How Transamerica rebuilt its social media presence

The company’s team was tasked with rebranding the channels owned by two subsidiary organizations, TAN and TFA. The effort won a PR Daily Award for Community Engagement. 

Do you know what your audience wants on social media?

That was the crucial starting point for the Transamerica social media team in late 2018, when took over the channels owned by two subsidiary sister organizations: Transamerica Agency Network (TAN) and Transamerica Financial Advisors Inc. (TFA). 

To understand what they were dealing with and how they could make the most of these social media assets, the team decided to do an in-depth audit of all Transamerica online channels.

“We had never managed those pages,” says Nils Thorson, brand strategy manager at Transamerica. “We had viewed from an ‘Are they on brand?’ perspective, but we had never really delved into those channels at all. So if we were to take them over, we wanted to make sure that we did our homework, that we approached this in the best possible way from an information perspective.”

The first step was to understand the complete picture of Transamerica’s social media presence.

Thorson says the team wanted to know: “If I am a financial professional, or a consumer for that matter, searching on any of these channels for Transamerica, what the heck am I going to find? Is it an easily navigated situation? Is it just a jumble of stuff?”

What the team discovered was a hodgepodge of owned, unused and fake accounts that called for immediate action.

“There were all these channels that we found that were branded as if they represented Transamerica, TAN or TFA,” says Thorson, “and clearly we don’t have 140 accounts that are actually us.”

The team had to do more digging to find out whether the channels were legitimate, abandoned or underdeveloped. “Some were offices that weren’t branding themselves correctly,” says Thorson. “Some were fakes; some were bots. We just cleaned up the ecosystem.” 

It was the perfect opportunity for the team to pare down the number of platforms it was keeping tabs on. “We realized we still had Google Plus pages going,” says Thorson. “We realized we still had Pinterest pages going. We made sure to delete those.”

The second part of the audit was to better understand the social media landscape and to take stock of the competition.

The team wanted to understand whether other companies had sub-brands (like TAN and TFA) and how Transamerica’s affiliates could outperform them. 

“We then interviewed agents,” says Thorson. “We surveyed the agents within each of these organizations … to understand … if we are going to be sending social content their way, what is it that they want? What channels are they on? What do they not care about? What do they worry about when it comes to social? What do they love about social?”

By fully investigating its audience, Transamerica learned how it could best serve the people it wanted to reach.

“To me, it’s all sort of an exercise to better understand your audience,” says Thorson. “It is all tangential to an account-planning approach. We want to understand the motivations and the desires of the agent and the advisor, and the user experience of the agent and the advisor.” 

He adds: “If we can make things as easily navigated and as clear-cut as possible, that of course makes things easy to use, but the more we can focus on [our audience], the less we will simply regurgitate best practices. Best practices are good, but every audience is unique.

“The more that we can really get down to the ground level and start form there—put the agent and the advisor mindset first—the better chance there is going to be that what we develop is actually strategically developed and tailored towards them, instead of just a generic approach to social media.”

A key discovery 

When it performed its audit, Transamerica found it had a unique position it could exploit to offer unprecedented value to its audience.

“With the competitive audit, we learned that we are the only one of our competitors that offers this level of specialized content,” says Thorson.

“That’s good and bad,” he adds. “It’s daunting because when they go to, say, Nationwide, they are going to go to really only two ecosystems of accounts. When they come to us, we’ve got brand level (Transamerica), we’ve got sub-brand level (TAN and TFA), and then TAN has office level after that.” 

For the Transamerica team, this presented an opportunity to get specific with each account. 

Thorson says: “We thought this was an excellent opportunity for us to provide really tailored, purposeful content, but it was also an opportunity for us to muddy the waters. So understanding the purpose behind each account, the differentiation behind each account, became a really high priority.”

Transamerica could offer highly specific, regionally targeted content, but it had to maintain a highly organized structure to make sure the right messages reached the intended audience.

Educating stakeholders

Transamerica also learned that agents and employees were avoiding using social media because of concerns about regulation and compliance.

“They love social media, but compliance is really scary,” says Thorson. “So what does that mean for how we can help them approach it safely?

“We learned that certain demographics were entirely off social for those reasons,” he adds. “We knew we could prioritize speaking to certain offices that had those demographics.”  

To address the lack of organizational knowledge around social media, the Transamerica team created an educational program to teach agents and subsidiaries how to use online platforms in their work. 

Thorson says: “We developed something called Social Media University, so agencies and advisors can take ad hoc courses totally at their pace, so they can learn how to use social media effectively, where compliance comes in, everything from step-by-step screenshots for how to set up an account to advanced advertising and lead generation tactics.” 

Content that delivers

The Transamerica team learned that its audience wanted educational content and video—and that switching the format could escalate engagement and sharing.

Team members strove to create dual-purpose content—to educate themselves and their clients. “That became a whole pillar,” says Thorson.

Video production was drastically ramped up. “TAN/TFA accounts might have posted one video every three months. I have monthly content goals,” Thorson says. “We want to publish three video pieces a month.”

By choosing a video or a graphic, the Transamerica team could influence its audience of agents to either engage with or share the content.

“We found that for the TFA audience on LinkedIn it did not matter what the content pillar was, but it was actually the media type that drove behavior,” says Thorson. “They loved to ‘like’ videos, and they loved to share graphics. So if we want them to consume something, we put it in video form. If we want it to be shared out, we will put it in graphic form.”

Communicators can copy this model by testing their own content for engagement and shares and coordinating their messages accordingly.

Metrics that matter

Transamerica has a proprietary way of evaluating its social media content. The team goes beyond metrics such as shares and “likes” toward more qualitative measures, so it can understand the kinds of messages that might trigger action.

This approach requires careful monitoring and development of tailored qualitative tags to identify different communication tactics.

Thorson explains: “We use six or seven different qualitative metrics that we manually tag each post with so that we can use pivot tables to try to find that exact recipe of, ‘When we talk about this particular content pillar, if we do this qualitative thing and this qualitative thing and avoid this one, that’s the recipe for success.’”  

The team endlessly A/B tests and tweaks its campaigns with these tags, helping to identify effective tactics and methods.

Tallying comments 

That doesn’t mean that counting “likes,” shares and comments is a waste of time. One of the most important metrics for Thorson—and one of the KPIs he is most proud of—is “comments per month.”

In the 2018 fourth quarter, just before they took them over, “these two channels combined saw eight comments a month,” he explains. “Not a very healthy ecosystem, and [our agents] weren’t very educated about what they can and cannot do, and so they were probably afraid to comment.

“By both creating content that they’ve told us that they want to see and content based on the data analyses that we do, as well as educating them on how they can use social media,” the team quadrupled the comments in the next quarter and skyrocketed them to more than 100 in the quarter after that, he says. 

This focus on comments reveals Transamerica’s commitment to creating a valuable online community for its audience of agents and customers.

Something that significantly drives community building is offering a platform for recognition and celebration. “We’ve created social media awards to congratulate people within each agency,” says Thorson, “and they are nomination-based awards.” 

Audits are for everyone

When asked if he would recommend a social media audit to other companies, Thorson admits that his organization had unique challenges it sought to rectify, but the knowledge his team gained from the exercise would prove invaluable to any organization.

“Any form of advertising is a balance between art and science,” he says, “but we have so much data available to us that for me, to ignore the data and therefore ignore the science, is not setting yourself up for the most success.”

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2 Responses to “How Transamerica rebuilt its social media presence”

    Ronald N. Levy says:

    Newspapers and TV stations are seen as favoring one party or the other, so social media is where today’s public policy fights may more easily be won or lost. Yet incredibly, even huge armies are making huge blunders online in how they fight!

    One of the best examples whether you like or dislike Trump is how his side fighting calls for impeachment based on his asking Ukraine to investigate Biden and Biden’s son.

    WHAT TRUMP IS SAYING is that he—Trump—is not guilty of improper pressure on Ukraine. Not surprisingly, Trump’s opponents say he IS guilty so the public is left to wonder whether he is guilty or not.

    WHAT TRUMP SHOULD BE SAYING is a much easier case to make, that Biden’s SON is guilty. Everyone agrees that Hunter Biden was paid $50,000 a month to be on a Ukrainian corporate board of directors. Was this because Hunter knows so much about the Ukraine business or because his father was America’s Vice President? Trump people should demand “an honest answer” from Pelosi and her allies.

    When an accused in a public policy fight argues his guilt or innocence, public opinion splits: the verdict of some people will be guilt and others will believe there is innocence. So a criminal defense lawyer at trial argues not just whether the defendant is guilty but whether the PROSECUTOR is guilty of violating the constitution and the defendant’s rights, “the rights each one of us deserves.”

    Result, the jury is left to consider not just whether the defendant is guilty but whether the prosecutor is guilty. If even one juror out of 12 suspects maybe it was the prosecutor, the defendant has a much-improved chance.

    In the same way if the only Biden-related question facing the American public is whether Trump is guilty, woe is Trump. But if the question of whether young BIDEN is guilty—and he faces all kinds of drug and other charges in addition to being paid $50,000 a month without a defensible reason—does Trump in that argument have a better chance?

    In every public accusation situation, the PR reality is that which side wins will be determined not just by arguments on each side but on what PR wisdom shows the question to be: not WHETHER there is guilt but WHO is guilty.

    PR reality favoring you if you use it: Online you can often make this case beautifully no matter what the issue you are facing or what the accusers are claiming. Repeatedly you can improve your side’s chances of a win by arguing not whether your side is guilty but whether the accusers are guilty. Since almost no case is stated perfectly, almost always you can show that in truth, the accusers are guilty of SOMETHING.

    Online more than in older media, it is easier for you to win.

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