June 26, 2012

Morgan Stanley Gives Advisors the OK for Twitter, LinkedIn

These steps put it ahead of rivals, experts say, when it comes to advisors and the world of social media

While rivals are working slowly behind the scenes, Morgan Stanley (MS) is moving publicly—and quickly—to embrace social media, experts say. On Monday, the Wall Street firm said it would allow its 17,000-plus advisors to use Twitter and LinkedIn with certain restrictions.

Morgan Stanley shared its social media push with the press and investors about a year ago. That’s when it let 600 or so advisors start a pilot program with Twitter and LinkedIn.

“We have a library of preapproved content,” said Lauren Boyman, director of social media at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, in an interview with AdvisorOne. “We view the library as another distribution channel of the content that advisors send out to clients and prospects all the time.”

Some other wirehouse firms are, of course, also embracing social media—though not to the extent that MSSB is.

“Many firms are quietly working on these initiatives, but they are not disclosing” much about their social media efforts, said Chad Bockius, CEO of Socialware, Morgan Stanley’s tech partner, in an interview. “I can say that Morgan Stanley is, without a doubt, the furthest along. It’s been the most aggressive with its rollout and the associated steps that have to be taken with this.”

Morgan Stanley has “taken a leadership position in this market,” Bockius said. “I know that every wirehouse is doing something today [with social media], and it is a variance of what Morgan Stanley is doing. I expect others to have LinkedIn access and for the industry to have access to Twitter for branding and as a news source in the future. But the pace of its rollout, its cohesive strategy and the support it’s put behind this initiative have made Morgan Stanley far and away the leader.”

Such efforts could prove helpful to MSSB as it wraps up the tough task of integrating Morgan Stanley and Smith Barney advisors on a technology platform. It is also facing plenty of pressure from wirehouses and other broker-dealers on the recruiting and retention fronts.

Raymond James Financial (RJF), for instance, said Tuesday that it attracted four ex-MSSB advisors in Westlake, Ohio, to join its independent channel with about $400 million in client assets.

Preapproval Process

Financial materials sent online are tightly regulated, and this situation makes it important for Morgan Stanley to preapprove tweets and other online messages, says Boyman.

Plus, advisors are busy professionals, and it takes “a lot of work to come up with content” to push out via social media, she explains. That makes “turnkey”—or preapproved content—easy for advisors to use.  

“Advisors are constantly sending clients preapproved materials,” Boyman explained, and Twitter is another channel for them to do this and highlight such content in other contexts.”

When it comes to timely market content, for instance, that needs to get out during an event like the Flash Crash or a day with significant market movement, “We have Tweets available from our research group,” she said.

Also, Morgan Stanley does have a small pilot project for advisors involving social media and content that is not preapproved.

Lifestyle content—that has to do with topics like golf or cooking—is less stringently regulated and is a good way to connect with clients, Boyman adds.

In general, she explains, Morgan Stanley knows the importance of getting advisors to connect more with current and prospective investors online. “For the next generation that is looking for an advisor, the expectation is there: They will find that person on LinkedIn and will find out who that person is linked to as part of the background they’re searching for.”

In its pilot program over the past year, most Morgan Stanley advisors using social media on a daily basis found that they were able to attract new clients with $1 million and more in assets. In other words, the time spent online translated into business results, the firm says.

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