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Stop The Social Media Metric Madness!

A Snarketing post by Ron Shevlin, Director of Research at Cornerstone Advisors

Oh, those social media fanatics are good! They’ll twist any number they can get their hands on to make social media look good, won’t they? 

According to a  Social Media Today article titled Can Financial Services and Social Media Co-Exist and Succeed?:

“Securian Financial Group, a Minnesota-based insurance and financial services company forged ahead with a social media pilot program that generated some compelling results.”

According to the company’s communications manager, “We picked a topic, ‘Long-term goals need a long-term partner,’ that was representative of our brand and comfortable for our compliance department. We hired a small crew, walked to a local park and conducted spontaneous interviews.” 

The interviews became a series of four videos which were posted on Securian’s YouTube channel, and promoted on the corporate Facebook and Twitter pages.

According to the article, the campaign strove to: 1) Increase Facebook “Likes” by 25%; 2) Increase Twitter followers by 15%; 3) Build brand recognition for Securian; and 4) Promote Securian’s commitment to helping people reach their long-term financial goals.

The company’s Facebook page likes rose 27% to 571 and Twitter followers increased by 19% to 191.

My take: Compelling results, my ___.


The insurer got about 120 new likes (if they started with 451 likes, an increase of 120 = 27%), while Twitter followers grew from about 160 to 191 (a 19% increase). I’m not calling anyone a liar (or maybe I am), but it seems pretty fishy to me that the actual results were 27% and 19%, respectively. How did Securian determine that likes should increase by 25%, and followers by 15%?

I don’t think that Securian had any idea how many likes and followers they would get. If you haven’t done this kind of thing before, how could you possibly predict the results? Do other insurance companies publish the results of their social media experiments to provide a guide for other insurers? Of course not.

I’m also trying to imagine the conversation that went on in this company:

Social media ninja: “Hey, I have a great idea. Let’s interview some average people about insurance, and put the videos on YouTube. I think we can get 100 Facebook page likes and 25 new Twitter followers if we do this. We have $2,500 in our social media marketing budget. We can use that money to hire a camera crew. “

CMO: “Great idea. Syncapse says that the value of a Facebook like is $136, and Clickz published something saying that the value of a Twitter follower is $2.50. So if we get 100 new likes and 25 new followers, and invest $2,500, the ROI will be about 447%. “

I think we both know that this wasn’t the way it happened — in fact, the Communications Manager at Securian is quoted as saying that they went into this as an experiment. 


I’m not knocking Securian, here. They have $850 billion of insurance in force, $35 billion of assets under management, and 10 million clients. They can afford to throw $2,500 into creating some YouTube videos without any expectation (or calculation) of a payoff.

But I’m willing to bet that Securian doesn’t know if its efforts have paid off already or not.

After all, exactly who are these people that liked the Facebook page? Are they existing customers? Prospects? Betcha Securian doesn’t know. 

I do hope, for Securian’s sake, that they’re from one of the two categories above, and not something else. Like employees.

A few years back, Washington Mutual beat its chest in press releases that, within 48 hours of launching a Facebook page, it had a couple of hundred fans.

At the time, I snooped around and found that at least three-quarters of those fans were affiliated in one way or another with the ad agency that did the design work for the bank’s Facebook page. So not only were these fans not worth $136 to the bank, but in essence, as a vendor to the bank, they cost the bank money.

(Which reminds me of this: If the ROI of social media is not going out of business, and WaMu invested in social media and still went out of business….oh, never mind).


What we have here is Social Media Today looking for an example of a financial services firm doing something with social media, and spinning the results to make them look good. So they can say “See? Social media really works. Honest it does.”

But it doesn’t pass the test of scrutiny. Thirty-one new Twitter followers is not a “compelling” result. I get that many new followers each week, not by shooting videos, but by shooting my mouth off. 

The problem here isn’t simply the use of vanity metrics. It’s the lack of a marketing measurement infrastructure.

If Securian’s social media efforts are truly driving brand awareness and affinity, how is it measuring that — regardless of the channel used to drive those objectives?

And how does brand awareness and affinity drive number of qualified leads (after all, insurance isn’t bought, it’s sold, so if you’re not generating leads, you’re wasting your time)?

Maybe Securian is measuring those things. If it is, great.

But the problem I have here isn’t with what Securian is or isn’t doing — it’s with the total BS being spewed by Social Media Today. It’s 2013 — we need social media fanatics to become marketing fanatics. Measuring SM in a vacuum is increasingly a total waste of time and effort. Haven’t we heard enough of this SM puffery already?

Ron ShevlinRon Shevlin is Director of Research at Cornerstone Advisors. Get a copy of his best-selling book, Smarter Bank: Why Money Management is More Important Than Money Movement. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter at @rshevlin.

All content © 2017 by The Financial Brand and may not be reproduced by any means without permission.

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  1. “We hired a small crew, walked to a local park and conducted spontaneous interviews.”

    Since we’re both like imagining things, here is how I imagine this went:

    Film crew; Excuse, sir…SIR…would you like to be on camera? We’re shooting a video on..

    Random person: Is this for a reality show?

    Film crew: No, no..we’re with Securian…

    Random person: Woah, security? What did I do? Are you the police?

    Film crew: No. Securian. Not security. We sell insurance.

    Random person: No, I’m ok. I don’t need insurance.

    Film crew: No, we’re shooting a video.

    Random person: For TV?

    Film crew: No, for YouTube

    Random person: Isn’t that how Justin Bieber got famous?

    Film crew: Yeah, I guess.

    Random person: Sweet…what do you want me to say?

  2. Kasey. Close. But you blew it w/ the Justin Bieber reference. Did you see the videos? $5 says the people they interviewed wouldn’t know Justin Bieber if he was standing in front of them.

  3. What we need is Brent Mussberger to call us pretty. The payoff could be huge!

  4. Ron, you know I’ve been complaining about two main themes you brought up for years.

    (1) The trade/B2B media has a deliberate bias for social media “success” stories. They will hunt high and low for any kind of story that can be used to trumpet social media’s amazingly wonderful awesomeness. They have directly fueled the hype surrounding social media. If they truly cared about their readers, they’d report that there are 99 failures for every one quasi-success story. But they are so slanted in their coverage that they are willing to twist obvious flops (like Securian) into “best practice case studies.”

    (2) Social media goals are reverse-engineered after-the-fact to suit the results. If you had 100 fans/followers before your promo, and ended up with 300, you’d say your goal was to “increase fans/followers by 50%.” This allows the social media marketing manager to say that they “exceeded our goal by 300%,” so they can prove social media’s tremendously fabulous power.

  5. Also, Securian’s “goals” are completely out of whack. Their #1 priority is to increase ‘Likes.’ #2 is to increase followers. Neither of those goals have any correlation with the organization’s mission nor its bottom line. And while goal #3 (increase brand recognition) might be important, you’ll notice that there is no metric attached to it — and as we all know, if something isn’t measured in the business world, it has no value. Goal #4 about long-term financial goals was slapped on as an after-thought (Marketing Manager: “Umm, shouldn’t we have something about, I dunno… insurance in here?”)

    For the time and money Securian invested, they probably would have done better just handing out free money.

    And if adding fans and followers is their #1 and #2 goal, there are a lot easier and cheaper ways to accomplish those than going to all the trouble to make three YouTube videos that were viewed less than 1,000 times combined.

  6. FB: (responding to both comments) Your comment about “reverse-engineering” is spot on. As I was editing this post, I took out my accusation of Securian having reverse-engineered the goals/results. It seemed like I didn’t need to be so confrontational.

    As for your remark about Securian’s goals being “out of whack” I agree. But I’d be inclined to cut them slack here, because it’s not clear to me that they were reported in priority order. What’s more important as far as I’m concerned, were the goals/objectives MISSING from the list. If I was a marketing person at an insurance company, I think I would have ONE metric I would OBSESS over: Leads Generated.

    Look at Geico’s marketing “15 minutes can save you 15%” — gets people to CALL or CONTACT. It generates LEADS. Why Securian is concerned about “building a community around its brand” is beyond me.

  7. Securian is concerned about “building a community around its brand” because that’s what they heard the so-called “social media experts” talking about when they were reading article after article pressuring them to hop on the bandwagon.

    We’re kinda saying the same thing about priorities. They’ve got the wrong ones. The right ones (including leads generated) will have a direct and measurable impact on the bottom line. But it’s fascinating (and somewhat amusing) to watch social media enthusiasts twist themselves into knots trying to find metric(s) detached from the balance sheet… “It isn’t about ROI,” they cry pathetically.

    And Ron, the day you stop being confrontational in your posts is the day I stop reading 😉

  8. You’re looking LIVE!

  9. Can you let me know if they decide to just hand out free money. I’d love to be a statistic for that campaign!

  10. Great post, and a terrific exchange especially between the esteemed @Rshevlin and @FinancialBrand .

    There are plenty unscrupulous marketing types in social media, just as there are self-serving vendors pushing traditional media including direct mail, print, in-branch advertising, etc.. Buyer beware…

    Before engaging in any type of marketing program, Banks and Credit Unions must develop a strategy. A small sampling of key questions include: What types of consumers do we want? What are our expectations? What type of products are they interested in? What / how do we differentiate our offering to convince these consumers to join our institution? What type of ongoing support should we offer to the consumer? What are consumers’ expectations regarding ongoing support? What are our goals for revenue and profit? How much can we afford to spend on acquisition and support? Can we scale the various demographic classes to achieve scale economies? What is the plan for our product / service roadmap? How will we continue to innovate?

    A thoughtful and meaningful marketing campaign can only be developed after conducting an assessment that includes considerations listed above (among many others). The challenge is that only a small minority of Community Banks and Credit Unions that have done this, which is precisely the problem that afflicts too many Community Banks and Credit Unions. The lack of strategy forces these institutions into knee-jerk (aka “gut”) decision making, most of which is likely to lead to disappointment. Not surprisingly, the FDIC and NCUA performance data continues to confirm that Community Banks and Credit Unions are loosing mind share, market share and overall relevance.

    The good news is that it isn’t too late…

  11. SM (oops, I mean Serge): Totally true that it’s not too late. Thankfully.

    But I do think that, in a lot of cases, we’re talking about the CLUELESS, not necessarily the UNSCRUPULOUS. If you knew better, and tried to foist this BS on someone, then you’d be unscrupulous. But I really think a lot of these so-called experts REALLY believe what they’re saying to be true.

    p.s. The author’s bio on that SMT article says that he is “a top-ranked social media marketing and inbound marketing specialist.” Oh geez. Top-ranked? BY WHO? I think that I should rank financial services marketing consultants. So I can put myself at the top. But don’t worry, you and Financial Brand will definitely be in the top 5. 🙂

  12. Who wouldn’t prefer cash to the cavalcade of crap marketers think will capture consumers’ interest? Before I published The Financial Brand, back when I was a marketing consultant in the banking industry, I used to pose that exact same hypothetical “promo” whenever the client would be spending way too much to accomplish way too little: “Why not just take that budget and hand it out as cash? Attach a little note/card that says, ‘Next time you need a loan or a checking account, please consider XYZ Financial.’ It would have a bigger impact.” But alas, once a marketer has picked their path, they almost always stick to it no matter what. Often your job as a vendor is to help the client justify the path they’ve chosen, and help them look as good as possible while doing it — and phooey to any real strategic goals or ROI.

  13. If “vanity metrics” (like # of fans/followers) don’t matter, as so many social media authorities have been saying lately, then why is it that every media outlet is making a big deal out of Katherine Webb’s follower count on Twitter skyrocketing from 2,300 pre-game to over 200,000 now?

    “It’s about the quality of the relationships,” they say. “Not the quantity.”

    Yeah, but how many quality “relationships” can a financial institution really have if they only have 250 followers (as half of all banks and credit unions do), especially when most of those followers are other financial institutions and banking industry insiders?

  14. Jim marous says:

    Is it surprising that after years of “social media is a must” and “marketing funds are quickly moving to social media initiatives” that not a single bank marketing resolution or retail banking trend offered by bank industry leaders as part of my end of year research mentioned social media? Either the returns are not as advertised, marketers haven’t found the magic formula or both. Good to know that many have stopped drinking the social media Kool Aid and aren’t buying the ‘social media quantipulation’.

  15. Jim: You clearly didn’t talk to the right people. 🙂

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