Time for a Transition (XI): Blogging for Business

Here's why you should add a blog and other digital media to your high-touch marketing plan.

In recent months, I've been about building client loyalty and share of mind with prospective clients and clients of influence, or COIs.

In the May installment, I outlined several ideas to help you streamline and automate your marketing and client communications campaigns. In the June installment, I provided tips on finding free and/or inexpensive solutions to creating or purchasing ready-to-customize content for your marketing and client communications campaigns.

This month, I'll focus on blogs and microblogging. And in August, I'll talk about podcasts, webinars and videocasts, and how using these electronic forms of communication can help you build relationships while saving time and money.

Here's the bottom line: Client communication and outreach have always been an important part of building a successful practice. Even though the market turbulence has settled down substantially since the dark and scary days in 2008 and 2009, advisors need to be vigilant and keep their client communications high.

Digital communications, done well, can strengthen your connection with existing clients and generate a more proficient referral system to attract new clients. They're a great addition to traditional "high touch" activities such as personal phone calls, handwritten notes and birthday cards, small group dinners, book clubs and client appreciation events.

But more and more, we are an online, digitally-connected world, so adding some "high tech" to your "high touch" strategy can help you build stronger relationships with those who know you already and share of mind / credibility with those who don't.

BLOGGING & MICROBLOGGING

Once you've established and are maintaining an interesting, compelling and client-centered website, consider adding a blog to your digital communications plan. According to Wikipedia, a blog is a type of website or part of a website. In fact, the term "blog" is a combination of two words: "web" and "log."

Blogs are usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video. Entries are commonly displayed in reverse-chronological order.

Many blogs provide commentary or news on a particular subject; others function as more personal online diaries. A typical blog combines text, images, and links to other blogs, Web pages, and other media related to its topic.

The ability of readers to leave comments in an interactive format is an important part of many blogs, however, financial advisors whose compliance departments allow the "comments" feature will want to screen and approve any comments before they are shown live on the blog.

Most blogs are primarily textual, although some focus on art, photographs, videos, music and audio.

Microblogging is another type of blogging, featuring very short posts (think Twitter).

Many compliance departments are okay with a blog that is planned and approved in advance of content being posted. After all, it's a website of sorts so as long as you adhere to the rules that apply to website development and have a way to meet the books and records requirements, you should be okay.

Of course, you'll want to check with your compliance department first. Some compliance officers will be okay with a blog, as long as the comments feature is turned off, but they won't allow microblogging on Twitter for a couple reasons; that's a whole article in and of itself.

If you'd like to learn more about social media and the compliance aspects, consider attending a webinar or live presentation such as the ones FPA offers at chapter meetings and online.

Why would you want to consider blogging?

In a well-written article, To Blog or Not to Blog, published in April by Reuters, writer Helen Kearney said: "If you think blogging is something better left to your teenage daughter, think again. Financial advisers who have jumped into the world of social media say it's a big hit with their older clients -- and a great way to attract new ones."

"My retired clients spend a lot of time online. Their kids have set them up on email and they have more time to look around," said Andy Millard, a Tryon, North Carolina-based independent financial adviser who recently started a weekly blog after attending a Web 2.0 and Social Media Boot Camp 2010 hosted by the Financial Planning Association.

The next Web 2.0 and Social Media Boot Camp will be held October 9, 2010, as a pre-conference option for advisors and staff members who will be attending the FPA National Conference in Denver, Colo.

"Blogs can be a useful marketing and communication tool for advisers," says Rapid City, South Dakota-based financial planner Rick Kahler. Kahler uses text, graphics, podcasts and videos on his Financial Awakenings blog.

Instead of using Word Press or BlogSpot (which is what I use), Kahler used 7AZ Web Design to create his blog. I like Blogspot and have built many attractive blogs using this Google-related product, but everybody seems to have their own favorite provider.

What's cool about Kahler's blog is that visitors have choice. They can read short text entries, listen to audios, surf around in and out of the blog via links, take a survey, and watch video clips. All of this builds rapport and a sense of knowing Rick before you ever meet him.

One of the other neat futures on Kahler's blog and website is something called a Starter Financial Roadmap, a free self-assessment tool and Advisor-Branded Marketing system powered by BoulevardR.

Having a free and valuable tool like this on his sites gives him lots of good reasons to talk to people, both in person and in written communications, and encourage them to visit his website or blog. The system also has a nifty dashboard that Kahler uses to view information provided by those who use the free Financial Roadmap system.

In addition, all of the cross-linking to other "validating websites" such as FPA, NAPFA, Paladin Registry, Amazon profile, his You Tube channel, news articles, LinkedIn profile and micro-blog Twitter (where Kahler posts short burst of information under the "handle" @RickKahler) boost search engine ratings.

When I saw Kahler at the T3 Technology Tools for Today conference in February 2010, he told me that he was now getting about 50% of his new business from the Internet. Keep in mind that he's a wealth manager with client account minimums, so he is serving an affluent clientele.

While his experience may be a bit of an outlier right now, in 2-3 years I think we'll hear more and more advisors saying the same thing. If you're not already embracing the many opportunities online, you owe it to yourself to watch what other advisors are doing and try to get out in front of the curve.

Next month, I'll talk about podcasts, webinars and videocasts, and how using these electronic forms of communication can help you build relationships while saving time and money.

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Marie Swift is president and CEO of Impact Communications, Inc., a full-service marketing communications and public relations firm that works exclusively with independent financial advisors, IBD registered representatives and the institutions that serve them. Follow her on www.Twitter.com/marieswift or read her Best Practices in the Financial Services Industry blog at www.marie-swift.blogspot.com.

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