My colleague here in the Experts' Forum recently asked the question everyone has been thinking, but too afraid to ask out loud: “Are we only talking about social media because there’s nothing else to talk about?” (Actually, it was originally Mike Sciole, CIO of Burlington Insurance Group, who dared to ask the question—Ara was channeling it. But I digress.)

Many times in the past, there should have been more voices raised to ask if the emperor was wearing any clothes. A classic case: the dot-com era, where everyone seemed convinced that the values of dot-coms would keep appreciated forever. No one spoke up and asked how and why a purveyor of 20-some websites had managed to achieve a greater market cap than GM.

Ara points out that a lot of the “in” topics of yesteryear—object-oriented programming, CRM, SEMCI, straight-through processing, SOA, cloud computing—are simply part of our daily business lives, and therefore no longer exciting fodder for industry panels, sessions and trade journals. Therefore, many have latched on to social media because it's so new and cool—and not necessarily because it delivers value.

Ara believes that social media can deliver value to insurance operations, but the risks need to be addressed as well.

In my view, the debate over social media is a continuation of the same important debates and discussions that have been taking place since the 1990s.

Internally, social media is about collaboration, which has been an important and unresolved topic for at least two decades. We've had systems for knowledge management, content management, workflow management and every other kind of management, but few really seem to hit the sweet spot for creating one mind and one purpose that can guide consistent, repeatable decision-making.

Externally, social media is about channel marketing, which has also been near the top of the list for decades. The Web is clearly an important gateway for customer interactions, and social media helps enhance the ability to turn it into two-way conversations. As David Weinberger and his co-authors famously pointed out in The Clue Train Manifesto, “markets are conversations.”

So, “are we only talking about social media because there’s nothing else to talk about?” I believe we've been talking about the issues social media seeks to address for some time now. We now have a new means and methodology to add to our toolboxes.

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