The Empathy Evolution – How Insurance is Using Social Media to Connect with People


When disaster strikes, insurance companies need to react quickly to answer questions and address concerns from victims, and to help initiate the process of assessing claims for coverage under insurance policies, but it’s not always easy. Connecting with consumers to quash concerns and complaints proved to be difficult after the 2013 floods in Alberta.

“From a communications perspective, we were caught a little flat-footed,” said Steve Kee, Director of Media Relations for the Insurance Bureau of Canada in the webinar, Fort McMurray Wildfires: A Social Media Case Study. “That changed dramatically this time around.”

What was different between the horrendous 2013 floods in Alberta and the devastating fires that ravaged Fort McMurray earlier this year? Mr. Kee emphasized that it had to do with major changes in how people gathered their news.

A Changing Media Landscape

“We began to see what I call the pendulum swing,” he said. “When I joined the IBC in 2011, most of my role was to be around traditional media.” Informing the public of the latest news, educating survivors on insurance processes and arranging help to be given to those who needed it most – all of this was done through centralized media outlets via newspapers, television and radio.

As time went by however, he saw people move onto new platforms. “I found that overtime, we were noticing a shift in how people were getting their news and information – and that shift was that more people were getting their information on social media.”

Instead of having to rely on a central source of information, how did the IBC reach their clients and communicate with them? The first step was making sure that everyone on their team was well-informed. “We established what was called internally as a EIRP – Emergency Incidence Response Plan. This was the IBC way of coordinating all the right people for frequent meetings,” said Mr. Kee. “We gathered one, sometimes two, times a day, seven days a week for the first 48 days after the fires.”

Tackling Complex Cases as a Team

Working to rebuild Fort McMurray required a diverse set of skills. That’s why the IBC had to coordinate a way to ensure that all Insurance professionals, in direct or indirect contact with the victims were fully able assist them. “We had people on the ground, embedded in response centres, legal, underwriters, policy people – everyone involved that could make decisions, so we could put out news and information and do so quickly and efficiently,” he said.

Along with equipping their team with the right support and information to assist survivors, the IBC made sure to engage with clients on social media. “Today, three-quarters of our activity goes into social media and monitoring the impact that we have there,” said Mr. Kee. “For example, if people are commenting in a Facebook group about a particular issue, we’ll try to address it there.”

They also create messaging and materials around the questions people ask on social media so when journalists ask for a response, they’re fully prepared. “When traditional media outlets like the CBC get on the phone, we have the answer and we’re aware of that,” he said. “We see that light in the tunnel, the train is coming and we’re then ready to be able to jump out of the way and deal with it as it happens.”

Responding to Disaster with Empathy

Knowing what is being talked about on social media and responding to it before it reaches the national stage has been key to steering dialogues about Insurance in a positive direction. “It helps to dictate the story rather than to just respond to the story,” he said. “For people who are familiar with sports – I always talk about how it’s better to be on offence than on defense. Now defense is fun, you get to hit people and stop them, but in offence you move and you score.”

Sometimes, talking to clients on social media leads to a much deeper conversation. Andrew Bartucci, Manager of Digital Communications and Social Media at the IBC once sent a Facebook message to a client who had made many angry comments about the insurance industry during the Fort McMurray fires. After asking if she wanted to speak and talking on the phone for two hours, he was unable to increase her insurance coverage or provide additional benefits to improve her situation. But he witnessed a dramatic change in her demeanor. “At the end of the day, she felt validated,” he said. “She felt that her concerns were being heard and she appreciated it.”

Listening to Consumers as an Industry

And analyzing thousands of posts on social media from clients has confirmed the same. Above all, clients want their Insurance professionals to extend an empathetic ear. “The need to connect with consumers on a deeper level is a trend that’s happening across all industries,” said Mr. Bartucci. With so many conversations happening online, it’s only human that clients want to be heard by the companies they are talking to. “We pay not with money, we pay with attention,” said Mr. Bartucci. “And if a company that we’re giving attention to, isn’t giving us attention back, we don’t like that company – it’s just subconscious.” This is why both Mr. Kee and Mr. Bartucci agree that the most important job of Insurance professionals, is to be human.

Especially when disasters like the fires of Fort McMurray strike.

“We have to express empathy,” said Mr. Kee. “To understand where they’re coming from and provide our side of the story without being condescending.”It’s the driving force behind the IBC, during the fires of Fort McMurray and beyond. “The important thing that we have learned and that we continue to work on is what we call the expressions, moving from impressions to expressions,” said Mr. Kee. “Having conversations. That is how we as an organization, as an industry are helping people.”

Interested in learning more about the Insurance industry? Check out the Insurance Institute’s career resources page, Career Connections for more information!