With more than 400,000 financial advisors serving individuals today, the need to stand out in an extraordinarily crowded marketplace is tougher - and more important - than ever. One of the newest and most interesting ways to do that is through LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media channels.

The appeal of social media is clear: It lets you put yourself out there like no other tool can, and it can help investors quickly see who you are and how you can bring value to their lives. As a result, it has become one of the more intriguing ways to get affluent clients to start talking with you instead of with an advisor down the street.

That said, as you're surely aware, the social media landscape is full of traps and time sinks - making it tough to know how to navigate with these tools and take advantage of them. That's one reason many advisors don't bother with it. In the past several months, however, my firm, CEG Worldwide, has identified some key social media strategies that top financial advisors are using to attract new affluent clients.

 

BUILDING A FRAMEWORK

The first move you need to make is to put social media into the broader context of a smart strategic business plan. Specifically, social media should be part of an overall conversational marketing strategy. Conversational tactics are designed to generate awareness of you among the right affluent prospects and then enable you to engage those investors in a series of interactions so that many will ultimately choose to work with you. Through these interactions - or conversations - you can build significant credibility among your target niche and be seen as the go-to expert for help with all things financial. By positioning yourself as such an expert, you can generate a seemingly endless stream of prospective clients who are ideal for your business and who are already interested in working with you by the time they first visit your office.

A key point to remember is that social media should be one of many components in your overall approach. Your conversations with ideal prospects need to occur through multiple channels: articles, research papers and blog posts that you write; videos and webinars that you conduct; and in-person group presentations that you lead; as well as through social media. Simply pushing out a lot of information via social media channels won't be nearly as effective as incorporating social media into a larger framework for nurturing relationships with ideal clients through a regular series of conversations.

Ultimately, your social media efforts and other marketing initiatives must be coordinated and designed to send the right messages to your target audience. Our research found that affluent investors expect their advisors to demonstrate six key characteristics:

* Character - trustworthiness, honesty and integrity.

* Chemistry -a connection that shows you understand them deeply.

* Caring - a sense that you empathize with your clients and that you value them as people, not just as revenue sources.

* Competence - technical investment-related skills as well as the perception that you are a true leader in your areas of expertise.

* Cost effectiveness - proof that you provide high value for your cost.

* Consultative - a willingness to collaborate with clients.

If you convey these traits in your social media messaging and in your other marketing efforts, you'll find that more investors will want to engage with you and explore working together.

 

FIVE STEPS

I've spent a lot of time in the past year talking with advisors who are using social media strategically and having success. What I've found is that they tend to take one or more of the following steps:

1. Create a LinkedIn professional profile. LinkedIn is a great channel for positioning yourself as an expert. Create a profile that articulates your compelling value proposition - for example, being a personal CFO to your clients and coordinating the efforts of all their advisors. Remember that clients want to be consultative - they're the CEOs, essentially, but you can communicate how you will help them as their personal CFO in making smart decisions about their money. Also share your positioning statement and summarize how you do great work for your clients. Make it benefits-oriented. You might consider working with a freelance writer to hone your messaging so that it's on target based on your chosen niche, and you'll want to work with your compliance officers, of course.

2. Create a Facebook personal profile. Don't initially make a fan page for your practice - it won't do anything to generate business or create much interest in you. Instead, demonstrate the traits of chemistry and caring by having a personal profile in which you share select personal elements. One advisor we work with is an auto-racing enthusiast. He shares details on Facebook. I recently posted pictures from a big hike I took. Keep it fun and light, and don't post anything you don't want the whole world to see.

3. Friend your clients on Facebook. Doing so can help you deliver a better experience by seeing what they're up to. In the old days, we would meet with clients in our offices to catch up and demonstrate our empathy. Now, we can go on Facebook (there's a pretty good chance that your clients are on it) and get a steady stream of personal and family-related updates. This is valuable because we know the affluent want 28 contacts per year from their advisors, on average, and that the best types of interactions are personal contacts, not investment-related contacts.

You can use Facebook to learn that your clients are about to go skiing in Italy, say, or are having a new grandchild, and respond in a way that reinforces your value and personal connection. You might, for example, send the client a guidebook on Italy or an article with tips for new grandparents. Facebook allows you to build and maintain personal contacts and relationships with clients and really wow them.

4. Identify second-opinion candidates. The second-opinion service - in which you offer to conduct a free portfolio review for friends and associates of your clients - is the single best way to get introductions to new clients. Instead of asking for a referral, you offer something of great value: your assessment of the financial health of people your clients care about. Offering this second-opinion service should be done at every face-to-face interaction with clients. Social media can help with this too.

If you are on LinkedIn, you can connect with your clients' community of people. You can see who they are linked with and who among them might be appropriate prospects to pursue. The same goes with Facebook. Some advisors we work with report that before their progress meetings with clients, they do homework on the people their clients are connected to online and identify good potential prospects. That way, instead of just offering the second-opinion service and potentially hearing "let me think about it" from the client, they can say, "I saw that you know Bob - is he someone who could benefit from a second opinion about his portfolio?"

5. Develop relationships with centers of influence. If you serve a defined target market, leveraging the knowledge of centers of influence - the movers and shakers in your niche - is one of the best ways to build your business. Social media channels are excellent for identifying these key players so that you can meet with them to learn what the issues are in your niche and how you can solve them. For example, you can conduct advanced searches in LinkedIn to find connections that your clients have who might be good to speak with. You also might then ask your client to make the introduction the next time you meet. Although this may seem calculated, the fact is your valued clients are typically willing to help you if you ask.

 

TO TWEET OR NOT TO TWEET

You likely noticed that Twitter isn't among my top strategies. I don't see much professional value. Highly successful financial advisors aren't using it, nor are many of the affluent. It's more of a mass-market type of approach. You have to send a huge numbers of tweets to keep people interested in following you. My advice: Pay attention as it evolves, but don't rush to start tweeting.

 

 

John J. Bowen Jr., a Financial Planning columnist, is founder and CEO of CEG Worldwide of San Martin, Calif., a global training, research and consulting firm for advisors.