MIAMI - Does your CEO tweet?

Vanguard Group chief executive Bill McNabb has taken to the keyboard on two separate occasions to respond to customers on Twitter and Facebook.

The idea of the two "McNabb Days" is to humanize the fund company's efforts to communicate with customers, said Shayna Beck, Head of Retail Social Media at Vanguard at the 2013 NICSA Annual Conference & Expo.

On those days, McNabb composes his own tweets and posts. But, as CEO of a major fund company, he is not alone at the keyboard when he does it, said Beck.

In the room are officers of the firm's legal and compliance efforts, Beck said. Also present: an information security specialist, in case some sort of technical disruption or threat emerges.

It's a natural expression of Vanguard's approach to marketing, Beck said.

Vanguard has built its business on word of mouth. The firm has no brick-and-mortar stores or outlets. It's Web site is its storefont. And this is a "great way" to extend what it's doing on the Web, Beck said.

It's also low cost, which is fundamental for Vanguard, which has become the nation's largest fund group by creating and marketing low-cost funds that follow market movements passively.

"It's a minimal expense" compared to advertising and traditional marketing, Beck said.

The company is client-owned "so we do not spend money, just to spend money," she said.

When a chief executive gets in front of the keyboard, he gets to "see what is happening behind the screen" in customers minds, live, she said.

In this case, the process showed both McNabb's personality and how he lives the devotion to low cost management.

This Twitter exchange, fronted by a video of McNabb on YouTube (see page 1) occurred in the September 2012 McNabb Day:

Max Rodriguez @Maxfield_R

@Vanguard_Group tell me Bill has a larger office than that? If that is his office, then very admirable

14 Sep Vanguard @Vanguard_Group

@Maxfield_R Nope, that's it. Definitely not flashy, but very functional. Kind of like Vanguard!

Which went to show why getting a chief executive to tweet matters.

"This was an effort to give authentic and genuine insights to their community, put a face to the brand, and show differentiators from other investment management companies," she said, in a blog post.

Here are the three major benefits she said that the company gets from McNabb Days and the social media initiative it started in 2009.

1. Humanizing The Brand

A social media presence across multiple channels has become the new front porch for clients and fans to share their investing and personal finance experiences with friends and family.

2. Trust

Social media gives clients and fans insight into your company's culture and core beliefs through behind-the-scenes content, videos, photos, or Q&A sessions with senior leaders.

3. Real-Time Customer Service

Social media is an important way to connect with many existing and prospective clients at one time.

"At Vanguard our clients come first. It is in our DNA. And Bill McNabb, as well as all of Vanguard's leaders, are always interested in listening and interacting with our clients," Beck wrote.

Climbing the Social Mountain

MIAMI-Misty Ford had the fun six years ago of climbing Mt. Rainier, the peak outside Seattle that rises 14,409 feet above sea level.

Now, as director of digital marketing at Russell Investments, which is based in Seattle, she likes to use the analogy of climbing the mountain with creating social media planning, "because it's a lot the same," she contends.

The key in getting to the top of the mountain is to really think about the objective and prepare to get there.

Here are the questions you should ask yourself, as you set out, in the Ford guide book.

* What exactly are you trying to do?

* Are you trying to support your brand?

* Are you trying to attract new customers?

* Who are you talking to?

* What are their plans?

* What social media do they use? LinkedIn? Facebook? Something else?

* What's the strategic opportunity?

* What's the goal?

* Where are your competitors?

* How can you be different from where they are?

* How can you be unique?

* What experiments can you try to see what works?

* What is your route to the top, step by step?

* How will you measure success, along the way?

Plan it out. And work the plan.

At the end of the day, she says, "you have to put those crampons, and you need to just take the first step. You need to just start climbing the mountain."

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