Except for one, glaring, jarring surprise, it was likely the best social media session I have ever attended at a conference. Moderated by Helen Knight, the power behind the Paduda throne, Business Insurance’s Roberto Ceniceros and MedRisk’s Tom Kerr squared off on the good, the bad and the ugly in social media.

And the jarring surprise? Turns out I was the ugly. I’ll get back to that momentarily.

In our industry, these sessions usually are comprised of a panel of attorneys, who always seem to focus on social media and its potential use in fraud investigations. These sessions almost exclusively seem to focus on this new medium as simply a benefit in risk management, as well as a potential risk in and of itself. These guys, presenting at the WCI conference in Orlando, mixed that up.

Ceniceros started off as the bad cop, with more traditional warnings of the potential problems social media can present. Still, he presented as a reporter, with real life scenarios and strategies designed to help the company caught in a viral situation. He definitively did not sound like an attorney drafting a 456 page document on Social Media Risk Mitigation Strategy. He presented actual workers’ comp stories, generally involving denials of claims that caught fire online because of the emotional quotient involved in the back story of the injury. His message, at least my interpretation of his message, was this: “Do the right thing. And in the world of social media, a perfectly legal thing may not always be the right thing.”

Ceniceros talked extensively of “brand damage”, and the costs associated with delaying or fumbling your response to a viral issue while your company image is flushed down the toilet (my words, not his). His point, that in certain situations such as he presented, it would be wiser and less expensive to just pay the claim and protect the brand, was excellent, and should be noted by the industry.

Tom Kerr, on the other hand, presented a “good cop” view of social media, and went into an extensive review of how companies can leverage this area as both a service and marketing tool. He touched on various systems and entities such as LinkedIn and Twitter, but Kerr’s big focus was Facebook for business. He discussed setting up a business page on that service, noting the hundreds of millions of people on that network. He gave great information and ideas, and stressed (again, in my humble opinion) the most important aspects. Keep the info current, relevant, relatively non-promotional, and PAY ATTENTION to what happens there. To not do so is worse than not doing anything at all. Kerr offered that statistics show over 80% of feedback on Facebook is positive in nature, and it offers businesses an unparalleled opportunity to address and resolve negative comments.

This is a great forum for engaging with and growing your audience.

One of the examples he used showing how his company leverages Facebook was their “Got A Minute?” interview – a sort of man on the street interview they conduct at various conferences and events. He played a couple such interviews for the audience. One of them was Mark Walls, VP of Claims for Safety National and founder of the Work Comp Analysis Group on LinkedIn. Unfortunately for me, the other one was mine. I’ve done a lot of video work on my own website over the years, and am fairly comfortable with the concept. Still, I am not particularly comfortable watching people while they watch me – and there, suddenly on the big screen in front of Helen Knight, God and everybody, there I was.

Add to that the fact that I shot this with them last year, and I have lost almost 50 pounds since it was recorded. Tom pointed out to everyone that I was in the room just before the video started, and I think people who looked at me and then up to the screen must have been thinking, “Good Lord, the camera adds more than 10 pounds! How many cameras did they have on him?” Up on the big screen I came, all 270 pounds of me, looking like Jabba the Hutt, blathering something about the future of workers’ comp, recovery management and technology. Looking back, I probably shouldn’t have been holding a Tootsie Roll during the interview.

Yes, I definitely was the face of ugly in social media at this session.

Bottom line: If you are going to jump into social media, have a specific set of goals, and a plan developed to support it. Engage your audience with a compelling message, monitor the comments, acknowledge the compliments, and affirmatively respond to the complaints. After all, social media is, at its core, a communication medium.

I know many companies are reluctant or even afraid of engaging it for fear of negative comments or feedback from customers.

Here is a clue. Social media is here. Negative comments, if they are to be made, will happen whether you are participatory or not. I would suggest that if you are that concerned about what your customers are thinking, you damn well better start listening to what they are saying, and responding to their concerns. Simply ignoring the obvious won't make it go away.

But I don't want to focus on the negative aspects. Kerr is right. The potential to reach new customers and engage them in your message is huge, and yet largely untapped. Social media should, and must, be embraced. Even for an industry steeped in caution and adverse to risk, the benefits far outweigh the any downside that may be present.

And that, my friends, is the good, the bad, and of course, the ugly on social media and workers' compensation.


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