In last month's Tech Talk I demonstrated how the internet was being used by people to overcome the Mushroom Management Approach some insurers have to customer relationships. This month I want to look at how to turn those same sites to your advantage.

Newsgroups, chat rooms and bulletin boards are the places where people with a similar interest share information. There are plenty to choose from, whether it is a serious discussion on legal issues or light-hearted conversations about whether Willow would beat Buffy in a vampire slaying match. Companies such as Egroups (now part of Yahoo!), Excite, Ecircles and Multicity have created businesses out of giving these people a place to go.

Finding discussion forums relating to insurance is pretty hard. As an industry, insurance is fairly technophobic and paranoid, so open discussions about developments in products or services don't tend to happen.

But insurance is a topic often discussed in car forums, and you might also come across stories in the UK legal forum. You need to be in these places, mixing with customers and offering advice. But don't rush into thinking the 200 people using the forum all want to read an advert from you now. Spamming forums will get you ignored at best, kicked out of the group at worst.

Almost as bad is offering inappropriate advice. You are unlikely to offer much value in a discussion on “parent with child” parking spaces, but a discussion on buying alloy wheels might present the opportunity to mention how car modifications impact insurance policies.

These discussion forums are like their real-world counterparts. When a group of people are talking about a topic they are likely to find someone who interrupts with a “that's what I do – can I sell you something?” remark annoying and after a while will just ignore them.

You need to balance the “waiting game” with the traditional marketing “call to action”. Conversations that go along the lines of “if you need more help, give me a call” can also apply to the internet – they can get your details from the virtual business card.

Joining in discussions with your future customers can seem scary at first. But with time and practice you can rediscover the essential role the insurance professional had to play in the local community – only your community will be an online one.

  • Ross Hall has compiled a short list of online communities which can be obtained by emailing