There are many ways to track trends and movements, but, for me, the real sign that something is reaching critical mass is when my husband or my parents - none of whom would be mistaken for technology "first-movers" - ask me about it. Such is the case with the word "blog," which all three of them recently asked me to define. A technology or product definitely has moved into the mainstream when Mom, Dad or Hubby want to know what it's all about. (I keep telling my parents to ask their teenage grandchildren, not me, but that's another story.)
By that "explain-to-the-relatives" metric, any financial services firm or other mass marketer that has not begun to at least figure out how to deploy Web logs and other Web-based forms of "viral marketing" (the explosive marketing phenomenon, fueled by the Web, that facilitates and encourages people to pass along marketing messages) is going to be left behind more savvy, creative and aggressive players. Blogs are no longer simply an indulgence of Gen X navel gazers or techies with minimal social skills. They quickly can help create a "buzz," either positive or negative, about a product, corporate initiative or entire brand. Blogs also increasingly are giving corporations a means to influence that buzz, as evidenced by the success (in terms of traffic and views) of blogs produced by high-level executives at companies such as Sun Microsystems and Microsoft.
Before you dismiss them as a fad, consider that 23,000 Web logs are created every day, according to blog measurement firm Technorati. Organizations concerned about reputation and brand integrity (that is, all firms) should heed this statement from Jeff Jarvis, author of the blog BuzzMachine and president/creative director of publisher Advance Publications' Internet division, who stated in a recent Fortune article about blogs that "There should be someone at every company whose job is to put into Google and blog search engines the name of the company or the brand, followed by the word 'sucks,' just to see what customers are saying."
The implications for insurance are staggering - both frightening and a bit exciting at the same time. The industry already has benefitted from the Internet's role as an educational, information-gathering medium, but clearly that is a knife that can cut both ways. You can't afford to abdicate control of that tool.
Katherine Burger is Editorial Director of Bank Systems & Technology and Insurance & Technology, members of UBM TechWeb's InformationWeek Financial Services. She assumed leadership of Bank Systems & Technology in 2003 and of Insurance & Technology in 1991. In addition to ... View Full Bio