Jason Hull has been a financial advisor for less than two years -- so he was surprised to find himself No. 4 on BrightScope's first-ever list of the 100 most influential planners on social media.
"I don't want to look the gift horse of free PR in the mouth," Hull said, "but if I'm ahead of Michael Kitces, Jeff Rose, Meb Faber and George Papadopoulos, then the algorithm is calculating the wrong result."
Roger Wohlner, too, says he was "beyond shocked" to find himself at the No. 3 spot. "It makes no sense to me," Wohlner says. "I said to them, 'Who are the other ones? The deaf dumb blind kids playing pin ball?' They should recheck the rankings."
BrightScope Advisor Pages, which aspires to become for planners what Yelp is for restaurants, says it developed a proprietary algorithm to gauge advisors' social media influence and then used it to analyze somewhere between 500 and 1,000 advisors for which it managed to collect sufficient information.
The 10 planners at the top of the list are as follows:
1. Josh Brown -- @ReformedBroker
2. Barry Ritholtz -- @ritholtz
3. Roger Wohlner -- @rwohlner
4. Jason Hull -- @hull_j
5. Michael Kitces -- @MichaelKitces
6. Russ Thornton -- @RussThornton
7. Charles Sizemore -- @CharlesSizemore
8. George Papadopoulos -- @feeonlyplanner
9. Cullen Roche -- @cullenroche
10. Jeff Rose -- @jjeffrose
"The list has really been designed to bring some more science to determining who's doing a great job and to give others an idea of who the role models are," says BrightScope co-founder Mike Alfred.
INFLUENCE ONLINE & ELSEWHERE
Alfred says the algorithm takes into account not only an advisor's reach on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, but also the way that influence is reflected in more traditional media outlets. "There are many different ways to get to the top of this list," he says.
The algorithm takes a dim view of some factors -- "If you have 10,000 [Twitter] followers and you are following 15,000, it's like you bought them," Alfred says -- and gives heavier weight to traditional media exposure. "Ric Edelman's a good example," Alfred says of BrightScope's No. 18 pick, the founder of Edelman Financial. "We didn't want to leave him out, even though he's been more recent [to Twitter] than Michael Kitces and Josh Brown ... but he influences advisors more."
Josh Brown, who takes the top spot, has a daily show called The Halftime Report on CNBC and often appears as a commentator on other shows on the network. He also has a high BrightScope score, which measures traffic to an advisor's profile on the site, according to Alfred, who says the site publishes profiles on 600,000 advisors nationwide (not including those who work for insurance companies) and gets 400,000 unique visitors a month.
"Josh Brown is, if not the most, then one of the most influential advisors in the industry. Nobody drives more traffic than he has," Alfred says. "He seems to be known even beyond the world of the financial services industry."
Brown's planning firm colleague, Barry Ritholtz, landed at No. 2.
SOCIAL MEDIA STRATEGY
Brown says he used social media to build his prominence online. "Someone like me, with no PR firm and no larger-firm pedigree, probably couldn't start off in the mainstream media," Brown says. "The only way I rose to prominence was with my own voice."
After he started blogging in 2008, he began using Twitter to promote the blog. He recently surpassed more than 75,000 followers. Brown said he was excited to land at the top of the list, although he doesn't think it will mean anything to his clients.
Other advisors also downplayed the impact of the list -- as well as of their social media use. Chicago-based Wohlner, who started using Twitter in 2009 and blogging a couple of years later, says he's only gotten about five or six good clients over the years from both his social media efforts and the column he writes once or twice a week for U.S. News and World Report.
Hull adds, "While it's nice to get approbation, it's a little like having a Klout score. It doesn't really affect the bottom line. I'd rather reach 100 potential clients than 1,000 advisors -- as the former group has a substantially higher probability of bringing in revenues."
That said, most of the advisors reached for this story said they were delighted to find themselves ranked alongside other social media savvy planners whose work they follow.
INSPIRATION TO OTHERS?
Kitces says he hopes the rankings will inspire other planners to be more active on social media: "I definitely do think it's a benefit to the advisory community to have a list like this, so that advisors can see examples of others who are having some success on social media and check out what they're doing."
At the very least, Alfred is hoping the list will help BrightScope build its own brand. "No one has done it and that has created an opportunity for us to create a branded list," Alfred says.
He also says he hopes the list will increase advisor engagement on the site: Any advisors who didn't make the cut but want to know how they would rank can go to the BrightScope website and submit their social media details. BrightScope will then run that data through its algorithm and calculate that advisor's social media rank. It then will publish the ranking on that advisor's BrightScope profile.
Even the list's top dog says he doesn't think social media makes sense for everybody. "The consultants would tell people that everyone should go do it," Brown says. "I'm not so sure that's the case. There are people who are doing a really good job with their clients and they probably don't need to go down that road. There are a lot of different ways to be a planner in 2014 and not all of them involve a social component."
For those who choose to, however, Brown offers the following advice: "Be clear about the message you want to put out there. Be fastidious about compliance. Just try to be authentic. Don't worry about the corporate reputation so much."
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