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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 ___.

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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. 

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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).

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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?

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