What’s the right way for a regulated financial professional to get started in social media?
Be there, be you, be authentic, be creative, and demonstrate that you actually care to help others. That’s it.
Unfortunately, for financial advisors, it’s easier said than done. These days, advisors are being regulated not only by the industry, but also by their firms’ policies as well. Most big firms’ policies, by nature, have stricter interpretations of the regulations. Why you ask? For a number of reasons, but the most pressing is they need to protect the brand. In a lot of cases, these large firms haven’t even done that, social media or not, but that is for another post.
Step 1: Creating Your Online Identity
There is a blurred line between personal and business. Let me ask you a question: When you meet a prospect for the first time, do you only talk business, or do you try and make a connection with them on a personal level? Most successful advisors don’t talk about the weather; they try to find a commonality with their prospect beforehand, or try to find one on the fly when they meet them. The clothes they are wearing; the nice watch on the prospect’s wrist; the car they drive; the hat with their favorite team’s logo on it. Let’s face it—to be successful in “offline” real-world business, you need to bring your personal personality into the mix. It’s the same with “online” real-world business. Looking at the two worlds separately doesn’t make sense. The worlds are connected.
When you create online social profiles on Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, and Google+, it’s really not a crime to tell people what you do, who you help, and how you help them. Your bio is everything. You only have one chance to make a great first impression. Same concept when you go to a party offline—basic conversation is going to lead you down that path. It’s just a natural conversation flow. For instance, if you are at a personal life party, it’s only natural to bring a little business into the conversation. It’s not your fault; it’s part of you. People are curious to see what you do, and how you can help them. Again, you are not breaking any laws if you tell someone on social media what you do for a living, why you do it, and how. If someone tells you otherwise, they need their head examined.
Please Be There:
Being on social media will allow you to be found. It’s the first step. In the offline world, you have business cards right? Do you give them to people? Do you pin one to the bulletin board at the library, drycleaners, restaurant, or post office? You are putting yourself out there, so, at the very least, one additional person can find you. Think of your online profiles as your business card. Instead of you handing the card to a prospect and having a brief introductory conversation, let the words on your profile do the speaking for you. Please let your compliance officer read this if they won’t let you have a profile, they may not understand. Why wouldn’t your company want you to proudly display their name next to your name? They hired you to represent them, right?
What’s wrong with this picture? On Linkedin, how can a financial advisor with a Certified Financial Planners (CFP) designation, a Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor (CRPC) designation, and a Chartered Mutual Fund Counselor (CMFC) designation, not even mention on their profile that they are a financial advisor? The firm he works for has a company page on Linkedin. Isn’t that social discrimination?
Here is a representative from the same firm. He mentions that he is an advisor, but still doesn’t mention the firm’s name. Weird, right? It is in your best interest to complete the picture for the viewer. You never know who is going to view your profile. The viewer could change your life!
In this Linkedin profile, you finally get a complete picture of who the advisor is. If you visited his Linkedin page, you would find the answers to the three important questions: who you are, what you do, and how you can help.
Step 2: You think before you speak, don’t you?
Advisors are coming to me all the time, telling me, “My compliance officer won’t let us do anything other than Linkedin; they won’t let me Tweet; they won’t let me blog; forget about Facebook (even though I’m on it for personal use); what can I do?”
Again, this is where that blurred line is between “personal” and “business.” On Facebook, as a person, you can talk to people, and you can see if you can help them. Personally, of course. I outlined some great strategies you can use to get you started. As Gary Vaynerchuck, Founder of Vaynermedia had predicted, we are going back to “old town rules” where everyone knows everyone. Bob the butcher knows you. He knows what you are going to order and has it ready for you before you even ask for it. Why can’t a financial advisor follow that same tact?
Want to blog? It is my humble opinion that independent advisors have the advantage, simply because big firms want to promote their BRAND, and not the individual, unique, talented reps they have representing them. With that being said, open-minded firms realize that social media allows an advisor to differentiate themselves from the commodity that they sell. Here is a traditional branding example that may shed some light on the power of differentiating yourself. Do you answer your phone with your full NAME first or your FIRM’S name? A 40-year vet of Merrill Lynch told me once that he always answered the phone with his full name only. One of his top clients referred a client to him and couldn’t remember the firm he worked for, but did remember his name. Guess what, Merrill still got the business. They may not have gotten the business if it weren’t for the unique style of the innovative representative. How can you differentiate yourself?
Surely not like this next example—Tweeting on Twitter. Did this Tweet damage Morgan Stanley Smith Barney’s social reputation?
I personally don’t think it did, but it surely isn’t helping. When 600 (potentially 17,800) advisors could send out the same message, yikes! Talk about corporate spam! The compliance fear being alleviated here by crafting canned Tweets most is taking the authenticity out of their online communication. In this picture you can see multiple (MSSB) advisors Tweeting the same Tweet at the same time. Do you think they all speak to clients the same exact way as well? I don’t think so.
In my opinion, there is a simple solution for this. I have no problem with MSSB treasure trove of pre-approved content. It helps the advisor with time management. What MSSB should simply do is put RT @MorganStanley and have the message come from their account and ReTweeted from the individual advisor’s accounts. It’s more authentic, and proper Twitter etiquette. The RT is a confirmation from the representative on the material from the firm. Advisors are fearful of ReTweeting content because of FINRA guidelines, but if a Tweet was approved by the firm, and it’s the firm’s material, there is no harm in ReTweeting the content.
Recently, this Tweeting style caught the attention of New York Times writer William Alden. After I read his article, I posted on Facebook OnWall St., Keeping a Tight Rein on Twitter, with a comment on how I dislike canned Tweets and within seconds Twitter agreed. In this image you can see the authentic conversation about the un-authentic posting style.
As Lauren Boyman, who runs social media at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, says they are “trailblazing, so to speak, even with the restrictions that we have, we’ve seen a lot of success.” Kudos to Lauren—many big firms have only embraced social media at a brand level, and not at an advisor level. More so, it seems that they are well aware of the drawbacks of the pre-written Tweets and have started a pilot program of 20 financial advisors who can be themselves and craft their own Twitter messages. With the help of Socialware, they are streamlining the compliance approval process.
Power of Social
Fay DeBellis, a Morgan Stanley Smith Barney Advisor, may be canned Tweeting on Twitter, with her 46 Tweets (as of this writing), most of them pre-written, there is no surprise in the fact she has not developed any business from Twitter. Don’t let those facts fool you, twitter doesn’t represent the entire social story. She happens to be very successful on driving business through other social networks. On Linkedin for example, she has brought in a whopping $10 million worth of business during the last year and a half.
One of Fay’s colleagues Mitchell Rock, a Wealth Advisor for The Rock Group, has also had success on Linkedin. His group’s Linkedin strategy generated 28 percent of The Rock Group’s revenue last year, which included a $70 million whale of an account.
Bottom line: Social media can grow your business even if you don’t understand how to fully utilize its power. You need to start.
Compliant Social Compliance:
From my compliance experience as a NASD series 4, 9, 10, and 24, I had firsthand experience with managing compliance. I was responsible for keeping the branch representatives in compliance. I must tell you that, with the right tools, all the other modes of communication (phone, mail, fax, in person) cannot be tracked as effectively as social media. Nothing is 100 percent. All firms are having compliance audits done on them for traditional media; it’s always a challenge. Through technology, social media is the only medium that I know that is fully traceable, trackable, searchable, and measurable. All the data communications are captured and stored.
Social Enablement Technology
Social CRM and Social Media Management and Archiving Systems:
Here are some of the 140-plus companies that can help enable compliant social media. Actiance, Hearsay Social, Radian6, Socialware, Arkovi, Smarsh, Engage121, Backupify, Spredfast, Expion, Awareness Networks, cloudpreservation, Hootsuite, Shoutlet, Syncapse, erado, hanzoarchives, iterasi, pagefreezer, and LinkedFA. The list goes on and on.
With the aforementioned companies, the supervision fear that a financial advisor may breach FINRA Regulations by posting inappropriate terms on a social media platform is eliminated. Similar to email compliance controls, social media management applications used by many financial institutions and banks can prevent an advisor from sending posts and messages including words like “buy,” “sell,” “hold,” “recommended,” “advise.” This security measure will allow for an advisor to be more authentic, and allow compliance officers peace of mind. When speaking on social media, this security measure (and others) will allow for an advisor to be more authentic.
This primer should help you in getting started in “Common Sense” social media. As always, please comment with your thoughts below. If you have any questions or need assistance with your social media deployment, please let me know, I am here to help!
Need More help getting started? Be sure to click below and download my free Social Media Primer to help you get started in Linkedin:
Linkedin: The Financial Advisor’s Gateway to Compliant Social Media Bliss (How to get new business from Linkedin. PERIOD!)
Stay Compliant with the Regulation Primer for Linkedin: A Financial Professionals guide to stay in Compliance