When you talk about social media, Facebook and Twitter tend to get most of the buzz. But many financial advisors might not realize that another network may generate better results: LinkedIn.
The business-oriented social networking site that launched in 2003 is mainly used for professional networking. At the beginning of 2011, LinkedIn reported having more than 90 million registered users in more than 200 countries worldwide.
Some advisors are experimenting on LinkedIn, aware that the site has potential but not sure what that potential is. Others may be plowing ahead, uncertain how LinkedIn interacts with the rest of their marketing plans. By better understanding your business goals and the uses of LinkedIn, you can enhance your marketing to build your practice.
BUILD YOUR BUSINESS
Depending on your goals, you may find there are several worthwhile ways to use LinkedIn in your marketing:
* Building relationships. Stay in touch with existing contacts by reviewing their activity and sending short, personal notes.
* Understanding prospects. Investigate prospective clients to identify their fit in your practice and their specific interests.
* Handpicking specific prospects. Seek out potential clients in your target market - meeting them through existing contacts.
* Listening to concerns. Uncover your clients' needs and their perception of your services.
* Attracting prospects to a brand. Project a consistent and positive image of your practice and its capabilities.
We meet new colleagues and prospects all the time. Some stay in our network, but many drift away. Inviting people to connect on LinkedIn is an easy way to reinforce that acquaintance and tell contacts they're important to you.
Once you're connected, you can see changes in their profile, their recommendations and connections and other activity. (Your LinkedIn homepage will stream activity by your connections.) Periodically, these changes may call for a note, such as congratulating your contact on a promotion, acknowledging a shared interest or requesting help.
If you have not seen a noteworthy update on your homepage but want to connect with a contact, review the contact's profile for ideas. The profile may show recent activity you missed or reveal an interest that you share.
Personal notes allow you to show your contacts you're thinking of them. Your objective is to acknowledge the contact as an individual. LinkedIn is a resource to identify relevant topics for notes and, since the contact specified the topic, you know they are relevant.
Get in the habit of searching LinkedIn before you meet with prospective clients. With 90 million participants, LinkedIn is rich with data that can support a new relationship. Although profiles are sometimes cryptic, they are usually a trove of information, and the information is accurate since it is provided by the contact.
The prospect's profile shows his or her job responsibilities, providing information about the prospect's likely income and influence. The profile lists the prospect's employment history and education, providing possible matches to your background and relationships. It may list interests and hobbies, potentially providing you with talking points to build rapport. If you find common interests, that knowledge can boost your confidence going into the meeting.
In his book Take the Cold Out of Cold Calling, Sam Richter says, "If you practice sales intelligence, you will close twice as much business versus those who wing it." Learning how to find information before a meeting will help you connect.
LinkedIn can also help you find more prospects. A target market has a common communication system, and that system can be searched on LinkedIn. You can find specific prospects by location, company, industry, title, school or keyword. Of course, you can also use these search terms in combination.
For example, if you search for Microsoft in the company field, you will come up with almost 102,000 people. (If you put Microsoft in the keywords field, you'd come up with about 834,000 people.) Add "VP" in the title field and you reduce the result to 6,525 people. Restrict your search to within 10 miles of Microsoft headquarters in Bellevue, Wash. (Zip code 98007), and you reduce the number to 2,222.
Within this group, LinkedIn will tell you a name if you are connected through one connection, a connection of a connection or through a group. If LinkedIn tells you the name, the network will also tell you how you are connected to the prospect. It's usually best to contact prospects through your connections.
LinkedIn will provide up to 100 names on a free account. The network will provide more names and liberal contact rules if you do a paid upgrade.
One way connections are identified is by your location. For example, if you live within 10 miles of Glendale, Calif., you can connect with 1,296 Disney VPs. If you live in Atlanta, you can connect with 1,171 SunTrust VPs. If you live in Indianapolis, you can connect with 192 VPs of Eli Lilly.
You can also search by your alma mater (86,000 from Stanford and 160,000 from NYU); by a profession (33,350 psychologists, 315,444 lawyers); or even by religion (50,800 with the keyword Jewish; 61,000 Lutherans; 104,300 Catholics). If you can define your target market through one of these attributes (location, company, industry, title, school or keyword), you can find prospects through LinkedIn.
For handpicking specific prospects, it is important to have lots of connections. The more people you know on LinkedIn, the more names you will see in your searches. But it doesn't pay to go crazy. Balance three objectives: your desire to connect with many people, to have an actual relationship with your connections and to meet new people.
A connection without a relationship can make it harder to track and maintain your actual relationships. But if you're on LinkedIn to create new relationships, accept some connections expecting to get to know a contact over time. Eventually, you want all your virtual connections to appear in your marketing plan - lunches, events, newsletters, seminars, articles, community service, etc.
LISTEN TO CLIENT CONCERNS
Learning what clients are worried about is one of the hallmarks of social networks. With this insight, advisors can use LinkedIn to better understand what their clients need, expect and value.
By becoming involved in groups frequented by clients, advisors may hear about financial concerns by listening passively. Large companies may also find chatter about their firm through passive listening. Smaller firms like RIAs, individual advisors and local branches of large firms may have to initiate conversations to get feedback.
You can listen through conversations in groups, status updates and LinkedIn Answers. Your objective may be to understand the concerns of your clients, the language they use and the ways they expect to resolve those concerns.
Your objective may also be to understand how they feel about your services, what additional services they would like and how they would like them delivered. You can use this business intelligence to refine your services to address client needs more effectively.
Building relationships is all about private messages, even if they are posted for the public to see. Understanding prospects, handpicking specific prospects and listening are all about gathering information posted by others. Attracting prospects to your brand is about the public messages you send.
You attract prospects to your brand through your profile, status updates and recommendations. Your brand also is built by your LinkedIn Answers, your groups, your applications and your connections. Each of these elements provides a message to networkers.
Your brand will be clearer if you stick to a few key points. Your expertise should be reflected in the groups you join and the Answers you provide. Your messages should reflect the target market and the ideal client you serve. Aligning your messaging with your market will complement your client experience, minimize client confusion and reinforce the face-to-face messages you deliver to your clients.
Any profile you have on LinkedIn contributes to your brand. Even if you don't have a profile on LinkedIn, that fact also affects your brand. So develop your profile and engage in social networks with that purpose in mind.
No single LinkedIn strategy is right for all advisors. Your goal may be to enhance your clients' experience, meet new prospects, deepen existing connections or drive home a consistent brand image. Design your LinkedIn tactics and activities with other marketing strategies to accomplish your goals.
John Comer, CFP, helps advisors refine their client experience, define what makes their businesses unique and execute their marketing strategy. For more, visit jcomerconsulting.com.
What Regulators Think
FINRA issued Regulatory Notice 10-06 in January 2010 to provide guidance on blogs and social networking websites. FINRA and the SEC are believed to be reviewing their policies now.
If you use LinkedIn as a marketing tool, the regulatory requirements are not particularly surprising or onerous. LinkedIn and other social networking is now regulated akin to advertising, sales literature, correspondence or public appearances. Of course, your broker-dealer may have its own requirements, so review your plans accordingly.
Using LinkedIn to build relationships is all about individual messages to a specific contact, so it would be regulated as correspondence. Correspondence can be sent to only one person, and it must be retained for review, which meets SEC requirements.
Not all LinkedIn use is regulated. Reading content submitted by clients or potential clients is not regulated, so using LinkedIn to understand or handpick specific prospects or to listen to clients without oversight is generally fine.