Rich Gans

“In social, today is not like yesterday, and tomorrow will not be like today,” says Rich Gans of AXA.

To be in this type of role, especially in financial services, you also have to have a sense of humor.

Like many members of SocialMedia.org, he says the dynamic nature of the field is what pulled him in. As the Director of Social Media for AXA US, Rich Gans says he likes that his role plays off of his love of technology and finding new ways making things better, more intuitive, and more efficient.

Before he started at AXA, Rich began his social media career at Forrester.

“The nice thing about Forrester was that we described the marketing team as scrappy. It was an environment of ‘act first and ask permission later,'” he says.

Forrester gave him the freedom, he explains, to test and learn, but also to work in a lot of different areas of marketing and get a feel for how it all ties together.

At AXA, his role is to lead social strategy — and that covers a lot.

That includes being the owner of every corporate social media channel, all the tech and vendor relationships behind that, and their management platforms. Rich also supports AXA’s social selling program, runs the employee advocacy program, and works with compliance related policies. That’s all on top of being the first line of social customer service and AXA’s subject matter expert on paid social.

It’s no longer a question of ‘Should you?’ but rather, ‘How much?’

According to Rich, social media leaders have to have a thirst for knowledge — to stay current and stay useful. “It’s hard to do in this space, where algorithms change daily and platforms open and close every month, and what’s an advertising model today will change tomorrow. Why would anyone come to you as an expert if you’re not an expert in the space anymore?”

“To be in this type of role, especially in financial services, you also have to have a sense of humor,” Rich says. “And you have to have communication skills. But I think it’s more than communication — you also have to be able to explain to and train people.”

“People in our role spend 50 percent of their time on training and education,” says Rich.

And Rich should know. When he started at AXA, even after rewriting their ironclad social media policy, he still had to change the stigma that employees couldn’t share anything in social. So he developed a training session.

The first one drew 140 people — the largest attendance for a lunch and learn session AXA’s ever had, according to Rich.

From there, Rich has held about 20 more lunch and learn sessions. Plus, his social media training has become a part of AXA’s human resources training, and they’re trying to roll it out to the onboarding process for new employees as well.

He says the shift shows that people understand social media isn’t going away.

As we think about appealing to a younger generation, we need to make sure we understand them… This includes their social media habits.

As for paid social media, he says, “It’s no longer a question of ‘Should you?’ but rather, ‘How much?'” That shift in attitude comes in part from Facebook taking more and more organic reach away from brands, but also from internal education about paid social.

Rich explains that social is still growing in the 35+ segment, and even 60- to 70-year-olds are still adopting some social channels. “But for the younger generation, this is how they live. As we think about growing and appealing to a younger generation, we need to make sure we understand them and where they are coming from. This includes their social media habits.”

He says he looks forward to a stronger investment in social at AXA.

That includes growing his team, getting better at their segmented approach, and pushing the boundaries a little to reach those younger audiences.

“How do you take a topic like insurance — which some could say is stodgy, boring, or complicated — and break it down to make it interesting?” Rich asks.

“How do we give ourselves a stronger voice and gain awareness when we’re competing with consumer packaged goods, retail, news sources, sports, and everything else out there? How do we make it exciting and relevant to the audience we care about? That’s what we’re trying to figure out.”

Rich has been a member of SocialMedia.org since 2014. Follow Rich on Twitter and ask about his favorite new tech innovation.


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