Insurance industry executives have been slow to embrace social media tools such as Twitter and blogging in their professional lives. Jack Salzwedel is a notable exception.
Salzwedel, the chairman and CEO of American Family Insurance, said he began tweeting a few years ago. (He is @AmFamJack, if you want to say hello.) He said it helps him follow the news, share company news, make new friends and connections, and maintain old ones.
Salzwedel’s blog (www.jacksalzwedel.com), launched in 2013, has become a deeper way for him to share insight on leadership and generate discussion both in and outside the company.
Carrier Management Editor Mark Hollmer wanted to know more about @AmFamJack and his wide use of social media as part of his job. Below are Salzswedel’s detailed responses to questions submitted on the issue.
When did you start tweeting?
A few years ago, when Twitter was pretty new to everyone, I spoke with one of our communications interns about it. I was not familiar with Twitter but wanted to learn. It seemed to make the most sense to me as far as a social communication platform. At the time, social media was quickly becoming something our employees, customers and other leaders were embracing and using to share ideas and talk to each other every day. It’s only grown since then. I was ready to jump in. I’m really glad I reached out for help and have had support along the way.
How did you come up with your handle @AmFamJack?
Our company Twitter handle is @AmFam, and it made sense to just add my first name after that. I’m pretty informal on Twitter, so being “AmFamJack” feels right. What’s interesting is we have several other employees and agents who have adopted similar Twitter handles—starting with AmFam at the beginning followed by their first names. It’s kind of our thing.
How often do you tweet, and why do you tweet?
I try to tweet regularly—daily—if my schedule allows it. There’s always something going on that’s worth sharing, commenting on or engaging with. I enjoy staying on top of what’s happening in the world. Twitter provides a quicker pulse of news and information. It saves me time because I don’t have to go to numerous locations to find news or relevant information. News breaks on Twitter, and it’s usually happening there first.
I also like the ability to connect with new people and make new friends and connections through social media. It’s one of the more fun parts of my day when I comment on an employee’s favorite new book or movie that just came out. This is how you build deeper connections with people.
Most insurance CEOs (and many in other sectors) don’t take the time to tweet. Why do you?
When you lead a large organization, social media is one of the best ways to engage your people—especially if they’re spread out across the country or globe. Employees value seeing their leaders more regularly. It’s a pretty easy way to stay connected and make face-to-face engagement even more valuable. Social media also supports a CEO’s critical role in being the face and in many instances the voice of the brand. Leaders—especially CEOs—are missing a huge opportunity by skipping this important and vital role!
Should other insurance industry CEOs tweet?
Yes, they should. In my opinion, being on social media is table stakes for today’s leaders—no matter the industry. Being active and engaged is the most important, not followers or retweets. Decide that you’d like to actually do this, get some help and go for it. Start by talking about and engaging with folks interested in topics you’re interested in. But you probably don’t have the time to be on top of all those topics. So get some help finding and developing relevant content that you can tweet. Find the time. And, find your voice.
What kinds of items do you tweet?
I have some areas of interest I focus on, like innovation, technology, leadership, culture and strategy. But I also talk sports, politics and share some things about my family. I also believe Twitter is a great place to shine a light on the great things my company is doing—and recognizing the folks behind that work. So, you’ll see me highlight employee and agent service anniversaries, news about our company, our brand ambassadors, and other company-related news. But I also listen, and I use that as an opportunity to engage with my people, with our customers, with our communities around a wide variety of topics.
You also maintain a blog. When did this start?
I started blogging in 2013. I wanted to share longer thoughts about the things I’d been tweeting about but also dive into some of the issues facing my company, our communities and leaders in general. I’ve expanded into LinkedIn, which provides a fairly powerful blogging platform.
Why do you blog, and what kinds of items/issues do you blog?
Blogging—and now podcasting—give me the ability to get beyond those 140 characters in Twitter and tackle topics of interest at a deeper level. This is especially true with leadership, something I’m passionate about. As an organization, we use blogs and podcasts—some of which only our employees and agents can see or hear—to break down complex issues and topics in our growing enterprise. They can supplement more traditional communication tools and generate healthy discussion and engagement across our enterprise.
How important are social media tools such as tweeting and blogging to a CEO’s job?
They’re important. Social media enables critical, skip-level relationships that can help bring information to CEOs that wouldn’t necessarily be able to skip upward. Not everything leaders learn about employees translates to traditional forms of communications either. Social media helps fill in crucial gaps and provides me with additional and valuable insight into who I’m leading, what they’re thinking and how they’re feeling about things. It provides them a direct line of communication to me. That’s valuable for both of us and for the health of our enterprise. At American Family, this syncs with our increasingly more open and collaborative culture. We describe this collective spirit through a hashtag: #OneAmFam.
What advice would you give CEOs in the industry looking to increase their use of social media tools such as tweeting and blogging?
Get help and get started. One or two communication tools is not enough anymore. You need them all, including social media. It can be the most effective and efficient way to reach a wide and varied audience. That doesn’t mean you need to be everywhere. Twitter works for me, but maybe Facebook or LinkedIn makes more sense for other leaders. Embrace the changes that are happening. If you’re uncomfortable, get comfortable with the rapid pace of change. I find the digital transformation of our world mirrors that of our business world. There’s opportunity to learn as well as contribute.