Web-savvy consumers now want greater engagement and information about brands before making a purchasing decision, and they're getting that information from influencers they follow on social media platforms.

But the asset management industry in many ways is still working out how to connect with clients via social media. Only last November did FINRA issued guidance for firms grappling with how to make it meaningful in their business and remain in compliance. 

Like its online predecessors (email and web sites), social media started out as a generic exercise: claim your name, publish a bio or profile and look for traffic and/or connections to make. 

But social media goes deeper, says one technology consulting firm for asset managers. "We believe this will be a much more personalized experience in 2015," said Neal Quon, co-founding partner of QuonWarrene. 

"Think about it like drip marketing, where email campaigns go out and the campaign begins to modify itself based on who reads, clicks and/or responds, and thus triggers different emails as the campaign progresses," Quon says. "To set yourself apart using social media, it takes the use of one or more tools that can help you not only manage those social media profiles, but let you know who engages with your brand and how. This allows you to begin that more nuanced approach to sharing content and responding to that engagement," Quon said.

Having worked directly with financial advisors, asset management firms, custodians and broker/dealers over a significant span of time, Warrene and Quon said there are shifts emerging that follow a pattern they have seen with previous digital technology.

TOOLKIT NEEDED

A priority is making sure your team is euqipped witht thr right tools for social media management, the pair say. 

Having the right tools, they say, allows a marketing team to look across all active social profiles; monitor keywords and hashtags; publish content; monitor engagement; pull up important metrics; finally, schedule responses. 

Depending upon the size of the firm, tools might include HootSuite, SproutSocial and Shoutlet. Some of the traditional PR platforms such as BurrellesLuce and Cision also provide tools for sharing content and responding to engagement.

For large enterprises looking at multiple channels (i.e., email, social media, as well as online and social advertising), tools such as Salesforce's Marketing Cloud might be an option. (Radian6, Exact Target, Media Buddy and Social.com were all acquired by Salesforce and rolled up into the Salesforce Marketing Cloud solution.) 

Hearsay Social also works at the enterprise level, however, they do not span across all marketing channels or handle advertising which, of course, large firms are using and pursuing. "Hootsuite has a compelling enterprise solution for very social media focused initiatives - and their integrations are expansive (much like we look to in CRM for our industry)," Quon says.

ADD TEXTING

"The shift in the consumer world of social media was overwhelmingly positive in 2014," said co-founder Blane Warrene. "There is a definite trend is toward more direct engagement on social platforms. 

"Based upon the success of apps like Kik, WhatsApp and the separation of Messenger from Facebook as its own standalone tool, we consider text messaging a social channel now," he adds. 

"We anticipate more pressure in business, especially in a relationship business like financial services, for financial firms and advisors to support new channels of conversation with clients. We expect to see a movement to text and chat on mobile devices."

According to QuonWarrene, this is a territory that digital archiving platforms need to support and more directly address. "Regulators don't prevent the use of messaging and SMS," added Quon. "But, until now, the ability to securely and constantly capture that data for supervision has lagged. That is slowly changing as archivers and others expand into broader support for archiving this data."

MOBILE IMPRESSION 

Because not all social media content is public content, Quon and Warrene say it will compartmentalize as it has in other industries. "We will see different channels for working with clients," Quon says. 

These different channels include:

 * Using Google Hangouts from Google+ to meet with a client using video and exchanging documents in real time;

 * Offering a secure instant messaging or text destination for clients to submit questions and get answers in close to real time versus scheduling live appointments or calls. For instance, Google Apps for Work Unlimited now provides capture for all SMS, chat and email channeled through Google Apps. 

Industry surveys indicate many ETF and mutual fund companies have been hesitant to engage more proactively on social media based upon compliance concerns. "I believe technology and guidance has allayed those arguments," Warrene says. "However, we also see three other problems that need to be addressed."

One is what they call the 'Lone Channel Adopter.' As the path of least resistance, many firms in the financial services industry chose to simply adopt LinkedIn. They ignore all other social networks. 

"We don't suggest this is bad all the time, as firms need to be able to start somewhere and get their sea legs using social media," Quon said. "LinkedIn is an excellent place to start. However, individual profiles and company pages cannot just sit static and, over time, LinkedIn should not be the only platform used."

Another approach is deemed the 'Ultra Social Firm,' in which some ETF and mutual fund companies have embraced every social media platform available. As a result, they may be spread too thin. 

"We also don't like to see firms lay claim every social network in existence -it is just not manageable, even at the large enterprise level."

The third bad approach they say is the 'Tack-on Mobile Strategy.' Mobile isn't a new trend, the pair says, but note firms must not treat it as an afterthought.

"With everything they create, post, publish, share and otherwise distribute electronically, firms need to consider that more than 60% of those people targeted will now first see it on a smart phone or tablet," Quon says. 

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