AXA, Facebook and the “Shot Heard Round the Industry”

(A quiet day at the North Bridge, Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, where the original “shot heard ’round the world” was fired.)

Perhaps I was deeply preoccupied with something else that day, because I didn’t hear the shot, but I did read about it in an article here by Denise Garth. She describes a new partnership between AXA and Facebook as “a game-changer for insurance…. via ground-breaking innovation and access to training, research, and capabilities, particularly on mobile.” The partnership has “the potential to reinvent the customer experience”… and serve as “the foundation of a new customer engagement model.”

Denise Garth, partner, SMA.

Denise Garth, partner, SMA.

Wow! But what does this mean in practice rather than “potential”? I immediately hopped over to the AXA site to see what they had to say, eventually finding AXA’s announcement in their Newsroom section, and encountered the “ground-breaking innovation and access to training, research, and capabilities” line featured in Denise’s article. Clicking on “Read more,” however, I quickly fell from excitement to disappointment: Broken Link. So, okay, you can find it here on BusinessWire and similar outlets, where the rhetoric is now more restrained and less hyperbolic — after all, this is corporate PR, not starry-eyed blogging — but equally self-important: The partnership “proves our ambition to become the leading digital and multi-access insurer.”

Well, hats off to AXA! It’s about time an insurer sought such a “ground-breaking” ambition for itself, let alone announced it publicly, producing some buzz and, perhaps, striking some fear in the hearts of its rivals. While there is no corresponding PR from Facebook itself — or at least nothing that I could find — there is a little quote from the CEO of Facebook France: They’re “thrilled  to become a business partner with the leading global insurer.” (My emphasis.) But, again, what does this new partnership actually mean in practice?

Well, first of all it means France — “For Facebook, this partnership is a key step in Facebook’s development in France.” Presumably, eventually, the rest of, or some portion of, AXA’s global empire will be allowed the fruits of the partnership. That the three rather sharp and well-connected people I spoke with in AXA’s USA Marketing operation had yet to hear  about the partnership, or could offer any clue about what it would mean for them, is certainly not conclusive evidence that this is all much ado about nothing… Like me, they could also have been preoccupied with other things, or maybe they’re just not in the know.

But, yes, “Facebook provides effective marketing solutions at scale,” so this could indeed be big news for many of AXA’s, say, more backward or wayward (or non-existent) global Social Media operations: Facebook Marketing 101 for Newbies. But what are these “marketing solutions,” and the “training, research, and capabilities” cited in Denise’s article? Let me hazard a guess.

But first let me tell a story, by now an old story, widely shared and bemoaned in corporate headquarters, not to mention in the online marketing agencies who’ve been selling fairy tales, eagerly scooped up by now-quite-nervous corporate Social Media gurus. Once upon a time there was a place on the Internet where a company could establish its own Page, entice ordinary citizens, numbering in the millions, to “fan” or “like” it, usually by way of contests or coupons or discounts or “surveys” (“The most important thing about Thanksgiving is”…) or contributions to philanthropic endeavors. You could then “post” your product info and other corporate propaganda (and pics of kittens or puppies) and have all these posts go directly  into the newsfeeds of all  of your new-found fans. It was called “Organic Reach” and  it was free, costing little but the time of otherwise disengaged interns. (Okay, eventually you had to hire a Social Media Guru to keep reins on the young’uns.)

That place, of course, was Facebook, emphasis on “was.” Because sometime slightly before Facebook went public in 2012 and became beholden to its new-found fans — aka shareholders — the company changed its business model from growth for growth’s sake to profitability, earning money  and providing a return to said shareholders. The Facebook Edge Rank Formula, not coincidently launched that same year, was, I believe, the first serious step in the direction of the new business model and was recognized as such by some prescient observers.[1] However great, in your humble opinion, were your posts, there was no longer a guarantee, implied or otherwise, that any significant number of them would see the light of day in your fans’ newsfeeds.

Jumping ahead, we know now that what “Facebook is Pushing Brands to Pay for Reach” means  is that hardly anything  you post from your corporate page is seeable any longer by your fans:[2]

graph Ken Hittel AXA Facebook

(Statista chart of the day from Hashmeta; original data source: social@Ogilvy.)

So, Facebook Marketing 101, based on organic reach, has been superseded by Advanced Facebook Marketing, namely, buying advertising  on Facebook. I needn’t attempt to chronicle the various Facebook advertising schemes (aka “marketing solutions”): There is “Promoted Posts” and “Custom Audiences,” which I think is the same as “LookaLike Audiences,” although I’m not certain about that. Facebook seems to invent (or at least re-jigger and rename) new advertising schemes, sorry, marketing solutions, every couple of months or so, with dedicated versions for mobile now, of course.

However, if you learned them all you could become one of Facebook’s “training, research, and capabilities” that the company will apparently soon be deploying to AXA France. Because, I think, that’s exactly and only  what the “strategic partnership” between Facebook and AXA actually means, at least for now and until proven otherwise. (Rhetoric and hyperbole — and “potential” — do not count as proof.)


[1] “Facebook does not exist to give your brand the opportunity for free earned media.” Augie Ray, “The Complete Facebook Success Formula Every Marketer Should Know,” Experience: The Blog, November 5, 2012.

[2]  I found this particular chart on Hashmeta, although various non-contradictory versions exist elsewhere.

Kenneth Hittel // Ken Hittel is currently Digital Strategy Advisor on the board of advisors to FairWinds Partners, a Domain Name Strategy and Services provider. Prior to joining the FairWinds board, Ken worked in a variety of positions at New York Life Insurance Company for more than 20 years, the last 12 of which involved running the Corporate Internet Dept., responsible for the Company’s Digital Strategy, its Web sites, online lead generation programs, and its portfolio of mobile and Social Media presences. Ken has a Ph.D. in Philosophy and Political Science and a M.A. in philosophy and Economics from the Graduate Faculty of the New School University. Follow him on Twitter: @khittel or email him at khittel@gmail.com.

Comments (4)

  1. Great post, Ken. Always love your writing. Glad you’re finally sharing your talent! I’d point readers to your previous, satirical posts. They are probably closer to reality than “AXA and Facebook as ‘a game-changer for insurance…. via ground-breaking innovation …'”

    Umm, no. Terry G’s right – just another customer.

    Now if Google said they had bought an insurance company or had starting one from scratch (which I’d bet they are), or Apple, Microsoft, or even HubSpot, one of the most brilliant current marketing companies, THEN we might be able to use terms like groundbreaking and game-changer.

    But for now, No. But perhaps this buzz could signal the air raid siren the insurance biz needs. In fact, why don’t we put together a team and go talk to these folks ourselves…

  2. If this was a logical world, AXA has created a digital media strategy (which aligns with the company’s corporate strategy), developed and prioritized a set of tactical initiatives to support and enable their digital media strategy, identified which current and target customers they know want to interact with the company through digital media (and for which products and which types of interactions), identified social media sites to partner with (and for which products and interactions), and created a set of metrics to monitor the success of the partnership to be able to make changes as necessary.

    But, that would be if we lived in a logical world. Does AXA?

  3. Good post Ken. As an announcement is was designed to create a buzz and it did. But, it seems, so far, little more than Facebook announcing a new customer. There are plenty of other “shots” that insurers should be more concerned about such as the march of Google into the insurance aggregator space in the UK (and France). (https://www.google.co.uk/compare/carinsurance/form?p=home)

    With insurers now rethinking the role of social, which as you say, is now a paid channel, what do you think the role is for corporate social media? Does the consumer want a social relationship with an insurer? Will promoted posts be seen increasingly as spam?

    • Terry, I may be still somewhat starry-eyed myself, despite having recognized Facebook’s move from earned to paid media some years back, but I do think, yes, there is still a role for social media. Used responsibly, intelligently, avoiding all those myths that Augie Ray chronicled in a recent post (http://www.experiencetheblog.com/2014/04/what-if-everything-you-know-about.html) leaves a lot of opportunity to play a role (usually a minor one, admittedly) with your customers, employees, agents and sales reps, and prospects. For example: One year after launching our Social Media sites, we increased traffic (and sales leads and sales) to our sales-lead driven Corporate Web site by 49%. We had never driven more than a 5% to 10% in such traffic in the previous 10 years.

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