Many health insurers, wellness firms and benefits communication firms are talking about using Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and probably (if you look hard enough) mental telepathy to reach out to insureds and get them exercise, eat better, and, generally, act like responsible people.

Plenty of insurers, brokers and enrollers are starting to use social media outreach programs to boost sales of traditional individual products and take-up rates for products sold through the worksite.

On the one hand: Social media tools are wonderful things. It’s fun and easy to tweet. Why not tweet to people to remind them to throw their cigarettes away? It’s not exactly an expensive thing to do.

On the other hand: If you’re going to try to “engage the consumer” using social media, it might pay to actually be social and actually want to engage with the consumer.

Let’s face it: What peoplein the health insurance industry mostly want to do these days is stay alive, keep their jobs, keep enough revenue coming in to pay the bills, and not let the Patient Protection and Affordable Broker Terrorization Act of 2010 put them in a federal penitentiary.

The message health insurance people and other business people truly want to communicate in their heart of hearts is, “Save me,” and, “Come on, buy our product, already. Buy it. Buy it now, you lazy bags of bones.”

The more polished message often communicated by corporate default seems to boil down to, “Good morning! We are the Salebot 3000s. It is good to meet you. You will like our health insurance product that costs $20,000 per year, has a $50,000 deductible, and does not work between the hours of midnight and 4 a.m. We have a directory of 500,000 providers, at least 50 of whom actually accept our coverage. It is good to empower consumers. We will empower you.”

Somehow, social media engagement has to dwell in a middle ground between, “Buy our product, you dorks,” “Everything is peachy, just like in 1998, so of course you’ll gladly buy our product, just as soon as you’re done with the office foosball game” and “Run into the basement! 2012 is nigh.”

The middle ground might be something along the lines of, “Times are tough, we don’t have all of the answers, but we’ve been around for more than 100 years, and we’ll try to figure something out.”

Another consideration may be trying to make sure the message you’re trying to convey suits the medium.

If you want to tell prospects or health plan members about a coming storm, or report that you’re stuck out alone in a desert that has good 3G reception, and that you need help, Twitter might be the best medium.

If you want to hire people, LinkedIn might be good.

If you want to comfort people who can still afford to buy insurance but are scared to death, maybe the best social media are live humans who work for the firms their grandfathers founded and sponsor the local Little League games.

Maybe 2012 will be the year when they invent a technology that involves a live human going into a kitchen and (I know this will sound preposterous) explaining a product while at the kitchen table. You never know.

Realistically, of course, no one will pay for kitchen table sales, but maybe this is a good time for sober, simple, honest websites and e-mails, without a lot of hyped-up razzle dazzle.