Driving Communications with Social: Q&A with American Family Insurance

Earlier this week, we asked Pat Miller, Corporate Publications Manager with American Family Insurance, to share her company's social success stories (wow, that is a tongue twister!) with everyone as part of our NewsGator Webinar Series. As we expected, her story resonated with the Webinar attendees and they ask a lot of great questions. Pat wasn't able to answer them all during the session, but was gracious enough to answer them in this blog post. We separated them by category so they are easier to peruse. Feel free to ask more questions or add comments for Pat!

And in case you missed it, click here to check out the on-demand version of her webinar.


Can you please elaborate on the business value that your senior management team believes Compass and Connections brings to American Family Insurance?

Our social media efforts got under way after we applied for the Fortune Best Places to Work award several years ago. We were not named to the list, so we began looking at the companies who were on the list to see what they offered that we did not. One thing we found was that many companies on the list had active internal social media programs. And other research showed that companies with these programs tended to have higher overall employee engagement scores.

That was our initial driver. Overall, the benefits we’ve seen include:

  • Two-way communication. Employees can start conversational topics, ask questions, and share opinions. Executives can respond or ask questions themselves.
  • Collaboration. Employees and agents can connect with anyone in our 19 operating states and get information and perspectives that they otherwise would not.
  • Engagement. Employees generally like being able to interact at work using tools similar to those they may use in their personal lives.
  • Transparency. Communications on these tools are less scripted and more conversational than other official communication channels.
  • Less email. We have a ways to go, but we’ve been able to take some lower-interest subjects that we were sending emails out about and transfer those updates to Connections – usually in a community. Then, people interested in that topic can follow the community for updates and everyone else no longer gets email that doesn’t interest them. We’re not perfect by any means, but we’re moving in the right direction.

How does the site help agents do their jobs? Can you share any specific anecdotes?

So far, it has helped agents get questions answered when they might not be sure exactly where to go. For example, here are two conversations between agents and corporate headquarters about our external social media policies:

The benefit of this is that other agents see the answers too, not just the one who initially asked the question.

Fear of Socializing

Was your executive team concerned about productivity loss from colleagues "socializing?"

Yes. Initially some of our executives were worried that these tools would take people away from their primary focus – their jobs. Talking points we used with them were:

Everything employees do on these tools – commenting, liking, sending a Shout-Out, posting photos or videos or links, etc. – has their name attached to it. So if someone is spending so much time that their work is impacted, we have a record of what they’ve done that could be used in a coaching conversation.

  • There aren’t that many opportunities to waste time. Our tools don’t have gaming options like Bejeweled Blitz or Farmville. Even if employees used each of our tools once or twice every day, it would only take a half-hour at the most.
  • These tools also have a great business value. They can help employees find information they need to do their jobs faster, encourage collaboration, dispel rumors, suggest ideas, and offer instant feedback on decisions. They also contribute to employee engagement.
  • We addressed this issue in our corporate social media guidelines which are linked to each tool. It says, “Have fun, but don’t forget your day job. We want you to use these tools, but not so much that they interfere with your daily work.”


How long did it take (after approval) did it take to implement the tools?

Our first round of tools – comments on articles, the blog, the Shout-Outs and the glossary – took about 1.5 years from approval of the initial concept to rollout. That’s because these were built from scratch so we had to come up with the business requirements and figure out how to connect them to some existing systems they needed to interact with and then test the heck out of them. And while we were doing this, we were still going around and selling other work areas on the idea and its benefits.

Our second phase – "Connections" using NewsGator Social Sites – took longer to get executive approval for, but once we had approval was much easier to implement. It already existed, so we just had to get clearance from our IS security area and do some minimal testing before we could deploy. That probably took three or four months.


How many people were involved in implementing this from a change management perspective?

That’s an interesting question. We have a change management area, but they were not involved in this project – they tend to focus on bigger, broader topics. Our communications team handled the promotion and much of the education about the tools. We had two people develop the plan and oversee its execution. We probably had eight other people involved with various aspects of executing the plan whether they led training, worked a booth, talked to an executive or wrote job aids or educational articles.

How large is your “social” team at AmFam?

Managing our social tools was taken on by my Corporate Publications team of six people. We added this in to our existing duties, with everyone doing a little bit. We had initially hoped to add one full-time position to administer and oversee all our internal social efforts, but that didn’t work out. I would say if you added up the amount of time everyone spends on it, it would equal one full-time person. We have also had folks in other areas of Communications with a strong interest in social ask to be involved because they were so excited about the tools. I have taken on quite a bit of the promotional work for getting new users. That’s the one part that I probably underestimated in terms of the time and training that would take.


Is there every any overlap between Compass and your public-facing social media efforts?

Our public-facing social media efforts are led by our Digital Marketing campaign. We don’t have a formal connection, but we stay in close touch with that group and often will cross-post items that would appeal to internal and external audiences.

In Compass, is the news all internally-based or do you post links to external news stories?

Most of the news is internally based. We occasionally post links to external news articles if they are about American Family or about an issue that directly impacts us. We’ve also gotten permission to reprint a few external articles that positively featured our employees or agents. Those are always very well read and commented on.


Are you using spheres as well as communities? If no, why not? If yes, how is adoption going?

Not yet. We discussed it, but thought our overall audience wasn’t there yet. We decided to get them up-to-speed on the social media basics first – tagging, the @ symbol, how to upload a photo -- before venturing into spheres.

Do you have a large number of inactive communities? What is your policy for deleting or archiving inactive communities?

We review our communities every 90 days. If there are communities that have had no activity in those 90 days, we contact the community manager to see if the community is needed. If it’s not, we will take it down.


Can you elaborate on your mobile goals going forward and how you address security concerns?

Ideally, we would like agents and employees to be able to access Compass and our social media tools from their mobile devices with a single sign-on and have functionality that is very similar to what they’d see at their desk. We aren’t there yet. We’re still working to find a way to do this that our IS security team endorses. And, it’s complicated because of the wide variety of devices people have. But this is our field’s most common request, so we are continuing to have discussions and explore options to persevere.


I would like to thank Pat again for taking the time to share AmFam's social journey - their successes and future objectives - with all of us! If you have more questions for Pat, be sure to post them here. Also, mark your calendar for the next webinars in our customer series - one with Merck on October 11th and the next one with Oakley on November 1st.


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