Insurers should take to social media to combat negativity


Jim O'NeilIt's time to face the facts--the American public dislikes health insurance companies. And that's putting it mildly, considering that 70 percent of all opinions and comments about insurers posted on social media sites in the last year were negative.

Private health plans, including Aetna and Kaiser Permanente, incurred the most wrath, with only 9 percent of comments showing favor toward Aetna, according to a new report from social media analytics service Amplicate. The company analyzed public tweets, Facebook posts, and comments on its own website between September 2010 and August 2011. Social media users posted 2,311 opinions on health insurance companies in the last 12 months, and those opinions were shared more than 632,000 times.

The negative comments are due "in part because people don't always feel empowered by their insurers and by these government changes that might affect their insurance," said Lisa Gualtieri, an assistant professor at Tufts School of Medicine who studies social media.

And if you think your decision to increase premiums has little bearing on public opinion of the industry, think again. Negative comments for insurers hit its peak in January, with only 15 percent of comments being positive, exactly when many health plans were trying to raise rates despite the failing economy.

People often turn to social media to air out complaints, and news events like the rate hikes can serve as a trigger for it, Gualtieri told Kaiser Health News.

Fortunately, it doesn't have to be all doom-and-gloom for insurers. The lessons learned from all this negativity? Create a social media policy and then get out into the social world and establish a strong, positive presence. Tweet some healthful recipes, post exercise tips on Facebook, make announcements on Google+.

Whatever your specific strategy, though, make sure you monitor all social media sites for comments made about your company and then contact the poster to try and resolve the problem. Even if you can't fix the particular issue, say because someone is griping about the lack of universal health insurance, you'll have made an effort to connect with the public, which over time just might change their perception of the industry. - Dina (@HealthPayer)