Marie Swift, the president and CEO of Impact Communications, presented to a room of advisors at the T3 Conference in Florida on how they can maximize their online presence by effectively using social media.

The two main reasons to use social media is to deepen existing relationships and to acquire new clients. 

The Social Media Landscape

Sixty-one percent of all adults use social media (a number that might now be outdated).  Even baby boomers are using social media, with 50% of younger boomers and 43% of older boomers using social networks.  Maybe the most powerful stat of all is that Facebook is the most visited site in the United States.

Although advisors are behind the norm, with only 35% of them using social media on a professional basis, those that do have higher revenue growth and increased numbers of clients.  Of the networks advisor use, LinkedIn has the highest use, followed by Facebook.

A quick show of hands proved that advisors have lots of room for improvement when it comes to an online presence.  Of the attendees in the room, 100% have a website, but only 10% felt they are strong users of social media.  With the assumption that the average T3 attendee is more tech savvy than the typical advisor, that paints a weak picture for the rest of the industry.

"Advisors who are not learning about and engaging targeted groups through social media will get left behind," Swift said. "They need to realize social networking online is a perfect compliment to their traditional business networking and marketing efforts -- especially when coupled with a good PR and media relations strategy."

Why Use Social Media?

There were many benefits discussed, from being able to be found online to giving prospects validation that they are making the right decision when choosing an advisor.  By being active in this space, advisors can create a positive buzz around themselves and their firms.

"Cross-linking is a very important component of building a strong online presence," Swift said. "Think of your website as the hub -- your virtual lobby, which may indelibly shape the first impression of you and your firm. Now imagine spokes and threads coming out from and into your hub, creating a virtual spider web effect online. The more digital assets you cross-link to, the stronger your web. Couple your spider web marketing approach with a good keyword strategy and you can generate some really good 'Google Juice.' Google Juice is overall search engine strength. It's what makes you more visible online when people are searching for you by name or by other related keywords such as 'independent financial advisor."

Gathering marketing intelligence is another useful application of this medium.  There is a lot one can discover by tuning in to see how others communicate.

Of all the benefits, building rapport and engaging clients might be one of the best.

Tools of the Trade

Smart Phones.  These mini computers make is possible for advisors to communicate away from the office.

Google Alerts.  This is a free service from Google that allows advisors to track any internet mention of a particular term of interest.  Advisors should have alerts set up for their names to be able to keep an eye on what is being said about them.  Also, they can follow their firm name, competitors or even an industry phrase like ‘fiduciary standards’ to stay in the know.

Google Analytics.  Another free offering from Google that allows advisors to see how many visits their websites are getting, the sources of those visits, what pages visitors are viewing, and much more.

Social Media Dashboards.  It is helpful to be able to schedule tweets, monitor online mentions and more.  HootSuite and TweetDeck were two companies listed.

Automated Messaging.  AWeber was suggested for its ability to be an auto responder, allowing for automatic messages to go out via email, at set times, when predetermined requests come in via the advisor's website. 

"You can set up a whole series of email messages, things that will build share of mind and position you as a trusted resource, with an AWeber account," Swift said. "It's a great way to conduct permission-based email marketing."

Other Networks.  There are more options outside of LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. YouTube is, for instance, a great way to publish your own video clips.

"People can comment on your videos, building rapport and positive buzz. The cross-linking adds to your online presence and spider web effect," Swift said. "Also check out FinancialAdviceNetwork.com. They have a really nice, low-cost solution for harnessing all of your digital assets in one super-charged profile page."

A Rule to Use

Social media is just another basic form of human communication so many of the same rules apply.  “Imagine someone is at a cocktail party and suddenly shouting, ‘look at me," Swift said. “Needless to say, “that person is not going to be very popular.”  This example holds true for social media usage too.  Advisors should be givers, not takers.

Scared of Bad Press

When it comes to social media, one thing holding advisors back is their fear of negative publicity.  This is something that might be out of their control, even if they are not on social media.  “Negative mentions are like a drop of iodine in water”, Swift said.  “The only thing you can do is dilute it with more water.”  This is another case for advisors to be active using social networks, helping get the message out that they want others to hear.

What Advisors Should Do

When using social media, advisors should stay true to their business.  They should also manage their time efficiently, assessing the business value of these tools. 

If they have a defined objective they can better understand what their time commitment should be and if they need to delegate or outsource some of these responsibilities, finding the right balance.

Swift advised that whatever they do, “advisors should play on their strengths and be authentic.”  Content should be kept fresh and communications should be frequent.  For example, tweeting should happen at least three times a day.

When it comes to Twitter, one trick of the trade is to follow reporters, as they often tweet when they need sources for stories.  By having a rock solid social media presence, it is a great way to position oneself as an expert which helps get interviews.  It also allows for advisors to build relationships with the media.

Public relations is just one aspect of marketing though.  Social media should be part of an overall integrated plan, which starts with defining a brand, determining target markets and having a reputable website.  “I look at websites all the time and am horrified at how bad they are” Swfit said.  Advisors should ask their clients for ideas on how to improve their sites on a regular basis.

As it goes for all marketing efforts, advisors should be in compliance with industry regulation. 

“By taking the time to get your social media strategy and policy right - this powers being in compliance. Thus you can focus on your content”, said Blane Warrene, CEO of Arkovi, a firm that helps advisors get over compliance hurdles. 

Warrane was in attendance and agreed with everything Swift presented, adding, “Social media is about qualitative use and not quantitative.  Advisors should identify the social networks where the audience matches their content, including blogs, podcasts and videos, and use them effectively.”

If advisors feel this is all too much to bite off and chew, they should just start with LinkedIn and then when they are ready, join industry discussion boards.  Another approach is to ask your clients what social networking sites they use and start there.  Social media is social in nature.  It means advisors should promote others’ content, as self promotion is not what it is all about.  This also takes off some of the pressure of having to create all new content.

Social Media in a Nutshell

What an advisor does online is an extension of what they do and who they are. “Everyone will Google you," Swift said. "It is part of your credibility.  It is part of your brand.  It helps you make a meaningful connection.”

Swift had an honest but direct piece of advice:  “When it comes to social media, if you sit on the sideline, you run a risk of being obsolete.”  Hopefully her presentation and this article helps advisors realize that social media should be a bigger part of their marketing strategies to deliver increased success.

Note:  If you want to read what attendees were tweeting about at the conference, type in Twitter hashtag #T32011.

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 www.byrnesconsulting.com.