One thing is for certain in these changing times, social media is a force that cannot be ignored. In February 2010, Facebook reported that over 175 million users logged in on a daily basis. Social media is fast, user friendly and allows us to mix business and pleasure. A recent post on Sterling McKinley’s blog, “Social Media is Not Going Anywhere,” states that social media is changing the way people communicate. According to Sterling McKinley, Facebook and Twitter mimic real life and are wildly popular because they appeal to the masses.

Since public adjusters are in the business of helping people, having a presence on various social media sites can make an impact on your business. Insureds get their information and share their information though sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Linked In. Anyone can post a question, start a topic of discussion, or find your business by posting on a social site. It might take a few seconds or a few minute,s but almost instantly the user has various answers posted from people the user “knows,” trusts and values. When it comes to needing help with an insurance claim, insureds are likely reaching out on social media sites. When something goes wrong, people tend to want to talk, text or type about their problems. Public adjusters need to make their services visible on social sites to help clients find out about their services. Social networking and social media sites are an easy way to spread the word about public insurance adjusting.

Also, satisfied clients who hire a representative and then post about their positive experience hit a large a demographic of people who might not otherwise learn about the work of a public adjuster.

In addition to being a tool to get business, social media outlets should also be considered by public adjusters who are assisting policyholders who have an ongoing claim with an insurance company. The public adjuster should remind policyholders that the postings they share with “friends” may also be reviewed by the insurance company. When trying to learn more about a person or a claim, insurance companies are “googling” the names of their insureds and easily seeing profiles and postings that give an inside glimpse into a claimant’s personal life. Personal photos posted on social media sites are often intended only for friends, but they eventually make their way public. Sites have different privacy settings for photos and typed postings, and a user may be unaware that they are required to perform an extra step to secure photos from public view.

The February edition of Claims Magazine explains more about social media in an article called “Speaking Of: Social Media Intelligence.” This article acknowledges that claims investigations do include an inside look into the policyholder’s life via social media:

Increasingly claims professionals and attorneys (among others) are turning to social media to conduct research for their investigations. Whether the intended purpose is to examine the validity of a claim or gauge the veracity of a plaintiff, investigators are finding new ways to leverage the information accessible on sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Information obtained from social networking sites can provide useful material used to attack the credibility of a person or it might provide an investigator/ adjuster a closer look at the insured’s personal life. Browsing profiles may allow an investigator to learn what motivates, scares, or pushes the insured’s buttons before ever meeting your client. It is naïve to think that an insurance company is not using this information for its benefit. Of course, policyholders are often frustrated during the claims process when the process seems to take too long or the policyholder begins to realize that they may not be getting the all the benefits of the policy. Posting negative information about the insurance company’s actions or just spouting off on a public site will not help get a claim resolved and may give the insurance company a negative impression of a otherwise model policyholder.

If you think that insurance companies are not cyber-investigating policyholders, I encourage you to look at another article in Claims Magazine. “15 Questions to ask a Claimant about Social Media Usage” provides a detailed list of questions for insurance investigators to ask insureds about their social media usage. However, just as interesting as the article, are the comments posted about cyber-sleuthing.

One comment said:

I utilize internet [sic] sleuthing in claims investigation but hadn’t thought about some of the other resources you suggest. I like those suggestions but question the "Ask the Claimant for this Info" approach. Unless it’s something that may sought via subpoena later, I don’t want to give the claimant any indication we’re cyber-sleuthing. He/She may then do something like set privacy settings in Facebook, instead of having pictures and info available for people to see, which hurts rather than helps.

In response, another comment was posted that explains that if an insured changes information on a social site, it is a red flag for the insurance company:

There is always a risk that, by asking cyber-screening questions early in the investigation, the claimant might be tipped off; however, without having the claimant’s identifier information it is often impractical for insurers to perform a timely and effective open-source cyber investigation. Social networking data almost always can be obtained later by subpoena, if the claim goes to litigation. The insurer’s discovery request for production of this data should include all changes that have been made to the website, which can also provide useful evidence. The insurer can also seek discovery of the data even earlier, during the claim investigation, in an examination under oath.

While many may have thought of cyber investigations were being reserved for auto or workers’ compensation claims, property adjusters are taking advantage of the social media storm too.