Progressive Insurance found out this week why every company should do a social audit.

When Kaitlynn Fisher died in a car accident in 2010 she had a policy with Progressive to protect her in case of an accident with an under insured driver. When her family tried to claim on this policy Progressive was not forthcoming. They discovered that they had to sue the other driver to get the claim paid. In order to avoid the payout to Kaitlynn Fisher’s family, Progressive interjected itself into the lawsuit – as a defendant.

Kaitlynn has a brother who is comedian in New York City – Matt Fisher. He has a blog and a following online. Not the biggest following, but a following nonetheless. He has 2500 Twitter followers and his Klout score prior to this storm of comment was 45. That’s enough to take notice. And some of Matt’s followers do have huge followings and lots of influence.

Image from FollowerWonk

When Progressive refused to pay and took the position of a defendant at the trial, Matt tweeted and blogged about Progressive’s actions. Which was predictable. He has a platform and a following. His posts received thousands of re-posts, comments and re-tweets – also fairly predictable given who he is and the analysis of his followers. One of the posts was in and they are very influential. They have over 200,000 followers on Twitter and get about 1.5mm unique visitors a month.

The story moved rapidly into the mainstream media and was reported by The Huffington Post, currently #6 on the top 10 news sites:

“The backlash against Progressive was strong enough that the Ohio-based company felt compelled to issue a public statement on the case. The statement denied Progressive was representing the driver who was ultimately found negligent. And it prompted even further backlash because it failed to acknowledge that, as a practical matter, Progressive’s lawyer was indeed working in court as a third party to combat the Fisher family’s claims.”

The story also appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, NBC, CBS and the list goes on.

If Progressive had done a social audit and they knew the online profiles of their policy holders, in particular the people who have claims with them, I venture to suggest that they’d have done the right thing without going to court. They’ve had to settle anyway, due to the firestorm of opinion. And now they have a PR flap and reputation damage attached.

Do you know who your most influential customers are? Do you know who they are connected to?