Financial Advice's Top Social Media Influencers Are ... Who?

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.


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.


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.  


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