For the vast majority of financial advisors, the wholesaler as the sole or primary source of information on an asset manager's products has been supplanted by the research they do on websites, online forums and blogs. The wealth of information to which they have access online increased exponentially with the advent of social media, where they network with peers and clients. But most asset managers have been slow to embrace social media as an opportunity to listen to their clients, engage with them and use the insights they've gained in order to build and nurture rewarding relationships. To develop connections with unknown advisors and deepen client relationships, firms need to create opportunities to engage and interact with them and the influencers they trust on social networks.

Benefits of Engagement

Leading brands like General Electric, Dell and IBM are realizing powerful competitive advantages from the integration of social engagement in their business strategies. Social media is an essential component of business development, relationship management, customer insight, communication, service and product management. Rather than isolating it as a stand-alone promotional tactic, social media should be considered a part of any corporate initiative to connect with clients. The primary reasons for asset managers to participate in social media are three-fold. Social media leaders in asset management like Putnam Investments, Wells Fargo and Vanguard are gaining:

1. New ways to build relationships that are not dependent solely on wholesalers.

2. Customer insight to personalize interactions with the firm and develop products customers want.

3. Increased employee engagement by leveraging their expertise and enthusiasm for the brand.

Creating Opportunities to Engage

Rather than use social networks as another channel to disseminate links to white papers and portfolio manager commentary, firms need to actively seek interaction with advisors and influencers. Only 14.3% of asset managers feel they are effective at creating and responding to opportunities to interact with their audience on social networks. But Putnam Investments, Wells Fargo Asset Management and Vanguard are good examples of brands that are starting to find success with a focus on timely, relevant discussion themes that are lively and interesting to advisors as well as those who influence them-their peers, industry experts, and journalists. These firms use seasonal and current events as points of departure for expert opinion, education and advice. For financial advisors looking for opportunities to learn and help their clients, this type of content can garner response, as well as get shared and distributed well beyond its initial posting. Effective brand participation in social communities doesn't rely solely on proprietary content; it also actively solicits and integrates content from respected third parties and users. For example, Fidelity Investments enhances its value as a reliable destination for financial advice with a compelling blend of content curated from sources including Barron's, Reuters, and the Wall Street Journal as well as proprietary content that provides the firm's perspective on an array of investing topics.

Integrating Activity

Effective participation in social media relies on an integrated, relevant and consistent presence across the digital ecosystem. Each social site offers slightly different options for engaging advisors and facilitating connections online:

Blogs are essential vehicles for posting unique, differentiated and timely content that boosts organic searches leading to the brand and creates opportunities for contact and comment. Blogs also are a foundation for robust presences on LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+. But less than half of firms host blogs and just a fraction of them enable, much less encourage, comments. LinkedIn is optimal for connecting with advisors and industry experts.

Financial advisors use LinkedIn far more than any other social site for business purposes. With the newly announced Showcase pages and the ability to post news updates, sponsor updates, and host Groups for advisors, LinkedIn offers many opportunities to connect and engage with advisors. Google+ is especially well suited for connecting with target audiences on topics of mutual interest. And the site is essential to enhance search rankings and access robust analytics. Twitter, with its short, visual medium is ideal for capturing the interest of advisors, industry experts and the media.

The recent roll-out of enhanced graphics, the ability to see popular tweets and to pin tweets have boosted an already strong array of options for brands. And finally, social features such as rating, ranking, commenting and sharing need to be integrated on asset manager websites. Their absence is that much more evident as advisors increasingly conduct their research on financial news and research sites like Bloomberg and Morningstar, which seamlessly incorporate such interaction for an enhanced user experience. Five years ago, asset managers had the luxury of taking a wait-and-see approach to social media, but that time has passed. Leading firms have used that time to learn and implement best practices on building an engaging presence on social networks.

Julia Binder is director of e-business research at kasina.

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