There has been a lot said about the impact of social media on business, especially since it is the fastest growing medium for marketing and corporate communications we have seen since the advent of the web itself back in the mid 1990s. (It’s hard to believe that just 15 years ago, there was no World Wide Web, but there you have it.) Not everybody is sold on social media, though. One executive I spoke with writes off Facebook as nothing more than a colossal waste of time, and even a director of communications told me that Twitter was just plain “stupid.” Such opinions notwithstanding, however, the rest of the world has taken to social media with a vengeance. The numbers speak for themselves: if Facebook’s 500 million users were the population of a country, it would be the third largest in the world, after China and India, and ahead of the United States.
The life and health industry is taking notice, too. At the 2010 Social Media for Financial Services Seminar held on Sept. 21 by LIMRA and LOMA, experts discussed the vast potential of social media and the importance of figuring out how to harness it. “Social media is the bullet train that has left the station,” said Kip Gregory, a principal of the Gregory Group, who spoke at the seminar. “With Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn membership at 800 million accounts and growing, participation isn’t optional. Companies must incorporate social media into their overall business strategy in order to be competitive now and in the foreseeable future.”
So, what to make of all this? It is one thing to insist that savvy companies take advantage of social media, but what can it really deliver? The parallels to the early days of the Web are pretty clear, as everybody can see the potential, but not everyone has managed to take full advantage yet. But there are signs of life if you know where to look for them.
Take, for example, the ongoing “Retirement Reality Show” web series by AXA Equitable. This is a clever campaign of using reality-style interviews with everyday folks to get their unvarnished thoughts on retirement. The first episode polls people on Wall Street, where professionals are asked about their retirement needs and how much they are meeting them. The answers speak to a general under-preparedness for retirement. Which, to be honest, one expects, since it wouldn’t serve AXA’s interests to show off a bunch of people who wave at the camera, smile and say “I’ve got my retirement sewn up, thanks.” The episode then takes a trip down to the Jersey Shore, where folks on the Asbury Park boardwalk speak out about how much they have saved and what they could (and in some cases, should) have done differently. Again, the testimonials are predictably in favor of more retirement planning than less, but the reality here is that AXA probably didn’t have to work that hard to find these people. Industry figures point to a chronic lack of retirement planning, especially once people started cashing out 401(k)s and other savings vehicles to pay down personal consumer debt while the market was tanking. And who could blame them? Better to take a hit on taxes and eliminate $25K in credit card debt in case your job evaporates than to keep that around for a retirement most people don’t think they’ll ever get to enjoy, anyway.