Oh the chest thumping, the spamming, the obscenities, the mundaness now that anyone and everyone seems to have a voice on social media. Some days I skim my Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook feeds and simply shake my head. Most days, however, I find a few gems gleaming in what can seem like an avalanche of gray rubble—and that is enough to satiate me and make the participation worthwhile.

I see myself as a new age explorer, out on the trail, looking for meaning and, hopefully, creating a road map for others to follow. In fact, we are all a part of a grand experiment, and while some “social media experts” will tell you that “social media rules” – and that it’s the magic fairy dust you need to “explode your business” – others will tell you their social media “rules” – their own observations and opinions on how to do it right. In reality, I think that we are, as communities of like-minded people, creating our own “rules” or guidelines. So, I will proffer some of my own observations and opinions in this piece and encourage you to post your own on the discussion thread connected to this article.


While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I admit I have my own personal and professional filters, there just seems to be a lot of noise “out there” as people in general and financial advisors in particular grapple with Twitter etiquette, Facebook do’s, and LinkedIn don’ts.  As I write this article, a couple of recent events are rolling around in my head:

  1. Deena Katz, an icon in the financial planning industry who now teaches personal financial planning courses at Texas Tech University, asked me to fly down to Lubbock, Texas, the week before last to talk with her students for the day. I got a lot out of that full-day conversation, hearing from folks a lot younger than I about how they think about and use social media. We didn’t always agree, but we did have a lively conversation and I’ve never heard so many “yes ‘ma’am’s” and “Mrs. Swift’s” in my life. I, of course, shared my perspective as a Baby Boomer and tenured communications consultant in the industry. It was like rocks rolling around in a rock-polishing machine—a wonderful experience because it was a give-and-take, never a one-way dialog. Hey, that seems like a good rule for social media use too, make it a give-and-take, never a one-way dialog—just like in real life. Use the hashtag #TTUpfp to see aggregated Twitter posts related to that day.
  2. I just returned from the FPA Convention in San Antonio where, by the way, I got to wear the new red cowboy boots that I bought while hanging around with Deena in Lubbock the week before.  In a Community Building Discussion Room, twenty or so people and I gathered to talk about how digital communications are changing the way we interact. Of course, social media was a big part of that conversation (remember social media is supposed to have an interactive component to it whereas everything else you do online is what I call “building your online presence—a much bigger topic than just social media). So, beyond social media, we also talked about video, websites, mass email use, etc. One of the biggest pet peeves in the room was seeing the same content over and over again from the same person via an automated system on all of their social media accounts. The group agreed that they want to see a glimpse of the real person and are turned off by blatant self-promotion. Hmmm … sounds like real life, again. Don’t be a phony. Create a dialog. Put others first. Make a contribution. Don’t dominate the space. Use the hashtag #FPAexperience to see aggregated Twitter posts related to that day.
  3. The first of the presidential debates occurred last week. Did you realize that there were actually two debates – one on TV and one on the Internet?  As I was sitting on the couch with my laptop watching the stream of comments from my friends and colleagues on Twitter, I was also watching the post-debate analysis on TV. Intentionally, I refrained from adding my own opinions to the Twitter stream during the debate for, as one of my wise Twitter friends said, “I find the group think on Twitter and Facebook to be detrimental.” One of the news anchors wisely said: “All politics are social,” which I thought was interesting. And, I would add, this year’s politics are even more social than ever due to the endless stream of opinions posted on Twitter and Facebook (hopefully not so much on LinkedIn, where unless you are part of a political group conversation, I highly discourage political posts—and, come to think of it, I have recently “unfriended” people on Facebook who went on and on making others wrong for their social and political views). Use the hashtag #debate to see aggregated Twitter posts related to that day.


Let’s study the presidential #debate stream. Here are a few of the helpful, telling and/or entertaining tweets from folks in my own Twitter stream:

  • @johnwasikDebate was a muddle. No clear winner. Lehrer should be hosting Masterpiece theatre.
  • @todaysadvisorAny minute now a stagehand with a blanket is coming out to take away Jim Lehrer.
  • @MensHumorThis debate is a lot funnier if you imagine that @barackobama is texting while @mittromney is talking. #debate
  • @justinthomasbOkay so when does the debate turn into a dance-off?
  • @jodikantorFacial expression of the night: the clenched smile.
  • @dabeard#Debate over? Not on Twitter, where @MittRomney, @BarackObama still duking. See side-by-side posts: http://wapo.st/Ho8abR
  • @ReutersPoliticsFact checking the debate http://reut.rs/PbJWZA

Now let’s study some of the tweets from the FPA Experience – these work as communications because they are authentic, helpful and relevant (and sometimes even telling or funny):

  • @JeffTomanengYou can post motivational quotes periodically on Twitter just to show you're still there. @marieswift#FPAExperience
  • @swershingBlog posts responding to others posts can create an ad hoc community around an issue @marieswift#fpaexperience
  • @JeffTomanengMake sure that the people you follow reflect your values. @marieswift#FPAExperience
  • @nathangehringAwesome! RT @marieswift: @swershing at #fpaexperience: "It's not that u should stop thinking about referrals but u should stop asking for them."

Here are some examples of good posts, in general, on my Twitter stream and/or LinkedIn Group pages. Notice how they lift up other people and/or interesting information, in an almost-cheerleading-sort-of-way:

  • @FastCompany4 tips for brand building: http://trib.al/WhoN2e
  • @onwallstreet Our October issue is now live. Check @onwallstreet's cover story on an emerging client niche: Serving Same-Sex Couples. http://bit.ly/SqgMH9
  • @jlahita_ficommMontoya: Websites, social media platforms are "legitimizers". You are "illegitimate" without strong presence here. #peakexcell
  • @sandyblockYour Dad (or Mom) has dementia but insists on managing his money. Good advice from @lindastern on how to intervene. http://ow.ly/edyOa
  • @BillWinterbergA gem! RT @SarahActiance You Suck at PowerPoint by @jessedee http://bit.ly/USuckatPPT
  • @SherylGarrettSEC Offers Primer on Selecting a Financial Planner http://www.financial-planning.com/news/sec-offers-primer-on-selecting-a-financial-planner-2681014-1.html …


Part of the clutter problem seems to be that people are still trying to find their voice, to determine what’s relevant, meaningful and helpful to their friends, followers and connections. They really do want to contribute something good but it’s not always easy to come up with it. The cure for this, I think, is to follow other smart people and watch what they do for a while.

How do you respond when they syndicate the same content on all of their social media accounts? That feels like spamming to me and I’m often connected to people on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook so I don’t need or want to see the same content over and over and over. There is, of course, the argument that not all of your connections are on all of your social media accounts so if its relevant information, you should “syndicate” it (or publish it verbatim) on all your social media accounts. The cure for this, I think, is to “shake up” your content just a bit so it’s not exactly the same on all of your social media accounts—after all, there are nuances to how people can and should communicate on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook (or, insert your favorite social media outlet into the equation).

I always try to be authentic, helpful, charming or funny (although I’m sure I’m not always perceived as intended in spite of my best efforts). I ask myself before hitting the submit button “does this matter to my online community?” “So what?”

Others seem to misunderstand the real value in social media—they think it’s just a great/free advertising vehicle to push their agenda—whatever that is:

  • “Hire me to speak at your conference” (really? I’d have to hear you speak first or see some evidence that you have some ability before you’d do that, a tweet just seems like you’re desperate).
  • “Read my latest article, it’s oh-so witty and wise” (uh-huh, I’ll be the judge of that).
  • “I’m dining with so-and-so big shot drinking expensive wine on the River Walk” (so why didn’t you invite me?).

All of this chest thumping is offensive and tiresome after awhile. It’s like a well-dressed person walking around at a cocktail party with a megaphone shouting “look at me, look at me, look at me” instead of trying to actually talk to people and have a meaningful conversation. Sadly, some don’t realize that social media is supposed to be, well, social; and that when its really working, it’s interactive—that’s when things really get good. I have been watching to see when people engage with my content by retweeting, replying, commenting, etc. That’s a good yardstick to use, I think. If you are saying something relevant and meaningful, people will interact with you on the social media site (this is where social media—which is having an online presence on the outlet—turns into social networking—interacting with people in a meaningful way).

My best advice? In all your social media communications (and as a corollary to life), ask yourself:

  • Why am I posting this? Is it all about me and my ego?
  • Does this matter to anyone else but me?
  • Will this make a difference to my friends and followers?
  • Am I “talking” just to hear myself talk?
  • Is this post relevant, telling, funny and/or informative?
  • Have I given credit where credit is due?
  • Have I said thank you when others mention me and/or my posts?
  • Am I tired, emotional, or otherwise impaired?

Is this post any of the following (if so, do not post it):

  • Confidential or sensitive in nature?
  • Common; ordinary; banal; unimaginative?
  • Indecent; depraved; disgusting; repulsive; lascivious?
  • Boastful; egotistical; blatantly self-promoting?
  • Hurtful; politically-charged; making other people wrong?

At the end of the day, social media etiquette is a lot like the advice your mother gave you when you were young. Be nice, try to say something smart, and treat people well (and they’ll respond in kind).

I’d like to hear your observations and opinions, too. If you’ll be attending any of the conferences below, tackle me and let’s chat. Otherwise, you can post your comments on the discussion thread below or interact with me on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook.

Oct 9-11, 2012: Loring Ward Advanced Symposium in Chicago

Oct 10-11, 2012: Securities America's Assistant University in Omaha

Oct 15-17, 2012: Tiburon CEO Summit in San Francisco

Nov 1-2, 2012: Ladenburg Institute of Women and Finance in Miami

Nov 13-16, 2012: Schwab Impact in Chicago

Nov 28-30, 2012: Barron’s Top Women Advisors Summit in Palm Beach

Marie Swift is a communications consultant in the financial services industry. Learn more at www.ImpactCommunications.org. Follow @marieswift on Twitter, “like” ImpactCommunicationsInc on Facebook, or search for Marie Swift on LinkedIn.