When Irvine, Calif.-based planner Winnie Sun jumped from Smith Barney to LPL Financial about 18 months ago, a major factor driving the move was her new firm's support of social media.

"LPL's marketing platform was one of the main reasons," says Sun, who is tweeting and posting her way through LPL's annual conference in San Diego, Calif., this week.  "All the major firms have a very similar investment platform and capabilities." But, Sun takes advantage of LPL's compliance service. Run by a firm called Erado, it costs $180 a year for its advisors to use Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter (that's $60 for each platform). It archives all social media communication for potential review by regulators.

The tool is a central piece of LPL's commitment to enabling its advisors to jump into social media when they are ready, says Marissa Fox-Foley, LPL's executive vice president of marketing.

"We not only permit, but encourage, the use of social media," Fox-Foley says. "It allows advisors to establish connections with both prospects and clients in a very meaningful way."

Fox-Foley spoke on a panel about the subject to some of the 2,500 advisors and 5,000 total attendees at the conference, titled FOCUS 12: Building a Winning Business.

Social media "really has transformed the way that advisors can communicate their value proposition," she told them.

Sun learned that lesson back at Smith Barney. About five years ago, she says, she was an early social media adopter there and took advantage of the wirehouse's decision to allow a select number of advisors to use LinkedIn to build their businesses. Sun said she spent about a year slowly building up her LinkedIn presence.

"You can't just link to an article on CNBC," she says. "It has to be something that the audience knows you actually wrote. They can sense really quickly whether you are adding any value."

Sun also took time to share personal details of not only her home life, but her life at work, including the fact that she and her colleagues like to juice fresh vegetables from her garden at lunch. Combined with her investment insights, Sun says, these windows into her personality, beliefs and practices allowed a wider number of people to get to know her without ever meeting her.

About a year after she launched her LinkedIn presence, she says, a 29-year-old executive at a local technology startup contacted her after thoroughly researching her online.

"He felt there would be a connection," Sun says, and chose her as his advisor. "He transferred his very modest portfolio over. Fast forward 12-18 months, his company was purchased by another technology firm. Then, he called and said, 'I need to wire over about $10 million.'"

Today, this client who came to her via social media is among the largest in her practice.

"From day one, I felt that social media was important," Sun says. "I think that being Gen X, being a younger financial advisor, I always felt there was so much we could do in terms of the Internet."

Before any LPL advisor can use social media, or its Erado archiving service, however, they must agree to take courses to familiarize themselves with what they can and cannot say or share via social media, Fox-Foley says.

"The rules of the road when it comes to content are very similar to print or radio or any TV appearances," she says. "It's simply the medium of delivery is difference."

Sun says that she has upped her use of social media substantially since moving to LPL. Whereas she started out spending an hour a week or so on social media back at Smith Barney, she now spends about an hour a day on it. In the immediate aftermath of this week's LPL conference, she estimates that time commitment will jump to two or two and a half hours a day while she shares all she has learned and experienced online.

To be sure, Fox-Foley says, many LPL advisors, especially those with long-established businesses, don't think that social media is worth their time. And, from LPL's perspective, that's just fine.

To help its advisors determine if developing and maintaining a social media presence is worth the substantial commitment of time, LPL asks them the following five questions:

LPL's five question for advisors who may want to start using social media:

Are you concerned that using social media involves too many compliance barriers to be effective?

Yes

Not to worry, using social media is less restrictive than you might believe.  You are permitted to use LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, providing that you follow the LPL Financial rules and guidelines to avoid regulatory pitfalls.  In order to allow you to post in real time using these sites, Marketing Regulatory Review has partnered with Erado, a third-party social media tracking and archiving system, to eliminate the need to submit interactive content for preapproval.  However static content, such as your profile for each social networking site, must still be preapproved by Marketing Regulatory Review.  For complete social media policies, read Section 15.10 of the LPL Financial Advisor Compliance Manual.

No

Excellent! Using social media is less restrictive than you might believe.  You are permitted to use LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, providing that you follow the LPL Financial rules and guidelines to avoid regulatory pitfalls.  In order to allow you to post in real time using these sites, Marketing Regulatory Review has partnered with Erado, a third-party social media tracking and archiving system, to eliminate the need to submit interactive content for preapproval.  However static content, such as your profile for each social networking site, must still be preapproved by Marketing Regulatory Review.  For complete social media policies, read Section 15.10 of the LPL Financial Advisor Compliance Manual.

Can you set aside time each week to maintain your social media sites?

Yes

Great! In order to attract new visitors and drive traffic to your social media sites, you have to actively participate.  This includes finding valuable content, posting content with authentic comments and networking with your followers.  These activities take less than an hour a week, according to most advisors who actively use social media.

No

Keep in mind. In order to attract new visitors and drive traffic to your social media sites, you have to actively participate.  This includes finding valuable content, posting content with authentic comments and networking with your followers.  These activities take less than an hour a week, according to most advisors who actively use social media.

Is social media your primary strategy for bringing in new business?

Yes

Food for thought, your social media site does not guarantee new business nor should it be the only marketing you do.  Instead, it should be a part of a more comprehensive marketing strategy.  For example, it can enhance communications and relationships with existing clients and open doors for new prospecting opportunities.

No. hat's good. Your social media site does not guarantee new business nor should it be the only marketing you do.  Instead, it should be a part of a more comprehensive marketing strategy.  For example, it can enhance communications and relationships with existing clients and open doors for new prospecting opportunities.

Are you concerned that using social media requires advanced technical skills?

Yes

Typical skills required to participate in social media involve the ability to explore the Internet for informative content, post comments, and upload photos and documents to share.  A member of your office staff may be a useful partner to help with this, or you can easily take advantage of the step-by-step guides and informational videos provided on the LPL Financial social media website, and the support from LPL Financial.

No

Perfect! Typical skills required to participate in social media involve the ability to explore the Internet for informative content, post comments, and upload photos and documents to share.  A member of your office staff may be a useful partner to help with this, or you can easily take advantage of the step-by-step guides and informational videos provided on the LPL Financial social media website, and the support from LPL Financial.

Do you have a dynamic website that clearly defines your value proposition and states the services you offer?

Yes

Bravo! Each of the social media profiles you create should provide links to your website, driving new visitors to your site to find out more about you and your practice.  Think of your website as the hub of all of your internet activity.

No. Don't forget, each of the social media profiles you create should provide links to your website, driving new visitors to your site to find out more about you and your practice.  Think of your website as the hub of all of your internet activity.

Only you can determine if social media is right for you.

Social media allows you to connect and communicate with clients and prospects like never before.  LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, can help you deliver your message at little or no cost, increase client communications and expand referral possibilities.  However, participation requires some time, some technical savvy and a dynamic website.  If you decide to participate in social networking, take advantage of our comprehensive site to learn how you can make social media an integral part of your overall marketing strategy.