In the hierarchy of social networking sites, the usual runway lineup goes like this: Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
The thinking is that Facebook is the undisputed champ at helping professionals spread awareness of their brands, with its plethora of file sharing and interactive options. Twitter’s micro-blogging format is supposed to let users create more impact with few words.
LinkedIn, with its more uniform look and mission of helping professionals network and connect, might come across as staid by comparison to the casual user. What is there to do on LinkedIn everyday? As it turns out, there are several powerful free tools that can help advisors market their practices as well as help them search effectively for new clients. Planners who aren’t taking advantage of these functions (remember: they’re free) probably should be.
It starts with the profile. Advisors should skip broad descriptions that state the obvious, according to Crystal Thies, CEO of Crystal Clear Buzz, a consulting firm based in Ludlow, Ky. Advisors also should be aware of regulatory prohibitions against making recommendations to buy specific products, says Thies, who helps professionals maximize their use of LinkedIn, among other consulting services.
The line directly underneath the user’s name is the headline. Thies says advisors ought to make this targeted and specific.
“It should tell people whom you serve, what you do, and what results you get,” Thies said. For instance, she helped one advisor come up with this headline: “Wealth advisor helping small business and real estate owners manage their intertwined finances to maximize personal wealth.”
Repeat specific key words throughout the profile, to boost chances of turning up in a LinkedIn search, Thies said. Free memberships, which most people have, only show the first 100 results per search. So if the wealth advisor in the example above wanted to be in that number, it would be wise to sprinkle key phrases from the headline throughout the LinkedIn page, according to Thies.
Keep the summary section trim, Thies said. The elevator speech works better in that space, instead of an informative bio.
Profiles can also be used along with a host of applications including Box.net, a document sharing service; Slideshare.net, a Web-based presentation management service, and Google Docs, a suite of document sharing applications. Add clients to the network. Beware of adding other advisors to the network, though, as they might be tempted to poach business.
The site allows advisors to generate loads of client and professional referrals for their practices. For instance, if an advisor wants specifically to offer services to clients going through a life transition, and who live within 50 miles of a particular area, he or she can do an advanced search with the phrases ‘in transition’ and ’50 miles’ to pull up a list of potential clients.
Groups are also among the powerful free tools that generate client leads effectively, Thies said.
“FINRA considers activity in the groups as public appearances,” Thies said. “That is a place where advisors have a little bit more room to interact with potential clients.”
Naturally, most advisors want to drum up demand for their services, and LinkedIn offers some key services to help prospect for business. Say a national firm is planning buyouts for 10,000 people in a specific area. A financial advisor who is also a transition specialist can potentially reach clients through LinkedIn advertising. That advisor can then offer 401(k) rollover services for employees who accept the buyouts, said Matthew Halloran, director of national development for GIVE Strategies in Rockville, Md. Halloran is also working on a book about how financial planners can use social media to grow their businesses.
Scroll to the bottom of a LinkedIn profile page, and you’ll find a link that will bring up advertising. From there, LinkedIn will allow users to create one-line ads that show up on specific types of profiles. The ads can target audiences by geographic location, industry, company and a host of other identifying details, Halloran said. LinkedIn has made the process user friendly, and doesn’t cost a bundle, either.
The ads can also provide a steady stream of traffic that leads to business, as long as the messages involve a call to action once the messages lead users get to a company’s Web page, Thies said.
This blogger is pretty sure that LinkedIn offers far more secrets and tricks for advisors. It might not replicate the Facebook or Twitter experiences, but there is enough to keep users coming back every day.