Humana leverages tech-savvy employees to build network of 3,000 advocates on Twitter and other social media — in just one year

A year ago, the Louisville-based insurance giant had already signed up 90% of its 50,000 employees to an internal social network, and 40-45% logged in at least once a month. That’s when it decided to encourage the most motivated ones to share approved articles about the company, plus other health-care news on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other networks outside the company, AdAge reports today.

Employees use the hashtag #HumEmployee to make clear they work for the company. To launch the program, called Humana Advocates, the insurer hired Dynamic Signal, a Silicon Valley company that builds employee advocacy systems. The pilot program started with a couple hundred staffers, rising to 500 by January. Since then, the number has jumped to 3,000.

Dan Gingiss

The system shows a list of approved articles for users to share. But most of it “isn’t directly Humana-related, because we don’t want employees to look like shills for the company,” Dan Gingiss, Humana’s head of digital marketing, told AdAge. Most of the content is about health and wellness, some of which is created by Humana itself, with the rest from third parties.

Humana’s effort is only the latest example of how companies are fiercely competing for market share by harnessing free social media technology, where hundreds of millions of current and potential consumers spend more and more time. Twitter says some 313 million people use the short-message platform each month. The figures on Facebook are even higher: 1.7 billion, including 1.1 billion every day.

KFC bucket of chickenAmong Louisville companies, the battle is especially strong among restaurant giants that compete for young customers who practically live online: Yum’s troika of KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell; pizza colossus Papa John’s, and steakhouse chain Texas Roadhouse. On the public-relations front, companies also need all the help they can get from employees to burnish their image when bad news spreads online.

The chains have recently pushed back against headline-grabbing behavior from employees themselves. Last month, Texas Roadhouse fired a waitress who joked about killing Mexicans on Twitter after she didn’t get tipped at a restaurant in Greeley, Colo. She later apologized after a Facebook user reported her Tweet.

Taco Bell fired an Alabama cashier after word spread on Facebook she’d refused to serve two sheriff’s deputies. Taco Bell apologized, and one of the deputies, Terrance Moore, told a TV station: “With the way society is today, everybody is living their life via social media.”

Humana social no-no’s

Going in, the challenge was to make sure Humana didn’t run afoul of federal laws, such as HIPPA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), according to AdAge. Employees also aren’t allowed to post about Humana or correct someone else’s incorrect post about the company; they have to contact the social media or corporate communications team.

Not surprisingly, Gingiss, the digital marketing chief, is super-active on social media. He’s posted 15,500 Tweets since joining Twitter in December 2012, and has 10,600 followers. Humana itself has 28,600 followers.

On Twitter right now, Humana staffers using #HumEmployee have tweeted about a Humana Foundation grant to the Catch Program of Austin, which seeks to improve child, family, and school health:

Another employee’s more generic post encourages people to be patient when trying out a healthier lifestyle:

There are plenty of posts on Facebook using the same #HumanaEmployee hashtag. To be sure, some predate Humana Advocates, including one where an employee in late 2013 wrote, “This is what I do at work. Don’t judge,” over this photo:

Humana pretzel pile

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