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Facing Fears Part II: Personal Information Makes Me Nervous

11/13/2009

In the Facing Fears Series we’re tackling the things that make independent insurance agents nervous about using social media. Feel free to chime in: What are your fears about opening the agency up to social media? What makes you nervous? 

The fear of a Personal Information leak or breach is nerve-racking for an independent agency. Massachusetts is still wrestling with the Data Security Regs that will affect all businesses soon. No one wants their name in lights over a personal information breach. I get that.

When talking about social media in insurance agencies there seems to be a two-pronged fear about security issues. One side is worried about the IT-related aspects of computers viruses, firewall breaches and phishing attacks, but the other side is worried about the interactions exposing  sensitive personal data on a publicly viewed page. Both are valid concerns.  Both can be dealt with in part by educating users about the platforms themselves.

I am not an IT guru (I bow down to those who can successfully explain this stuff to me) so I can’t get heavily into that aspect. I would love to be able to find and point our membership to some helpful resources in that area.   However, this idea that agencies are too afraid to start using these tools because someone might post something sensitive is a little bit like throwing the baby out with the bath water.

People hold their personal data pretty close these days and most of the social media interactions you’ll have don’t or won’t involve it. And remember, you are connecting with people who use these 3rd party sites already.  A moderately savvy Facebook user understands to some degree, that anything posted there is public. I doubt you plan to release quotes through Twitter or obtain health underwriting information on a Facebook wall. You’ll be doing all those things via your regular channels on the phone, through your email system, or in person.  The difference is that you might make a first connection via Twitter or use Facebook to invite people to an Agency Open House or charitable function.

How to ease the fear? Before opening the social media floodgates, the job of the agency will be to set some written guidelines for use. (And in this case I don’t mean hire a lawyer to write your policy – as much as I like them). Write in plain language and clearly spell out what types of communications are acceptable and how they should be responded to. Make sure the users know that personal info is off limits. Be clear about what constitutes general v. personal. Create a spot on profile pages that reminds people never to share personal info over in “public spaces” and to never share password information. Utilize the security settings on each site you use, maintain strong passwords and change them regularly (just like you do with your email). In this area, a little education goes a long way.

Are you breathing easier, or do you disagree?

Some Resources to creating a Social Media Policy:

Some Corporate Guidelines   

Chris Brogan on Etiquette   

A List of Social Media Policies

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