Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Is the Good Hands community a bad idea?

Regardless of your hobby, profession or even your belief system, these days it’s easy to find a group of people just like you. Go to online community organizer Ning and you’ll discover over 1 million communities, for everyone from sand volleyball enthusiasts to landscape architects to supporters of the Kwam Um School of Zen.

Now it seems more and more companies are getting into the act, especially those focused on the Gen Y market. From game maker Xbox to the Vans shoe company, companies with true-blue followings have created thriving online meeting centers where the devoted can exchange ideas, discuss products, solve problems and even schedule meet-ups.

But while social communities can work for some brands, it definitely feels like a stretch for others. So upon learning that Allstate had joined the fray with its Good Hands Community, I was skeptical. After all, who wants to join a community sponsored by an insurance company?

Yet, even before looking at the site, I saw how it might work—if Allstate didn’t stray too far from its core area of expertise, insurance. The Good Hands site could be a place where customers could engage with agents on insurance issues, from making sure they had the right coverage and deductibles to learning how to adapt policies to life changes like a new car, new house or new baby.

But the folks at Allstate appear to have set their sights on a much wider mandate. As the Good Hands Web site states, it’s a community where you can “share your thoughts with others about hopes, dreams and challenges. Together you can share ideas about keeping families safe, saving money and preparing for what’s next”. (Share my hopes, dreams and challenges?)

The community home page feels a little more down-to-earth with menu categories that include “Making a Difference”, “Daily Spending” and “Personal Finance”, and discussions on “helping others” “stay-cations” and “living debt free”. It’s all well intentioned, but the topics feel a little off-base for Allstate and better suited for the Peace Corps, AAA or Capital One respectively.

For auto insurance policy holders, there is a category on “All Things Wheels”. But I can’t seem to find any discussions on auto insurance, as posts are concentrated on issues like checking my oil, being alert at the wheel and hybrid automobiles. How about helping me figure out how much collision I should carry on my 8-year old Saturn?

The other thing that doesn’t feel right is there is not an insurance agent to be found on the Good Hands site. You see, the chief bloggers and hosts of the community are Allstate employees Ben and Amit who are both identified by the title “Strategy and Content Manager”. No offense guys, but I think Allstate policyholders would prefer to communicate with honest-to-goodness insurance agents.

So overall, a kudos to Allstate for the effort. It’s a nicely designed site that really is trying to engage with current and potential customers. But let’s not forget, you’re an insurance company. And with so many potential communities for people to join these days, it feels like Allstate may be stretching its good hands a little too wide.

Final note: For a company that does an online community right, check out Intuit. Its Intuit community connects customers with small business owners and features discussions hosted by Intuit-sponsored business professionals. The Intuit community keeps the focus where it belongs: helping small businesses succeed.

This blog entry was previously published June 29, 2009 on Loyalty Truth.

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