Social networking is by far the biggest technology trend to hit the market in years, and even the normally culturally insulated insurance industry is not immune.   Looking at the proposed sessions for some of our upcoming industry conferences, there is no shortage of discussion about this topic. Insurance entities see social networking technology as the key to a potentially new marketing channel, and they want to know how it fits with their mission and goals.   While much has and will be said on this question, it also behooves us to take a look at the technologies as they have played out in order to determine just what this phenomenon is, and why it should—or should not—merit our attention.   Pear Analytics conducted one study I found very instructive. According to the analyst’s Web site, it decided in August of this year to analyze the “tweets” or posts on Twitter. Pear took 2,000 tweets from the public timeline over a two-week period, then categorized them into several “buckets”: News, Spam, Self-Promotion, Pointless Babble, Conversational and Pass-Along Value.   The result, the analyst said, was that “pointless babble” was the winner with 40.55% of the total tweets captured; however, Conversational was a very close second at 37.55%. Pass-Along Value was a distant third at 8.7% of the tweets captured.   How interesting. Why, I wondered, are people falling all over themselves to share with the rest of the connected world their mundane activities? Never mind that most of us don’t care if someone is stuffing their face with a greasy calzone at 1:34 p.m.; why do people feel a need to publicize such, well, pointless babble? It seems to me that the only situation in which such nonsense would be tolerated is within a family—and that is perhaps the most important aspect of these findings.   The family is one of the institutions that has taken a royal beating in this modern era. The number of two-parent families has shrunk over the past few decades, and even in those that remain, we often see both parents working (sometimes multiple jobs) to the point where time with family is little more than a wistful fantasy. The family interactions that once nurtured, instructed, reassured, amused, vexed, entertained and connected us are few and far between. Instead, social gurus point to the rise of “communities,” which are enabled by technology, and that are touted as providing the sense of closeness that many families now lack.   The problem with that idea, however, is that you can’t put your arms around a tweet, a Facebook posting or an e-mail. Instead of promoting warmth and human connection, social networking technologies function as a showcase for a lonely, disaffected populace that is yearning for the most basic of human needs. Social networking outlets are not a bad thing, but they do reflect the sad state of human relationships in this era.   Bringing that back to our question of social networking technology for insurance, we have to ask ourselves whether our commercial messages—no matter how veiled—will be meaningful and helpful to the lonely masses who are crying for connection on Twitter and other sites. The obvious answer is that social networking for business needs to be in a different place than social networking that meets—however poorly—emotional needs.   Social networking technology belongs in insurance and in many other areas, but crossing the line between business and relational needs is a tricky passage that could just as easily backfire on commercial entities. I understand the excitement of tapping into a new marketing channel, but tread lightly. This article can also be found at InsuranceNetworking.com.

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