On the surface, this seems reasonable. After all, who among us would suggest that a 50-something corporate executive spends his free time updating his Facebook profile or checking in on foursquare. However, if you have clients who work in corporate America, all bets are off.
Why? Because corporate America is rapidly adopting and introducing social media tools to their employees. As a result, clients who work in corporate America are becoming increasingly familiar and comfortable with the use of these tools.
Forrestor Groundswell Awards
In 2007 Forrestor research introduced the Groundswell award to recognize “...excellent and effective use of social technologies to advance an organizational or corporate goal.” Among the categories awarded is the management division for “internal applications aimed at employees”. 2010 finalists and winning companies include The Department of Defense, AT&T, Intuit, Deloitte, and my personal favorite Cemex.
Why Cemex? Because they’re about as old-line as you can get. They’re a company that makes building materials, primarily cement. Nothing about cement screams social media. Yet Cemex won for something called Shift.
“Shift is an internal collaboration platform at CEMEX ...includes messaging, team collaboration tools such as forums and a wiki, real-time collaboration through instant messaging and conferencing, and social tools. Employees have used it to create 200 communities across all operating units..enables people in 20 countries to share ideas -- CEMEX credits Shift with reshaping the corporate culture...”
Here is a screenshot of Shift. It looks a lot like a mashup of Facebook, LinkedIn, and Microsoft Outlook.
In 2008 Nokia established a social media communications team with the aim of improving inter-company communications and engaging employees. Three of the most popular tools introduced are the Bloghub, Videohub, and Infopedia.
The Bloghub, for example, aggregates content for all the internal blogs in one place, giving employees access to what people inside the company are talking about. It has a search engine that allows employees to sort through he posts to find information relevant to them. It also allows employees to rate blog posts, with the highest ranked rising to the top.
Sounds a lot like Technorati - a web-based blog search engine that lets users search blogs by tag or keyword.
Will this really impact your clients behavior?
While it is tough to make predictions, there is some precedent. Consider e-mail. Many people got comfortable using e-mail not because they finally gave in and opened an AOL account (remember all those discs they used to send us?) but because their employers started using e-mail and they had no choice.
If at that point you believed your clients were not likely to be spending their time on AOL you probably would’ve been right. If you believed that because they were not on AOL they were not on e-mail, you would have been wrong.
What does this mean to you?
1. Will increased use of social media tools at the office speed adoption of social media platforms at home?
How likely is it that a client who might never have considered setting up a Facebook profile now feels comfortable enough to do so? What about someone who learned at the office how to search and follow blogs to get information. Is he likely to begin doing the same thing at home? Does the entire universe of social media begin to feel less intimidating to your clients? My answer is yes. The more comfortable people are with these tools, the more people will use them.
2. How can advisers take advantage of this trend?
Up to now much of the discussion about social media has been about platforms. Should I be on Lincoln or Facebook? Do I need a twitter account? Perhaps it’s time to shift the discussion from the platform to the tools. As more clients become comfortable getting information from blogs, can you benefit from having one? As people get more comfortable creating profiles and joining communities, would it help to create one just for your clients? One where they can share information and connect with one another. If people are turning to wikis for help, can you get more exposure for your firm by starting or contributing to one?
The Big Question
Perhaps the most important question of all is this: Will those advisors who don’t keep pace with their clients’ level of social media use one day seem clunky and out of place? Possibly eliminating them from consideration by an entire segment of investors? Time will tell...