The term “social media” was recently added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, reflecting the reality of its presence and power in both business and social settings. But there is a consumer-driven evolution underway in social media that is portending the end of an era, according to Brian Solis, an expert in new media and principle at Altimiter Group, a research advisory firm.

“Today it's about discounts, exclusive information or entertainment. Tomorrow, well, that's for you to observe and for [consumers] to define,” Solis tells Insurance Networking News.

 “From social network fatigue to deals fatigue to follow fatigue, businesses are facing a crossroads at the intersection of social and media,” notes Solis in a recent blog. "Following the path of media, there is a long tradition of what Tom Foremski refers to as ‘Social Media as Corporate Media.’ As Foremski states, ‘Social media is not corporate media…if corporations try to turn social media into a corporate sales or marketing channel, then they risk losing the naked conversations, and the insight into customer behaviors.’”

“His point is that there’s more to social media than clever campaigns and rudimentary conversations,” notes Solis. “Talking isn’t the only thing that makes social media social. Just like adding Facebook, Twitter and other sharing buttons will not magically transform static content into shareable experiences. Listening, learning and adapting is where the real value of social media will show its true colors. Listening leads to a more informed business. Engagement unlocks empathy and innovation. But it is action and adaptation that leads to relevance. And, it never ends.”

Solis points to the fact that there are more examples of media than there are of “social” media in many of the popular examples out there today. “Even though distributing corporate media in social channels sets the stage for dialogue, there really isn’t much that’s social about it,” he says. “Social media is a channel for engagement. Conversation is a natural part of any social media strategy. On the other hand, simple broadcasting corporate messages or running social ads is rather antisocial in its approach. There must be a balance.”

Solis believes that the future of social media comes down to one word, “value.” “Without it,” he says, “[insurers] will find it much more difficult to earn and retain friends, fans and followers (the 3F’s). Ongoing value will be the key to maintaining connections and that value will change over time.”

In spite of social network adoption plateauing, individuals are still embracing social networks.

“Even though social media is rapidly becoming the attention magnet of the masses, their enthusiasm for engaging with brands will be replaced by practicality,” says Solis. In addition, consumers have evolved to become more guarded and realistic about their “likes, retweets and follows,” making the competition for their time and attention even more difficult.

“The future of social media comes down to four steps: listen, learn, engage and adapt,” Solis explains. “Brands will now have to more effectively listen to markets to make more informed decisions about how social media impacts the enterprise, and in turn, customer experiences.”

Solis offers the following advice to insurers: “Understanding the needs of customers, prospects and those who influence them, you'll find yourself armed with the greatest of competitive advantages…empathy. It is empathy that inspires more engaging social media strategies, supporting content and rewarding experiences. The results are relevance and preference.”

 — Pat Speer is Editor-in-Chief of Insurance Networking News, a SourceMedia publication.

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