Being a financial advisor has never been more challenging. Clients are scared, and you may have some concerns as well. How can you build business in these tough times? How can you make your practice stronger and more profitable than ever before? That’s what this column is all about.
Each week, “In the Game” will provide you with relevant, enlightening tips that you can immediately apply to your practice. With help from the industry’s most renowned coaches, we will give you a first-hand-look at what works for the most successful practices. Up first: the ever-evolving world of social media.
Over the past few years, social media has emerged as a powerful way for professionals to market their businesses. Regulators are scrambling to catch up: Just this week, FINRA came out with long-awaited guidance for financial advisors who post on social networking sites and blogs. “A lot of people have been afraid because they didn’t know what the rules were,” says Kristin Luke, principal of Wealth Management Marketing. “Now that it’s more clear what they can and cannot do, it will open up the opportunity to finally get on board.”
While these guidelines are sure to lure some advisors to try social media, now that there’s some cover on the compliance front, social media—like so many other things—is only successful when used correctly. This column will focus on ways to use social media to build your business, while staying well within the boundaries of FINRA’s new guidance.
JOINING THE SOCIAL MEDIA FEED
The social media outlet likely benefit most from the new guidelines is Twitter, the “microblogging” site where everyone from Oprah to your teenage son posts messages up to 140 characters long. The FINRA guidelines say that dynamic content such as Tweets (the name for Twitter posts), along with posts on Facebook walls and LinkedIn discussion boards, do not need to be pre-approved by a compliance officer or broker-dealer—a level of leniency that shocked some social media gurus. Static content—that is, pages that stay the same until updated by the author, such as posts to your own blog, or your LinkedIn or Facebook profile—must be pre-approved.
But Twitter can be overwhelming. How do you filter messages? What does it mean? How can you be heard? Start small, advises Marie Swift, president of Impact Communications, who insists that a good way to start on Twitter is by following your peers. A lot of advisors are using Twitter in creative ways, and you can learn by watching. To find them, use the search function, which allows you to search based on keywords. Luke recommends Twellow, also known as the Twitter Yellow Pages, which searches for individuals based on profile information.
When you’re ready to start tweeting, Swift linking to interesting articles you’ve read lately, with just a few words of analysis. “It’s a way to generate credibility around yourself as a professional source of information and can guide people to your own blog or website,” she says. Swift warns, though, against self-promotion—focus instead on being an up-to-date, knowledgeable source of compelling information.
Twitter is also the perfect tool for following up with peers and other centers of influence you meet at industry events and conferences, Luke says. “On Twitter, you can interact with someone on a daily basis and become a part of their conversation—something that would be inappropriate to do by phone or email,” she points out.
Many advisors are more comfortable on Linked In, which features less interactivity and a more controlled, professional environment. Of course, building your network is the most important part of Linked In. Luke recommends joining several interest groups, from industry organizations to the local golf tournament or community foundation—groups to which high-net-worth clients and prospects are sure to belong. Posting just once a week to these groups, even to mention an interesting article and link, can help you be seen as a valuable information source.
LInkedIn’s “Answers” feature (located in the “More” section of the top navigation bar on the homepage) makes it easy for advisors to find people looking for financial advice, says Allie Herzog, president of Integrate PR. Here, you can see questions that Linked In members have put out in the social media universe.
How can this help you? Herzog suggests searching for topics such as personal finance (along the right side of your screen). By answering questions that are appropriate for your target market, you can promote yourself as an expert to those actively looking for advice.
No matter which site you choose to start out with, the first step is clear. “You need a strategy,” Luke insists. “You should really just focus on your target market and centers of influence.”
Next week, we will discuss other ways to use social media, including branding yourself across all social networking sites using optimization and the right keywords, controlling your online presence through Facebook, and avoiding the major faux pas of the social networking universe—becoming a time-suck.