Object-oriented programming, CRM, SEMCI, straight-through processing, SOA, cloud computing … the list of hot topics in the insurance computer technology world seems endless. Then again, if we didn’t have some titillating tech topic to talk about, what would we do for education sessions at our conferences?

At various times and in various places, all of the above examples and more were considered the thing—the critical technology/methodology that insurers had to have in order to stay ahead of the technology curve and—most important—to keep pace with their competitors. Interestingly, most of these technologies have become part and parcel of the systems we build for insurance and financial services—important and useful, but in the end, not the panacea many had proclaimed them to be.

The latest item to hit the insurance tech griddle is social media technology. There was plenty of hubbub about social media at the recent ACORD LOMA Systems Forum, and at IASA there were two sessions dedicated to the topic. In one of those sessions, moderated by yours truly, panel member Mike Sciole, CIO Burlington Insurance Group, Burlington, N.C., asked a key question: “Are we only talking about social media because there’s nothing else to talk about?”

My panel members responded in various ways, attempting to justify our topic, but now that I think back on it, no one mounted a serious defense. I had to agree with Mike’s idea that maybe we were talking about this topic because we really didn’t have anything more interesting to opine about. If that’s true, then another question begs to be asked: “Is social media a really important issue for insurance enterprises?”

The answer, I believe, depends on who you are.  If you are your company’s chief security officer, social media is extremely important, because—as some of our panel acknowledged—social media websites are the new favorite stomping grounds for hackers, cyber-criminals and other no-goodniks. On the other hand, if you are the average employee at an insurance company or brokerage, social media may only be important in that you want to check your Facebook account while at work (The security risk is some else’s problem, such folks mistakenly tell themselves.).

If you work in your company’s legal department, social media constitute a huge risk class, in that the law has yet to be determined on topics such as whether or not a company’s social media posting constitutes an official statement, contract, etc., and who is liable if there is a problem. You’d probably prefer to let some other companies take the hits and establish the case law before you approve venturing forth on social media campaigns.

Maybe you’re an insurance marketing executive looking to get any edge you can in the war of information. In that case, social media looks like a dandy new channel that can give you access to customer populations (ostensibly the young and privacy-challenged) that you would otherwise not reach. Again, the security and legal risks are something that “someone else” needs to deal with.

Overall, this naturally fractured view of the value of social media is the very reason why we must talk about it. The conversation needs to focus on the good of the company as a whole—instead of the benefits or threats to this or that part of the operation.

Of course, I think I see Mike’s point. Eventually, we will reach a place where social media has been helpfully integrated into our enterprise and our consciousness, and it will not be any more controversial than any of the other hot topics that have burned their way into our hearts and minds. Until that happens, however, the conversation must continue—whether or not we have anything else to discuss.

This article can also be found at InsuranceNetworking.com.

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