Social Media and Theories of Communication

Social media is one trend in insurance technology that not all people can agree on. Talk with one group of insurers and you’re told how wonderful social media is; ask another group and the response is a shrug of the shoulders.

What is it about social media that gets some people hyped up and others bored?

One reason is that the social media tail sometimes wags the dog. Companies put a social media policy together, butdon’t always have relevant content to communicate to their customers or business partners. Having the tools to communicate seems more important for some companies than the message being presented.

Marshal McLuhan might as well have been talking about Twitter nearly 50 years ago when he coined the phrase, “The medium is the message.”

That line came from McLuhan’s 1964 book, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. McLuhan’s belief was that the medium affects the society in which it plays a role, not only by the content delivered over the medium, but also by the characteristics of the medium itself.

That actually sounds like the business plan for Twitter. In the world of 140-character postings, many people care only that you are “on” Twitter rather than worry that the content you are presenting is relevant.

The rush to be a part of something new or hip is understandable in a world where pop culture dominates the hearts and souls of so many people. But shouldn’t communication mean something more when you get away from entertainment and look for ways to promote your business?

There is valuable information being tweeted. The constant flow of information over Twitter and Facebook makes professional news sites pale in their ability to break important news. You aren’t necessarily looking for trusted sources when you rely on Twitter for information, you are looking for speed.

So what can businesses gain from social media? Too often they tweet or post messages about any and every thing without fully understanding what their audience wants or needs. And when users become bored by someone’s messages they go unread—no matter what the quality.

Twitter has demonstrated value as a communication tool to large groups—almost like sharing personal text messages, only with hundreds or thousands of people. For insurance companies or agents, their customers want to know when a tornado is heading in their direction or if home-repair scams are taking place in a certain community.  

Being a media guy—especially one beyond the normal target age of social media—probably doesn’t improve my view on this subject, but I know that information is power and if it’s not effectively communicated through the right medium the message is lost.

McLuhan certainly got that right.


About the Author
Robert Regis Hyle,

Robert Regis Hyle,

Robert Regis Hyle is editor-in-chief of Tech Decisions magazine and technology channel editor for He has spent over three decades as a journalist for a variety of business and regional news publications including a stint with a weekly newspaper that he owned and operated. He has been with Tech Decisions since the magazine’s inception in 1999 and has written articles on virtually every issue and trend facing insurance IT professionals. Prior to joining Tech Decisions, he spent two years as editor of a sister publication, The Ohio Underwriter, where he covered insurance topics for the agency and carrier markets. He has spoken on insurance technology issues at various industry conferences such as IASA and ACORD LOMA and on a number of web seminars. He is a graduate of Xavier University in Cincinnati with a degree in Communication Arts. Hyle may be reached at


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