It is difficult to pinpoint the first time that Web 2.0 played an active role in mainstream politics – some point to Howard Dean’s US presidential campaign or Barack Obama’s election campaign.
Outside of the US, the Iranian government’s battle with protesters in 2009 and 2010, culminating in the banning of Gmail on February 10, 2010 because people were using their Gmail status bar to share their political views and plan mass gatherings – may come to be seen as a watershed moment.
Twitter and Facebook, other Web 2.0 phenomena – have been growing in prominence. Their use in sharing views and building a groundswell of discontent, has led to services being restricted.
Over the last few months, governments in North Africa have disrupted internet services because they have identified the risks of these new found powers to organise from the ground up. The treatment of Wael Ghonim, a Google executive, is insightful. The Egyptian government, in trying to manage the message, blindfolded and detained him for 12 days, yet, on release, he was welcomed and celebrated by the protesting masses.
What does this political reflection on technology have to do with insurance companies? Insurance companies spend fortunes on developing their brands and yet negative, damaging, publicity can spread easily and quickly in cyberspace. In the UK, customers are able to vent their feedback in online forums, such as www. MoneySavingExpert.com.
At the time of writing, there were more than 20,000 life insurance discussion threads, and some of the threads have had more than 200,000 views. Some aggrieved customers have taken to this bulletin board and posted their side of their stories. At times, their positions can be one-sided, and insurers do not necessarily get fair hearings.
But these trends can be turned to a company’s strategic advantage. MiWay – a South African insurer – has been proactive in its use of social media, using it as a way to burnish its reputation as being the insurer with impeccable service levels.
Parts of its advertising campaign have been designed to draw people’s attention to its customer service ratings, as reported on industrywide consumer forums.
The Egyptian government tried to use the technology itself and forced some mobile operators to send text messages to their customers.
Political historians will discuss the extent to which an SMS sent out on February 2 rallied Mubarak’s supporters but will economic historians be writing about the companies that were killed off by customer service practices that tried to stop the tide with brand-building advertising campaigns?
Do companies need to address their practices and avoid sales and service practices that are out of sync with mass-market sensibilities and which can be pounced on and spread like wildfire in cyberspace?
What are you doing to manage your message? Are you going to be proactive? Some of your competitors certainly will be.
David Gulland is managing director at RGA Re UK