From the November 2011 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

Social Media—The Do’s and Don’ts

Financial professionals are increasingly interested, but how should they use it?

Photo: AP Photo: AP

It might be difficult to see the value in a medium used incessantly by 13-year-old girls—but if that’s the way you think of social media, you may be critically misjudging its importance. A recent report from Spectrem revealed that 55% of the mass affluent and a whopping 46% of millionaires are now utilizing Facebook. So, connecting with this demographic through social media is definitely something to consider.

Understanding potential compliance issues is vital, and though more and more broker-dealers across the country are now allowing social media usage, their rules and regulations can vary. It’s important that you contact your BD for their guidelines prior to executing any social media marketing endeavor.

What is social media? In the simplest terms, we’re speaking of online interaction—using Internet-based applications to communicate with others.

Why Social Media?

Credibility. If you’re anything like me, when you hear someone’s name, the first place you search for information is online. Your prospects will likely search for information about you in the same way.

Client Maintenance. Social networks offer wonderful tools by which you can share items of interest with clients and prospects, as well as learn about important events in the lives of your clients. Many advisors have learned about important events in their clients’ lives by being “friended” on Facebook.

Lead Generation. Probably the primary reason most advisors jump into social media, but possibly the least likely to happen, is to add new clients. It’s highly unlikely that someone you don’t already know will find you on social media, read about you and contact you. It’s much more likely that someone whom you met briefly will seek you out on social media and reach out to you.

The Do’s

Pending your BD’s approval, you should create and maintain a profile on all three major social networks—LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Once you’ve signed up, it’s important that you review the privacy and sharing settings of each site to gain comfort with the controls and so that you can fully understand who sees what information.

Post something new to each of these sites between two and five times per week. Try to determine the mutual interests of your clients, and keep your focus there. Personal interests (and those of your contacts) are fine. The safest topics you can post on include general family news, travel, food, entertainment, etc.

In general, your posts should be a gateway to, or comment on, an article of interest. As posts to Twitter may not exceed 140 characters, simply posting an article’s URL may leave you with no characters to spare. Tiny URL allows you to post a link that is, well, tiny, yet directs readers to the same article. For example:

  • Should empty-nesters risk living it up—or not? SmartMoney piece worth reading: tinyurl.com/3p8w9j7
  • New list of the 25 best cities for senior living—just 7 of them are in the west, just 2 south of St. Louis. tinyurl.com/3ekhssp
  • Just out in Forbes: 12 great U.S. golf courses you can play for $100 or less. Where are they? tinyurl.com/3t83st3

There are services that can supply content for you, but these may be of very little value if they don’t also supply compliance review features. MarketingLibrary.net, for example, offers daily social media post topics, as well as compliance integration for pre-review of post content and recordkeeping, making it a bit easier to remain compliant while networking online.

The Don’ts

You should absolutely not use social media until you have a thorough understanding of the regulatory issues for your profession. Keep in mind, these regulations can vary for RIAs, registered representatives, insurance professionals, etc.

If you are a registered representative, don’t ever post anything about:

  • A specific company
  • A stock
  • A registered product such as a variable annuity, REIT or mutual fund

These types of posts would most likely require a FINRA review letter.

Finally, use some common sense. Don’t post items of a sexual, political or religious nature, and try to avoid jokes—no matter how tepid.

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