Adoption and education.
Those are the twin goals this year for Morgan Stanley, as it tries to develop wider usage of professional networking site LinkedIn and short-burst message service Twitter in order to build up the businesses of its 16,900 financial advisors.
"The focus we have for 2013 is adoption, in general. There are a lot of complexes and branches that want to embrace this and have use come out to help people get excited about this,'' said Lauren Boyman, executive director of its digital strategy. Then, there is the education part. "For every advisor that is tech-savvy and a premium LinkedIn user, we probably have 10 more that are not really up to speed" on how to use social communications as a means of building business.
Since November, all of those fund sales and financial advice professionals have been eligible to participate in the company's social media initiative, according to Boyman.
As of the start of February, approximately 2,000 advisors are fully approved and operating either on LinkedIn or Twitter. About 300 more are dipping into these new forms of marketing, each month. And the company hopes to have about 4,000 online by year's end.
Boyman is trying to make adoption as easy as possible. So advisors avoid any run-ins with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority or other industry regulators, a self-paced tutorial on maintaining compliance is online and can be completed in about half an hour.
The team behind the initiative has also produced 400 to 500 pre-approved tweets, from which advisors can pick to communicate with present or potential clients and not worry about whether any rules about communications are violated.
Each tweet is considered static content requiring preapproval, as opposed to interactive communications which be captured, recorded and stored for possible future review, in the same fashion as electronic mail.
"Static" content such as profile information on a social networking site or a blog posting will generally be considered an advertisement that requires firm approval before use, by FINRA's guidelines.
Last year, the company experimented with letting a small group of advisors send out tweets, spontaneously. That required, however, more surveillance than expected from the two people in its risk oversight group. So, because of the intensive nature of watching unapproved comments, the company dropped the pilot program.
"The amount of resources it takes to approve the tweets" proved too great, she said. "I think we'll get there eventually, but what we found out from our program, the pre-approved tweets do get followers and engagement."
Most of the interest in the services that a good financial advisor can provide revolves around "evergreen" topics, anyway, such as retirement funding, college 529 savings plans, and taxes, she said. Which makes pre-vetted comments and profiles easier to ratchet up and maintain.
"If they see it on Twitter at the right time, then it gets a lot of engagement,'' she said.
Boyman and her team, to widen adoption, are criss-crossing the country, attending internal conferences and making branch visits. They also are working with asset managers to reach as many advisors as possible. The point: To drum up interest and advise advisors on how to make best use of networking media.
A LinkedIn profile, for instance, "should be much more than a resume,'' Boyman contends. It should tell a story about an advisor's specialties and approach to serving customers.
"It should have a flavor to it, that gives people a sense of who the advisor is as a person and a professional,'' she said. "Crafting that story definitely takes time and discipline."
Advisors who craft strong profiles and work the interconnections that LinkedIn allows tend to get results, she says. One senior advisor recently brought in three new households as clients, in two months. One new customer was a fraternity brother he hadn't talked with in 15 years. Total new assets to handle: $500,000.
"It's a really great way to stay connected, or to find people you haven't been in touch with for a long time,'' she said.
To determine just how widely that experience is shared, Boyman plans an annual survey of the advisors, to see how they're doing.
The survey will tally up a variety of metrics on results delivered by LinkedIn relationships or Twitter communications. This will include the number of client meetings produced, the number of relationships established, the amount of assets that the advisor begins to manage, the number of accounts that get produced.
The education is required because a fair number of advisors and field managers on how social media work or how to use them effectively, Boyman said. And each advisor has to think about how they want to portray themselves and their practices.
To gain wider adoption, Morgan Stanley also will be making social communications an integral part of each advisor's window into the state of his or her business: the company's 3D desktop computing system.
"We want it to be turnkey for advisors,'' Boyman said. "So when an advisor is using 3D, without having to go to a separate platform, they can see what their LinkedIn contacts are up to,'' for instance.
This will have direct access to the library of content on financial topics that an advisor can post on a profile page or send to a client. In a "one-click process,'' the advisor, for instance, can tweet directly from the company's research area when there's a tweet for a particular piece of research.
Morgan Stanley's business development organization helps teach the advisors how to use the media and technology vendor Socialware also provides coaching.