BREAKING: 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.”

Screen Shot 2014-06-05 at 9.48.23 PMWow! 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

(Chart 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.

Originally published  April 21st, 2014 on Insurance Innovation Reporter.

This entry was posted in Social Media and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.