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Tying Progressive’s Social Media Mistakes to Payers and Providers

August 17, 2012
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A lesson in what NOT to do on social media

If you’ve been following the news this week you’ll know that car insurance company, Progressive received a ton of heat from what can only be described as a public-relations nightmare.

In summary, Progressive, the company you likely know best from those commercials that star a character named ‘Flo,’ tried to avoid paying a large sum to the family of one of their customers, Katie Fisher, who died in a car accident. Even worse, it appears, Progressive actually helped defend the person who was responsible for the accident in court (something the company is attempting to dispute).

After receiving a $25,000 settlement from the person who caused the accident— which was low because he was underinsured, the victim’s estate looked to Progressive for an additional sum. Since Katie had a clause protecting her in case of an accident with someone who is underinsured, her family figured Progressive owed them the remainder of her policy. Instead, Progressive attempted to pay less than the remainder of the policy, two-thirds less, according to Fisher’s brother, Matt, whose blog post is an in-depth look into the story from the family’s side.

Since Progressive wouldn’t budge on the settlement and there is a law in Maryland preventing someone from suing an insurance company when it won’t pay up, the victim’s family sued the other driver. If they could prove his negligence in court, they would receive the sum they desired from Progressive. Long story short, the driver was found negligent by a jury and Progressive agreed to settle with the family. End of story, right? Wrong.

The story is disheartening and fascinating at the same time, but it was what happened next that really grabbed my attention. Once Matt’s blog went viral, Progressive was getting a plethora of vitriol from the Internet community via Twitter and Facebook. How the company responded, or didn’t respond, is lesson for every provider and payer in healthcare when it comes to engaging patients.

For every person who reached out to Progressive through Twitter, the company robotically distributed a statement about the case through the TweetLonger feature. The statement read as followed:

This is a tragic case, and our sympathies go out to Mr. Fisher and his family for the pain they've had to endure. We fully investigated this claim and relevant background, and feel we properly handled the claim within our contractual obligations. Again, this is a tragic situation, and we're sorry for everything Mr. Fisher and his family have gone through.


Naturally, the robotic response did not sit well with the public. As is the case when it comes to engaging the public on social media, people are going to call you out if they don’t think you’re a ‘real person.’ Having covered this emerging facet of life over the years, I can tell you responding like a real person should be lesson number one when it comes to social media, for any company.

The bad publicity Progressive was receiving only multiplied after the automatic responses. Finally, later this week, the company got the message, and at this point has tried actually giving real responses to people, rather than a robotic statement. However, it may take some time for the company to shake the bad PR that came out of this incident.

I think if you’re a provider or payer, and you’re trying to build up a solid social media community, you’ll read this story and think twice about ever giving a robotic statement on any platform. The story is about Progressive, but you could easily substitute a health insurance company or a provider.

The healthcare community is still struggling to engage patients through social media and the ethics and privacy questions that come about are still very prevalent. It’s clear, however, that the answer to engaging patients is not through robotic distribution. The answer is also not having your organization looked at like it’s some faceless, heartless corporation.

For a few examples of providers that have used social media successfully check out a recent HCI story on Jeff Livingston, M.D., a partner at the Irving, Texas-based MacArthur OB/GYN, and this blog on St. Louis (Mo.) Children’s Hospital.

I would love to hear what our readers think of this story, and how it applies to healthcare. Leave comments below.



thanks for the post, Gabriel!
I am starting my own firm, and things like this may come in handy ,
it seems like there is a lot i don't know
bookmarking your blog!
(my work converting wmv to mp4)