Ethics Center: Sales & Marketing

How to Build an Ethical, Effective Online Presence

If you are genuinely interested in building your business through your online presence, there are a number of steps you need to take. Some are pretty basic and straightforward while others are a little deeper.

For instance, it is understood that you need to keep strong, potentially controversial opinions and inappropriate images off of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Just as these might bring up red flags to a potential employer, they can do the same in the eyes of potential clients.

You need to have a clean background, devoid of any legal troubles. If you can trumpet on your website or LinkedIn page, via something like a Better Business Bureau accreditation or (better yet) a voluntary background check, so much the better.

You have to take measures to protect client information and outline privacy policies so people know whether or not you might share their information with a third party. You have to know how to protect your online reputation in the wake of attacks from disgruntled clients. Your email marketing has to comply with the CAN-SPAM Act.

But there’s a lot more to it than that. To really build an online presence that is effective in generating new business, you need to become savvy in how to build trust and credibility with what you put online.

Aaron Kassover, who in 2009 launched AgentMethods, a website platform for independent insurance agents, has helped thousands of insurance agents use the Internet to grow their business. He points out that while everyone knows the best leads traditionally come from referrals, where you walk into those relationships with a built-in level of trust, it is much more difficult to come by when people stumble across your website from a search engine query or social media link.

“Let’s face it: Without trust and credibility, you’re going to have a hard time making a sale. With trust, your prospects will feel like you are watching out for their best interest and will guide them to the right product or solution,” Kassover said. “Without it, prospects are going to second-guess everything you tell them.”

He said that people used to look out the peep-hole of their front door as an agent walked up to judge their clothes and car before deciding if they would let the agent in. “Today, your prospect never sees you. But they do see your website, your social media presence, and your email. That’s where you need to build trust,” Kassover said.

An advisor without a professional, upstanding online presence is going to lose the race. Even if your prospects didn’t come to you online, Kassover said there’s a good chance they are going to look for your website or your LinkedIn profile to evaluate you and decide if they trust you enough to seek your help. Fortunately, this isn’t a huge challenge to overcome. “Make sure you have a professional website focused on educating your prospects and at least a LinkedIn profile,” Kassover said.

Before you earn the right to quote, he said you need to show your prospect three things:

1. Do you help people like them?

2. Will you guide them to the right solution for their needs?

3. Will you put their needs before yours when helping them?

“If the answer is ‘no’ to any of those, you won’t make the sale,” Kassover said.

So how do you show a prospect you’ve never met and found you online that they can safely answer “yes” to these questions? Kassover recommends these three things:

  1. Content: “Present educational, informative, and engaging content that speaks to their needs. This can be on your website or blog, or can be content you find and share via social media. Don’t be afraid to go ‘off topic’ and share content that is of interest to your audience even if it isn’t about insurance. For example, if you sell to the senior market, you can share content on downsizing your house once the kids leave, holiday ideas for grandkids, or post-retirement travel,” Kassover said.

  2. Community: “Show your audience that you are a member of their community. Look for content to share and interact around that is related to the community that you share. This can be as simple as taking pictures of the fall leaves in your local park or a great new restaurant find in town and sharing them on social media,” Kassover said.

  3. Quality: “Make sure your website represents a high level of design and technical quality. According to a study conducted by IBM, prospects connect lack of quality with a lack of professionalism and training, resulting in their willingness to buy dropping by a factor of 4. Ouch!” Kassover said.

Finally, Kassover provides these four “don’ts” for advisors wishing to create and maintain an ethical online presence that resonates with visitors:

  1. Do not misrepresent yourself or products in any way: “Remember that licensing requirements still apply so be careful crossing state or product lines. And consider anything you do online as advertising—especially if it’s done publicly via your website, blog, or social media. Make sure you follow the rules. I recommend people stay clear of discussing specific products, rates, and benefits online and instead focus on educating and engaging people,” Kassover said.

  2. Do not focus solely on quoting without properly introducing or differentiating yourself: “Too many agents have fallen in love with the idea of putting a quote engine online and heading off to the beach to spend their millions. Presenting a quote engine doesn’t build trust – in fact it does the opposite by teaching your customers they need to ‘go it alone’ and shop solely on price,” Kassover said.

  3. Do not make your website and online presence all about yourself and your needs: “The fastest way to lose trust is to show someone that you are all about yourself. Don’t overwhelm your visitors and social media followers with non-stop sales messages. Instead, find out what content they are interested in and seek to be the one to provide it to them,” Kassover said.

  4. Do not try to copy the large online brokers in their online presence: “By presenting yourself online as a faceless, nameless quote aggregator, you lose out on your greatest strength: you. You are a real person that will spend the time to understand your client’s needs and situation to find the right solution for them. I recommend advisors put their real name, their picture, and their personal bio online so people can get to know them and relate to them,” Kassover said.

You have to assume today’s prospects are checking you out online. If they don’t readily find evidence of your high ethical standards and trustworthiness, they’ll be on to the next advisor before you even start a fact-finder.

Originally published in Advisor Ethics on LifeHealthPro.com on 11/11/15. Reprinted with permission.

For information on affordable errors and omissions insurance for low-risk insurance agents, investment advisors, and real estate broker/owners, please visit EOforLess.com. For information on ethical sales practices, please visit the National Ethics Association’s Ethics Center.