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Avoid Getting Tongue-Tied About Social Media Messages

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Ted Kerr, managing partner of financial advisory firm Touchstone Capital, is not a professional singer. But he thinks social media marketing is analogous to performing on stage, where immediate audience feedback creates a different experience from studio recording.

Feedback from an audiences, or in this case its client base, has always been a major underpinning of Touchstone Capital’s marketing program. Kerr says the firm contacts its 325 or so households about 30 times a year, through newsletters, pod casts, client appreciation events and exclusive, client-only seminars. That Kerr has embraced social media marketing, then, is not surprising. It gets the firm out of the studio and up close to its audience.

Nor is it surprising that Touchstone Capital is one of hundreds of independent financial advisory firms that are testing a range of new social media marketing services from Commonwealth Financial Network. In June, the Waltham, Mass.-based company will roll out a system to actively support advisor use of interactive social media marketing, including outlets like blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Commonwealth has developed several coaching methods that it hopes will help advisors—even the most social-media cautious ones—through status updates, tweeting and blogging in ways that conform to existing compliance standards. The firm will offer a weekly selection of pre-approved content for the major social media Websites.

Commonwealth will also host moderated forums, on the firm’s intranet portal, where advisors can discuss social media marketing. Think of the forums as hints for what to say and omit from your posts and other social media communiqués. The whole program reminds this bookworm—ever so slightly—of the famous play by Edmond Rostand, “Cyrano de Bergerac”.

But remember that Commonwealth Financial Network is a broker-dealer, and Financial Industry Regulatory Authority behooves it to provide oversight to marketing communications from its registered representatives. It might as well help the advisors manage their social media messages.

The firm has partnered with Erado Message Control, a Renton, Wash.-based compliance technology company that helps firms corral email and other electronic messages. The company can track interactions on Facebook and other social media sites for a single-user login, regardless of how many individuals use a single computer. So for all you advisors who take work home in the evenings or on weekends, Erado can bypass your family’s social media interactions and focus on you. Going one better, the firm is paying at least $420,000 a year to cover the costs of the Erado Message Control services for its advisors.

But the way Commonwealth sees it, social media marketing plays an important role in a firm’s integrated marketing plan. It helps project the firm’s brand personality, and differentiates the advisor and his or her thoughts from everyone else on the Internet, or through traditional marketing, Todd Estabrook, Commonwealth’s chief marketing officer said in a phone conversation.

It is also part of the reason the firm is getting the message out now, because it wants advisors to prepare themselves for what will be an integral part of its marketing support services.

“We want them to get ready, to establish a presence and have them start thinking about the way they’ll use social media as part of their strategic marketing plan,” Estabrook said.

Independent advisors often have to come up with the right messages on their own. The relationships between RIAs and custodians do not require the same level of oversight.

“They don’t know where to start,” said Patrick J. Burns, Jr., a Beverly Hills, Calif.-based attorney said of RIAs, during a recent visit.

Burns’ law firm is also an affiliate of Advanced Regulatory Compliance. Recently, Advanced Regulatory Compliance, Inc., and Nexus Strategy, a Larkspur, Calif., wealth management consulting firm published a white paper that offered suggestions on how RIAs can structure and execute social media policies for their firms. The firm is developing social media policies and plans to roll them out to advisors in May, Burns said. Often, advisors have to turn to law firms, and compliance and technology consultancies to put their own solutions together.

At Touchstone, Kerr knows what he wants to say to his clients and their friends. Indeed, he sees his 300-plus clients as the start of a social network of sorts. Each time he posts a message on Facebook, forwards a newsletter or pod cast link to one of these clients, they can easily pass it on to someone else.

“The idea that we can give real-time updates and have real communication that does not feel stilted—that is what makes it a game-changer,” Kerr said. Those are important words coming from a guy who also describes himself as a contrarian. “I’m not entirely comfortable going with the crowd, but in this case, it is so powerful.”

And in this case, Kerr is leading the crowd. Kind of like a singer holding a microphone out to the audience, and prompting it to finish a verse.

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