experimenting

In essence, Bill provided a blueprint for the process marketing teams should follow when carefully adopting digital strategy: note, for example, that he specifically says in step one to develop an achievable strategy, taking into account the challenges an organization may have at the onset wanting to tackle too much at once.
Bill also reinforced how marketing teams must be mindful that their strategy needs to be flexible and nimble in order to adapt to changes recommended by consumers and internal stakeholders. If your brand is everywhere, especially in the minds of your consumers, you might as well take advantage of that by listening to their feedback and experimenting.

Alicianne RandThe buyer journey

Consumer buying behaviors are changing, and the products and services they buy are being influenced more and more by marketing and front of the funnel activities. In her presentation, “Content Marketing for Financial Brands as Publishers,” Alicianne Rand (VP Marketing, NewsCred, @aliciannerand) shared how content is core to who we are and how we live our lives. On average, we are exposed to 5,000 marketing messages every day, and we are being conditioned to tune out the noise. When you consider that only 0.01% of banner ads are ever clicked and 85% of TV ads go unwatched, how can you compete for the attention of consumers?
The fact is we choose what matters and is relevant to our lives, and today 70% of B2C and B2B purchase decisions are made before a buyer even speaks with a sales representative, according to Alicianne. As a result marketing departments are taking on more responsibility and accountability in the buying journey than ever before.
To cut through the noise, marketing departments must modify their approach with social media and other scalable digital technologies to personalize the experience and make the content more relevant to the individual consumer. Alicianne suggested that we challenge the old way of doing things with a new approach:

  1. From brand-led to value-driven: It’s all about consumers’ needs and the value proposition the brand can provide. Don’t constantly talk about who your company is and why it matters; instead position your products and services around the challenges they solve and the time or money it saves.
  2. From ad campaigns to always-on brand newsrooms: The 24/7 digital cycle is forcing brands to let go of traditional campaigns and instead leave the digital door open at all times. This is especially true for global brands that have consumers in every time zone. Social is always on, so having a presence isn’t enough if you don’t have the resources to support the ongoing conversation that is taking place. Airlines have been some of the fastest to adapt to their global customer needs both in availability and support in real-time
  3. From demographics and target audiences to the individual: Access to big data and insight data is making it easy for the brand message to be personalized to the individual needs of consumers as opposed to the general messaging to a single demographic. Targeted digital advertising platforms such as Facebook Ads has made this process much easier leveraging the data users provide to provide a more laser-focused delivery.

To conclude, we are undergoing a digital transformation that is affecting how we market and position the value that brands add to the market and to individual consumers. This is forcing brands to question their traditional methods and embrace the opportunities that digital technologies provide to connect with the right customer, at the right time, with the right message.
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Research: Financial advisors improve client retention and increase AUM with digital and social tools

Digital Wealth Management researchAt Hearsay Social, one of the most frequent questions we hear from the financial services industry is this: “What is the ROI of social media?”
Depending on who you ask, there are a few answers. What we’ve seen is that social media ROI is largely qualitative, with a social media presence alone resulting in new business or better relationships with existing clients. Additionally, the ROI for each firm will depend on the goals associated with that firm’s particular social strategy. For many firms, the first measure was growth, connectivity, and having a compliant social presence with little to no infractions.
Beyond that, however, we’ve heard countless anecdotes directly from financial advisors attributing increased business to their use of social media. Backing up these anecdotes, Accenture recently published a report entitled Reimagining Wealth Management for the Digital Age, which explores not only how digital technologies and social media are changing the wealth management industry, but also what results have been seen.
Here are a few of the best results:

  • Over half of financial advisors have found and/or converted clients via digital channels
  • 77% of financial advisors have improved client retention via digital/social tools
  • 74% of financial advisors have increased assets under management (AUM) via digital/social tools

Besides these and other eye-opening statistics, Accenture’s 20-page report analyzes how digital technologies and the new “digital generation” have disrupted traditional ways of doing business in the wealth management industry. Near the report’s conclusion, the consulting firm offers three essential components that will help financial firms, advisors, and their clients find success in the new digital era:

  1. Empowerment: of both client and advisor, building trust by making clients better informed
  2. Engagement: to enable a more collaborative relationship between client and advisor
  3. Agility: of both mindset and business model, to adjust rapidly to the speed of change

To learn more, download the full Accenture report here.
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The future of financial services at the Social Business Innovation Summit

Celebrating innovation, technology and social business, Hearsay Social last week hosted its second annual Social Business Innovation Summit in San Francisco, bringing together executives and thought leaders from across the financial services and technology industries.

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The Social Business Innovation Summit brought together the greatest minds across financial services and technology. Clockwise from top left: John Taft (CEO of RBC Wealth Management – US), Silicon Valley CEOs (from FutureAdvisor, Braintree, and Prosper), Bryan Schreier (General Partner at Sequoia Capital), Clara Shih (CEO of Hearsay Social), and Eileen McDonnell (Chairman, President & CEO, Penn Mutual).

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Hearsay Social President and COO Michael Lock with CEO Clara Shih.

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Clara Shih, Lee M. Gammill, Jr. (Retired Vice Chairman, New York Life, and Advisor to Hearsay Social), Scott Perry (CEO, Bankers Life), and J. Scott Davison (CEO, OneAmerica) at breakfast.

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In attendance were CEOs, heads of sales and distribution, CMOs, and compliance officers, who packed Dogpatch Studios on Thursday morning to network, learn and understand the trends and themes that are guiding how people buy products and services as well as the opportunities and challenges driving financial firms to adapt.

Inspired by the rapid-fire, rousing talks given at TED conferences, the Summit provided those in attendance–and anyone following our Twitter hashtag #SBIS14–a front row seat into the future of technology and innovation and how businesses will survive and thrive.

See below for photos, tweets, and four key takeaways from the Summit.

Social media is about enhancing human capital, not replacing it

Kicking off the Summit, Hearsay Social CEO Clara Shih (@clarashih) shared how client expectations are changing, and technology is altering how consumers make buying decisions. Online sources today are key influencers in each purchase and consumers are conditioned to expect personalized service and an ability to communicate with brand on their own terms and with their own devices.

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Faced with an aging advisor population, the firms of tomorrow need to prepare to serve the next generation of investors and provide the tools to recruit the talent that will serve them. Technology scales and offers the ability to serve those previously unreachable, as it challenges and redefines existing models.

Client expectations are changing, and technology is altering how consumers make buying decisions. Online sources today are key influencers in purchases. Additionally, consumers are conditioned to expect personalized service and an ability to communicate with brands on their own terms, with their own devices, through their own channels.

Chris Andrews (Managing Director, Northwestern Mutual) and Karen Kehr (Financial Advisor, Ameriprise Financial) shared how they are using social media to grow, maintain and serve their base of clients in this new climate. Key to their success was the realization that many of their clients were already using social media platforms to network and connect. A personal and professional presence was a natural extension of their existing platform use, allowing them to convert friends into clients and find new opportunities through organic referrals.

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Chris Andrews (Managing Director, Northwestern Mutual) and Karen Kehr (Financial Advisor, Ameriprise Financial) in a conversation with Gary Liu (VP Marketing, Hearsay Social).

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Eileen McDonnell (Chairman, President & CEO, Penn Mutual) in a fireside chat with Hearsay Social CEO Clara Shih.

Establish a culture of innovation

Founded in 1847 in Philadelphia, Penn Mutual has seen its share of changes, and according to Eileen McDonnell (Chairman, President & CEO, Penn Mutual), the industry is in crisis. By the year 2020, over half of the workforce will be comprised of millennials, and financial institutions need to find a way to connect and add value to these consumers. The changing face of insurance means that firms need to broaden their reach to capture new talent, especially women and millennials.

This means firms need to employ tactical initiatives to address the change by choosing the right partners, embracing innovation, and stop making excuses.

“It’s not an either/or situation. People retreat to what is comfortable to them. It will tweak…but I do believe that there will be a next generation of advisor force that will operate very differently, and they will need to co-exist.” — Eileen McDonnell, Penn Mutual

Although Eileen admits that not everyone will be open to change, the next decade will show us new producers, as well as established ones co-existing to serve the market.

Embrace social influence with a human touch

On the advisor panel, Karen Kehr shared how she uses Facebook and LinkedIn to build brand awareness and connect with the multi-generational clients she serves. Through social media, she is able to connect on a personal basis with clients, getting to know their kids and grandkids, which makes the transition to new relationships and business easy.
Chris had a similar experience: recognizing that the financial services business is about high trust relationships, he understood that the ability to relate and share in similar circles makes it easier to grow a book of business based on commonality. Long gone are the days of using the phone to connect with new prospects and expect any kind of exchange, especially when people are avoiding their phones or not using them at all.

“The old models of calling people worked in the 1950s. The 40-calls-a-day model is now broken.  There is a lot of power in social, lots of information, and we need to keep it personal.” — Chris Andrews, Northwestern Mutual

Social doesn’t just help grow new business, but it also helps retain existing business. People will continue to work with advisors they trust and can relate to, and social makes it easier for people to understand who you are on a personal and professional level. It reduces the intimidation that one may feel working with a financial professional and makes clients feel comfortable and connected.

The dial-and-smile mentality is broken and no longer addresses how clients are making buying decisions. Karen concluded: “If you don’t have a presence, you don’t count.”

Joe Fernandez (CEO and founder of Klout, @JoeFernandez), whose software measures social influence and explores how people buy products and services, expanded on this idea during his presentation.

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Joe Fernandez (CEO and founder of Klout) tells the story behind Klout and the meaning of social influence.

People today don’t pay attention to ads or billboards like they used to, and consumers are using information from peers to differentiate and select products. We listen to our friends, not brands.

“84% of millennial say user-generated content influences what they buy.” — Joe Fernandez, Klout

The leverage and reach provided by social media has increased the power consumers have over brands to influence the perception of products and services. In the post-advertising world, we only care what our friends say, and the power shifts back to consumers. If you don’t recognize the power of the people, you are missing an opportunity.

As an example of one platform that empowers both individuals and brands, Ralf VonSosen (Head of Marketing for Sales Solutions from LinkedIn, @rvonsosen) shared how LinkedIn is helping professionals connect with current and prospective clients, making them more productive and successful.

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Ralf VonSosen (Head of Marketing for Sales Solutions from LinkedIn) talks the future of social networks.

In total, LinkedIn has over 300 million global members representing 300,000 jobs and billions of updates on a daily basis. They have built their platform to focus on three main areas:

  1. Identity: The resume is not as important as it once was when you can now use a digital resume that brings to life your professional background and the ability to create an online brand.
  2. Networks: LinkedIn continues to expand the growth of the network and talent pool available on a global basis.
  3. Knowledge: LinkedIn is quickly expanding as the definitive professional publishing platform, as evidenced by its acquisition of SlideShare, the growth of Groups and Pulse, and the expansion of its Influencer program.

At a high level, LinkedIn continues to define the role it plays in providing value to its members and continues to develop the platform to serve as an Economic Graph–a digital representation of the economy by connecting talent with opportunity at a massive scale and creating a capital of talent.

“The vision is to digitize this and then leverage this capital to where it can be more productive.” — Ralf VonSosen, LinkedIn

For users, this can only increase the value that LinkedIn provides its members, whether they are looking for job, a connection or new talent.

Resist naysayers and embrace disruption

Tapping into its Silicon Valley network, Hearsay Social was proud to present a unique panel of entrepreneurs–Bill Ready (CEO, Braintree, @williamready), Aaron Vermut (CEO, Prosper, @vermooti), and Bo Lu (CEO and founder, FutureAdvisor, @bolu)–who joined the Summit to share their views on entrepreneurship, technology trends in financial services, and how to succeed in the digital era. The panel was moderated by Amir Efrati (Senior Reporter, The Information, @amir).

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Bo Lu (CEO and founder, FutureAdvisor), Bill Ready (CEO, Braintree), and Aaron Vermut (CEO, Prosper), share their view of financial services innovation with moderator Amir Efrati (Senior Reporter, The Information).

Although each business is focused on a unique value proposition, they each share a common theme: disruption.

Whether it’s addressing the underserved masses with financial advisory services, micro-lending opportunities or new payment options, each company is challenging existing business models with ones that are meant to improve efficiencies and client experiences.

This is not unlike what social media is doing in financial services. It would be easy for advisors and firms to ignore the benefits of social media and hide behind the excuse of regulatory or compliance concerns.  As the panel of entrepreneurs pointed out, however, the changing consumer base is wired differently, and technology is making it easier to disrupt existing systems that have yet to evolve, echoing some of the same sentiments shared by Joe Fernandez of Klout and Chris Andrews from Northwestern Mutual.

John Taft (CEO of RBC Wealth Management — US) provided a different perspective on the disruptive challenge these new companies are creating. Like Eileen before him, John recognizes that the next generation investor’s mindset is different and that more established brick and mortar businesses need to adapt to serve this new consumer. But it won’t happen overnight. And not all consumers are the same.

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John Taft (CEO of RBC Wealth Management — US) in a fireside chat with Hearsay Social CEO Clara Shih.

Financial services continues to be a high trust, high touch business that demands a personal relationship. The average age of clients is in the mid-50s and their advisors are about the same. Businesses have been built around the trust that advisors gain through personal connections established at local golf clubs, associations and common interest groups. RBC Wealth Management – US, although progressive in its approach to social, is not looking to address the unseen client market. That being said, they are looking to explore the effect that digital technology is having on wealth management.

John challenged the notion that younger generations don’t like or use the phone because it’s really a matter of where you are in your life cycle. Life gets more complicated as you age, as do your needs. Professional advice is a premium and, the more complicated your life gets, the greater the need to have someone help you navigate through the tough decisions.

To this end, technology is both part of the problem and the solution. Although consumers today have access to more information and are perhaps more confident to make decisions on their own, it’s still a relationship business. Social media provides the avenue for shared values and ideas that ultimately make it easier for people to select the financial professional who is right for them.

Bryan Schreier (General Partner at Sequoia Capital, @schreier) agrees with John that Generation Y is unlikely to abandon their phones once their lives get more complicated.

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In the last session of the day, Bryan Schreier (General Partner at Sequoia Capital) and Hearsay Social CEO Clara Shih discuss the next decade of Silicon Valley with Adam Lashinsky (Senior Editor at Large, Fortune).

Sequoia Capital spends a lot of time listening to college-aged consumers. What they’ve discovered is that this generation has a “lean back” mentality and prefers to see things in their social streams. They are very willing to share — by taking photos, using Snapchat and sharing online. However, they also expect the brands and services to come to them–an important lesson in the high touch and high trust environment of financial services.

Today, in the age of information, strong relationship management matters, and those that embrace technology to scale both new opportunities and maintain existing relationships will have success. There is a premium in offering personal attention and nothing beats face-to-face; in fact, that’s why we hosted the Innovation Summit in San Francisco, not online via a Web connection.

We’d like to thank all of our clients, partners, speakers and panel members for joining us in San Francisco.  And thank you to all of those who joined us on Twitter using hashtag #SBIS14, as well as the Hearsay Social team who made it happen.

At the best companies, innovation is everyone's job: Hearsay Social CEO Clara Shih at #WIREDBizCon

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Hearsay Social CEO Clara Shih and the Hearsay Social NY team.

Yesterday we were proud to have our CEO Clara Shih (@clarashih) join other business and technology thought leaders at the 2014 Wired Business Conference in New York City.
The theme of the conference was “Rethink” because businesses today need to rethink everything. From eCommerce and the arts to architecture and surgical robotics, from repurposing plastic and clothing production to gaming and the social enterprise, no industry or idea can remain stagnant.
We enjoyed seeing all the insights shared by great industry minds, including David Karp (founder and CEO, Tumblr, @davidkarp), Nolan Bushnell (founder, Atari, @NolanBushnell), Lawrence Lessig (professor at Harvard Law School and founder of Creative Commons, @lessig) and Andrew McAfee (principal research scientist at MIT and cofounder of the Initiative on the Digital Economy at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, @amcafee).
Highlights from the conference include:

  • In the “Mr. Green Jeans” session, founders from Parley for the Oceans and Bionic Yarn demonstrated how they’re making jeans out of plastic (i.e. bionic yarn). Using the jeans’ cool factor, they deliver a message of sustainability: retrieve and recycle, reduce and replace.
  • Hardeep Walia (founder of Motif Investing and a friend of Clara’s) demoed his platform, which enables people to invest in concepts and ideas rather than individual stocks.
  • In a special one-to-one chat with Jill Schlesinger (CBS News Business Analyst, Host of Jill on Money, @jillonmoney), Clara spoke about how Hearsay Social empowers financial services representatives with an authentic, trusted voice. She also shared early stories of building the platform’s first prototype with her co-founder Steve Garrity (@stgarrity). Finally, Clara discussed with Jill how an organization’s success hinges on its people: innovation is everyone’s job, from the CEO on down.

Watch Clara’s session here and see tweets from the event below:


https://twitter.com/PalioIgnite/status/466287818965139456

How technology has transformed life insurance: Recap from day one of the LIMRA Annual Conference

Marketing to the masses is no longer effective. In the social media era, insurance companies need to be personal and authentic, and they need to engage customers at the local level.

Bob Kerzner (President and CEO LIMRA, LOMA and LL Global, Inc.) kicks off the 2013 LIMRA Annual Conference.

That was the overarching theme from the LIMRA Annual Conference in New York this week, where Hearsay Social mingled and traded social business stories with customers, regulators, and partners. Additionally, as LIMRA’s Elite Strategic Partner, we were honored to support the event!

Bob Kerzner (President and CEO LIMRA, LOMA and LL Global, Inc.) kicked things off on Monday morning by jumping right into the theme of disruption. From AT&T to Netflix, every sector has been transformed by the rise of technology and big data analytics.

The life insurance industry is no different. Up to and during WWII, death was a daily fear, but that’s not the case anymore. People don’t have an inherent understanding of the value of life insurance like past generations did. That’s not to say, however, that people no longer need life insurance. “Our customers still need our products,” said Kerzner–that hasn’t changed. What has changed is that we need to figure out a way to reach the new generation in the way that they want to buy.

Large companies in other industries, like Coke and NFL, have experimented with technology to approach their customer differently. Insurance companies need to do the same.

Kerzner pointed out that 41% of life insurance sales happen in tandem with a life event (getting married, buying a home, or having a baby). Why not tap into technology to surface those life events, so you can reach out to customers and prospects at the right time? Big data can help in a myriad of ways to help spur sales.

Thankfully, as Kerzner concluded, many companies in the life insurance industry have begun diving into mobile and social platforms, and many are already seeing the benefits of those efforts today.

Mobile and social go together like hand in glove

Another big moment at the conference on Monday arrived when Greg Bailey (conference chair and VP Marketing at Pacific Life, @bigtimemarketer) announced Pacific Life’s new mobile app for producers. Bailey, citing a Forbes study that found 91% of people had a mobile device within arms reach 24/7, said that his organization wanted to capitalize on overwhelming trends that point to the growth of mobile. Pacific Life’s new mobile strategy will help life insurance producers tap into mobile for sales and service.

Hearsay Social COO Michael Lock and Jim Kerley, president of LIMRA Services, at the 2013 LIMRA Annual Conference.

Dipayan Gupta (Director of Social Media Marketing, New York Life Insurance Company), Hearsay Social CEO Clara Shih, Maurice Springer (Assistant Vice President, Management Development, Agency, New York Life), and Stephen Selby (AVP Social Media, Audit, Govt. Relations, LIMRA) at the 2013 LIMRA Annual Conference.

Jim Kerley, president of LIMRA Services, and the Hearsay Social team at the 2013 LIMRA Annual Conference.

Hearsay Social CEO Clara Shih and Erik Qualman, author of Socialnomics at the 2013 LIMRA Annual Conference.