The role of social media in the insurance industry is still a source of discussion among industry experts. Yet, results of a survey point to promotion and customer interaction as areas of interest for targeting young adults, men and high-income earners. Mintel Comperemedia surveyed 964 insured adults and found that these three groups are the most likely to already use social media for insurance research and communication.

When asked where they last researched insurance policies, only 4% of respondents said on a blog, online discussion group or social networking site. However, 10% of individuals making between $75,000 and $100,000 a year, 9% of those aged 25 to 34, and 6% of men researched policies on social media Web sites. Moreover, these adults were more likely to say they posted a question on a social networking site as part of their insurance research.

"Adults under age 34, men and those earning upwards of $75,000 consistently reported more usage of and interest in social networking," says Daniel Hayes, VP of insurance services at Mintel Comperemedia. "Because these individuals are already engaged in social media and because they use the Internet more for insurance research, policy management and purchasing, I'd like to see insurance companies start targeting them when creating social networking initiatives."

Only 11% of all respondents said they follow companies on social networking Web sites, but 20% of 25 to 34, and 19% of those earning $75,000 to $100,000, said they do. Younger adults and men also are more likely to say they find advertising on social networking sites useful.

North American insurers only beginning to invest in social media for marketing, sales or service are laggards—many firms began experimenting with social media as early as 2007, according to Chad Mitchell, a senior analyst with Forrester Research, and regular contributor to INN’s Insurance Experts’ Forum.

“Social media isn't a fad for North American insurers any longer,” Mitchell writes. “Insurance eBusiness managers are integrating social media strategies across the enterprise for marketing, sales and service. Liberty Mutual Insurance's Responsibility Project led the way nearly two years ago with a focus on customer experience and branding contributing to Liberty Mutual's highly improved customer experience rankings. GEICO, Nationwide Mutual Insurance and USAA are using ratings and reviews to influence purchase decisions. Allstate's Vehicle Vibe community is trying to lower risk with driver education and safety tips. And Progressive Casualty Insurance effectively uses Twitter for customer service to update consumers in severe weather (e.g., the Georgia floods in September 2009).”

When shopping for insurance, Mintel also found that 35% of 25 to 34 year olds, and 30% of those earning more than $100,000, said they prefer the Internet to an agent. This compares to 23% of all respondents.