At focus11, LPL Financial's national conference held earlier this month, it was clear that social media was clearly more than just a casual "focus" for the 5,000-plus attendees. Along with several well attended sessions, LPL had a station on the exhibit floor dedicated to the topic that enjoyed constant advisor traffic.
As Marissa Fox-Foley, LPL Financial’s senior vice president of advisor marketing, put it, “We consider social media to be a very powerful tool in promoting an advisor’s practice.”
Fox-Foley cautions that advisors need to make social media part of an integrated marketing plan -- that it should not stand on its own. "It is part of the marketing activity – not the sum total," she said.
How LPL advisors get started
Fox-Foley said, “We require our advisors to take a social media training course, which is a 20-minute interactive module. It is mandatory before they start using it."
Along with the training class, LPL advisors need to pay for an archiving service, in which LPL negotiated a significant discount. Fox-Foley said, “Erado is for archiving interactive content.” She was referring to LPL bringing in the archiving vendor that enables LPL’s advisors to use Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter in real time and capture the activity in case the communications are ever needed for FINRA audits or other needs.
“Previously interactive content had to be preapproved,” she said. “As you can imagine, it would cause timely info to be delayed.” Interactive content does not need pre-approval, but it does need to be captured, which the archiving solution does.
Fox-Foley added that things like videos, blogs, biographical profile info, business listings (e.g. Yelp, Yellow pages, etc.) and other similar things fall into the static category and they still require pre-approval.
Early adoption rates
Fox-Foley said LPL’s Marketing Regulatory Review has approved 1,753 LinkedIn, 488 Facebook and 198 Twitter accounts. She said, “We do not allow others, like Google+.”
These numbers are similar to what Craig Brauff, CEO of Erado, is seeing from all their accounts. Brauff shared the current distribution of accounts: 87% LinkedIn, 10% Twitter and 3% Facebook. This is more evidence that the clear favorite social network among advisors is LinkedIn.
While almost 2,500 advisors have set up social network accounts, this means a majority of LPL’s advisors still have not adopted the ability to communicate with clients and find prospects. However, Fox-Foley did say that these numbers are steadily climbing.
Content for the social networks
Fox-Foley said, “Some advisors are out there blogging.” As far as LPL content support, she said, “The research group provides content that can be utilized in some instances.” This information is pre-approved, so if advisors make edits they then need to resubmit it to compliance.
“We are currently exploring external sources of content," she said. She also admitted LPL’s own content library is a work in progress.
For new static content, LPL’s average turnaround time is three business days.
LPL’s advice on social media
Fox-Foley cautions advisors to first determine why they want to use social media. She questions advisors by asking, “What do you want to accomplish by using these social media? [Do you want to attain] trust, rapport or cultivation or referrals?
She said the company believes social media can provide a savings if it can eliminate the need for advertising, direct mail and other traditional forms of marketing.
“Social media is not a platform to broadcast a one-size fits all message," she said. Although the industry has not fully adopted social media yet, Fox-Foley sees that the competition is out there, making it all the important that advisors create messages that are compelling, engaging and relevant.
Lastly, she said advisors need to commit to participating and not waver.
"Advisors should be active -- at least once a week. They need to give a reason to have them keep coming back. It needs to be embedded in their everyday activities to become revenue driving.”
Benefiting from social media
One LPL advisor that is making social media work is David Armstrong, managing director at Monument Wealth Management. He was also a presenter at LPL’s conference on the topic of social media and said LPL quickly figured out that advisors want to hear the benefits from other advisors that are using this marketing tool effectively.
Armstrong said, “I did a 10-minute [presentation] in the opening session at LPL focus11, in which I said, ‘Social media has to be done in conjunction with a good marketing plan and content plan.’”
Armstrong said it starts with how advisors are using it to reinforce relationships with clients.
“If you use the last couple weeks as an example, social media helps get the word out in an effective method," he said, adding that tweeting is also an effective way to communicate quickly.
When he finds an interesting, relevant news article, he can easily share it by putting it up on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
A success story
Armstrong credits winning a $3 million account to his social media activity.
Late last summer he was prospecting an owner of a small business and the person was not ready to make a decision. That person, however, decided to follow the firm on Facebook.
“It was an easy way for him to see what we are thinking without us bothering him," he said. As a result, the prospect later told him, "I love what you have been writing for the last eight months. I am ready to move my accounts to you.’
Other fringe benefits
Because of Armstrong’s activity online, he recognizes his sites benefit from search engine optimization (SEO). In other words, his pages come up high when searched on Google, Yahoo and Bing.
Armstrong shared that a prospect did a search for fee-based financial planning for an independent advisor on Google. Armstrong said, “When this person searched for us, our name came up and we landed the business. I call it an SEO success story.”
“Social media is a really important tool, but it is only one tool in the tool box -- it needs to be used in conjunction with a marketing plan,” Armstrong said. "It is going to increase the probability of the overall marketing plan’s success.”
"Social media is useless without thoughtful or opinionated content," he added. "Opinion is the currency of social media.”
Armstrong said he has been able to achieve faster turnaround times, compared to LPL’s stated standard, and he credits it to keeping the content concise and being smart about it.
He advises, “Drive down the middle of the road and keep your tires away from the ruts.”
In other words, abide by FINRA’s general adverting rules and the social media content approval process is not that bad.
Regarding competition increasing in the social media space, evidenced by this year’s announcements of bigger firms allowing their advisors to use social networks, Armstrong is not worried.
“Wirehouse guys don’t have blogs," he said, adding that he's thankful LPL Financial allows him to amplify his voice.
FINRA’s new regulatory announcement
Earlier this week, FINRA clarified social media guidelines for advisors and broker-dealers. Fox-Foley didn’t think it would have a major impact on how LPL is using social media.
“It was published in response to questions about 10-06. It is not intended to alter the principles or guidance provided in 10-06," she said. "We do not expect 11-39 to have a significant impact on our current policies."
Room for improvement
LPL’s focus11 conference showed that although the firm still has over 10,000 advisors not yet signed up for social media, those sitting on the sidelines clearly have a hunger to learn more. While it is true that some old dogs cannot learn new tricks, it is likely those individuals will be in the minority in the coming years.
Mike Byrnes founded Byrnes Consulting to provide consulting services to help advisors become even more successful. His expertise is in business planning, marketing strategy, business development, client service and management effectiveness, along with several other areas. Read more at http://www.byrnesconsulting.com/.