Gathering a myriad of metrics for social media has always been easy because we count, not measure. What’s the difference? Counting includes the number of fans, followers, pins, clicks, reach, shares, retweets and likes. These are vanity numbers which platform vendors and digital agencies have made readily available. Measuring looks at the contribution to business and is far harder to do.

During the “counting era,” we craved fans and followers but insurers don’t really have fans. Beyoncé has fans, the Dalai Lama has followers; insurers have agents, employees and customers, most of whom would described themselves as no more than adequately satisfied.

Then we told to “engage” with our new found fans but to drive up numbers, social media practitioners were forced to focus on platform tactics and games. We learned that consumers have a propensity to click on images of cats so we posted images of Persian longhairs, Balinese and Siberians.

But these crazy carefree days, just like a teenager’s summer romance, are coming to an end. Some insurers have become a little cranky as social platforms vendors restrict free access to the consumer and even have the nerve to ask us to pay for these pointless interactions. As a side note, did you really believe “free commercial messages” were going to last?

The loss of “free” (organic) social reach might not be a bad thing. The reason people got excited by social media remains — a lot of people spend a great deal of time on social media. Now we can throw out meaningless games and techniques and insurers can once again act like insurers; lets be clear — you are not as funny as the Onion, do not have better images than National Geographic or come across as a surrogate for that lost high school buddy.

We can also start to address those growing demands to answer “Where’s the ROI?” This question is not, in most cases, asking for a straight line to revenue. It is more an expression of frustration from those that cannot see the connection between a Persian Longhair and a whole life policy. But fear not, it is possible to engage with the right audience on social media consistent with being an insurer but not everyone.

So what should we measuring? This depends on your business goal of course, but for starters let me suggest:

Advocates Identified. Research shows that organizations with more advocates (people who have recommended the company) perform better in core business results. In financial services, according to the Boston Consulting Group, the company with most “recommending advocates” is USAA. Surprised? Measurements: How do you identify advocates? How can you help them advocate? How many advocates do you have?

Customers Serviced. Experience is starting to trump price in many industries. Apple is a classic example, but insurance is the most logical industry for this to be true. Insurance is about trust, about relationships. Serving customers with information and help 12 to 15 times a year must create a better experience than a policy renewal statement once a year. Measurements: How many customers are you reaching with social media? What do they say about you? What information are they seeking and sharing?

Size of Extended Network. Social media is about people talking to people. Brands are just about tolerated. Insurers need extended networks, and this will be through people. Agents are the logical extended network, but this means putting their social needs ahead of the desire for fans. Measurements: How many agents are actively engaged? What is the effect on the share of business? Are these agents more effective?

Engaged Employees. Employees are a highly neglected network extension and in fact often barred from social media. Employees can be assumed to be trusted by family and friends, and some of this trust will extend to their chosen employer. They will be speaking with potential employees and customers. Measurements: How many choose to listen to you on social media? What information do they pass on? What do they say about working at the company?

Lead Signals. Social media is not about selling — or is it? You cannot sell on social media, but you can find people who are ready to buy. Social media is, in part, a constant stream of life events — new babies, new jobs, car accidents, graduations and retirements, to name a few. Life event analysis is the new cold call. CNN analyzes tweets to identify breaking news stories because despite the hundreds of journalists on staff, millions of people tweeting can be a more effective start point. In the same way, insurers can find people looking for, or needing coverage. Measurements: How many social signals are identified? What are the social signal conversion rates? What policy types generate social signals?

These are just a few examples, all of which would be more valuable than fan counts. In May, one insurer gained 650,000 interactions on its Facebook page, while another gained just six. Which one was more successful? For the counters, the answer is easy, but for the measurers, it is hard to tell. It depends on what they were trying to achieve; in other words, these counts are totally irrelevant. Social media is too big and disruptive to ignore but by focusing on counting, insurers are not making the most of the opportunities.

This blog was posted with the permission of the Customer Respect Group.

Terry Golesworthy, president of The Customer Respect Group, has covered technology issues and innovations in the insurance industry for many years.

Readers are encouraged to respond to Terry using the “Add Your Comments” box below. He also can be reached at terry@customerrespect.com.

The opinions of bloggers on www.insurancenetworking.com do not necessarily reflect those of Insurance Networking News.

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