It Took Bravery, Total Commitment, but Social Media Is Working for Wellpoint

How One Company Is Getting It Right

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Americans want to be healthier, but our way of life often gets in the way.  When you get healthier, your friends and family actually get healthier, too, giving you a whole new reason to take action. Research shows that a person's chance of becoming obese rose 57% if a friend becomes obese. Conversely, a person's likelihood of quitting smoking increased by 67% if a spouse quit.

In short, our health connects us.

That insight was tailor-made for social media, but the idea of a two-way conversation with consumers was fairly new terrain for the health-benefits industry, which has taken its share of knocks over the years. As VP-marketing for Wellpoint, I knew it would be easy to follow the conservative marketing path that our industry has traditionally embraced, but in this case traditional marketing alone wasn't going to get us the results we were looking for.

As a marketing team, we found ourselves at a transitional moment -- we needed to be where consumers were and where they would expect to see their trusted brands live. We could have easily opted to shy away from a medium in which today's customers readily talk back (not necessarily positively) and speak up when and how they want to.

But we didn't. Instead, our affiliated Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield health plans, with the help of our advertising agency Deutsch Los Angeles, have embraced social media in a significant way over the past year. And while it has not been an easy task, the results have been well worth it.

Our team created a multimedia effort that looked beyond traditional advertising to use social connections to spread health in a meaningful way. The idea that our health decisions create a ripple effect with those we interact with spurred the creation of our footprint calculator. With it, a consumer can calculate their health footprint by answering some basic questions, and the calculator provides a score that shows the measure of their positive health influence on others. They can also post it to their Twitter feed or Facebook page and get tips for getting healthier that were achievable and shareable.  This became the core idea that pulled it all together online to create a meaningful social engagement when consumers went to We then extended our brand's presence into social-media properties with additional meaningful content based on this core idea.

To do all of this, we needed total commitment from the entire company. And there were many questions to be answered by every group, especially legal. Yes, there will be negative posts.  No, they will not be taken down. Yes, people will ask questions about their coverage and about health reform. And there will also be positive posts, the ability to learn of issues that can be responded to quickly and there will be sharing. 

One thing that I am particularly proud of is how the different teams within the company came together to take on social media. I knew early on that our legal team would need to be our partner in this endeavor, and by working closely with them, we assuaged concerns that could have become roadblocks to success, which truly made all the difference. We also looked to 12 fellow Association of National Advertisers' members to share their experiences in this area, which proved to be a great resource as we designed our plans.  Internally, we felt it was important for a social-media policy to be created for our associates to ensure that everyone was on the same page and a companywide social-media steering committee was developed, allowing us all to work together and importantly learn together.

As we searched for ways to build out conversations with consumers and members, we looked for a voice that would resonate and create discussions.  Bob Harper, the trainer from NBC's "The Biggest Loser," signed on to be our social-media collaborator. Through his presence on the Anthem Facebook site, a co-marketed Twitter site (@mytrainerbob) and viral videos, our message was spread.  He encouraged his followers to calculate their health footprint and offered healthy tips on how to be successful in growing that footprint. When he asked people to follow him on a 10-Day Boost program, our followers readily accepted the challenge.

Not only do we now look at marketing in a less traditional way, we also look at our results in a new way. Old math would have looked at visitors to our websites (which were 380% above our goal) or member retention (which is up significantly), but new math looks at social-media stats, such as an increase in fans -- 50% Facebook fan growth in the first week of our 10-Day Boost program. And we have 18 times the Twitter followers than our five biggest competitors combined. Completion rates of our footprint calculator are 30% above average. Our YouTube views grew over 50% in the fourth quarter of 2009 alone.

And there are so many meaningful conversations that have taken place. Yes, there were negative wall posts that we left up. But there were also brand loyalists that rose up and spoke for us. We have followers helping each other with tips on what is working for them and supporting each other in their efforts to get healthier with really encouraging posts when someone shares a success.

The risk in embracing social media seemed high when we first set out. Our competitors weren't active in this area so there were no comparisons. But as a marketer with a strong team you trust, and the confidence that you are doing something that will ultimately make a difference in people's lives and make our brand meaningful, really meaningful, you go for it. It's a risk I'm glad we took. When I see posts like one from a follower who shared that she was putting our tips to good use and had lost 34 lbs. in seven weeks, I can't help but feel proud of what we're accomplishing together.

Kate Quinn is VP-corporate marketing at WellPoint.
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