"Buy a pool in March 2014," Fidelity Investments' FutureTimeline application tells users on Facebook. But some live in places like New York City and have no room for a pool. And they would first go to their gym pool before buying one to somehow fit inside their apartment.

After closing that suggestion, a pop-up of "travel to the Grand Canyon" appeared on some users' Facebook page-which happens to be a much more realistic goal.Some decided to post the tip directly to their Facebook Wall and was able to view tips from other Fidelity users on how to best save for their goal and track their monthly saving target. "Don't buy name brands," one Fidelity/Facebook user suggested.

Fidelity's FutureTimeline represents the next wave of social media when it comes to future goals and planning. As opposed to keeping goals private, the new application encourages the idea of active planning and participation from friends and family-making the act of saving an ongoing and collaborative conversation. Similar to signing up for a race with a friend to make sure you work out regularly and stick to a schedule, the FutureTimeline encourages the act of sticking to a savings plan acknowledging goals socially and receiving support from peers.

"For Fidelity, it's about giving customers tools that can empower their financial lives on the platforms they already frequent," said Fidelity's vice president of social media Martha Hayward. "We're looking to be where our customers are."

Fidelity launched its FutureTimeline application for Facebook in October 2012 to do exactly that: Be where their customers are on the world's largest social networking site. The application uses the Facebook Timeline feature to encourage users to establish, track, and share personal goals with friends. It became the first major financial services firm to use Facebook's Timeline functionality to help users plan for their future personal goals, such as - along with buying a pool -saving for retirement or a child's education or buying a new car.

"Our idea was to take all of the backward information from the Facebook Timeline and make it forward-looking," Hayward said. "It knows what year you graduated from college, so it will know around when you might aim to retire and point out some goals you might have."

The goal of the feature, according to Fidelity, includes:

* Identify goals that may be of interest based on clients' Facebook profile

* Personalize their goals with names and photos that inspire them to plan and save

* Choose how much to save toward selected goals on a monthly basis

* Share individual goals and progress, or their entire timeline, with friends and family

* Create and track joint goals with other Facebook users

Fidelity's FutureTimeline represents the latest area of its overall social media strategy, which Hayward, describes as a "method of becoming a strong voice in the conversation." At the end of a day, Fidelity's use of social media is a vehicle to promote greater relevance among customers, brand-building, and an improved overall customer experience, according to Hayward.

Social media didn't exist at Fidelity when Hayward joined the firm seven years ago. "We launched a Twitter handle (@Fidelity) in October 2009, and started up our Facebook page in February 2010, with the use of the Timeline application coming about two years later," she said.

So with a vast number of social media options available, how does Fidelity define its overall strategy?

Hayward breaks down social media into two broad categories. The first is activity on mainstream social media channels, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube. Some stats to gauge that activity: Fidelity's Twitter page now has nearly 63,300 followers; its Fidelity Facebook page has about 74,000 "Likes"; its LinkedIn page boasts nearly 98,000 followers; its YouTube channel has close to 800 subscribers and more than 2.6 million video views.

The second category of social media comes from efforts to make their own website more social, adding functions that make it easier for users to share content, for example, or rate and review articles.

At the end of the day, it's also about return on investment, said Lee Kowarski, a partner at kasina, a consulting firm that focuses on asset managers and the insurance industry. A report released by the firm in April found that only 26% of asset management firms active in social media are calculating return on investments of their social media efforts.

"When making an investment, whether it's with resources or hard dollars, to support social media initiatives, firms need to justify that expense and determine what works and what doesn't," said Kowarski.

While Fidelity acknowledges that the firm keeps close track of ROI calculations in its business generally, the firm refused to give additional details.

Fidelity is generally viewed above the herd when it comes to their success using social media. In 2011, a report by kasina found that the top five social media leaders among asset management firms include Fidelity along with Vanguard, TIAA-CREF, iShares, and The Hartford.

When it comes to Fidelity's FutureTimeline along with its other social media initiatives, customer experience is of primary importance-traffic is secondary, according to Hayward.

"I think one of the hardest things for financial firms to do in social media is to get people to share with their friends and family because finance is a more private topic," she said.

"We're trying to break that trend."

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