February 27, 2014

Social Media Is Key to Humanizing Financial Services: SIFMA Seminar

Helping investors is ‘sexy,’ and social media helps build trust, execs from Facebook, Hearsay and LinkedIn say

Just as advisors are being asked to do it all for clients in general, they are being asked to do it all on social media, experts say.

The plus side? “There’s the power [social media] can have to help you make a difference with retail investors as clients plan for retirement, get kids through school, etc.,” said John Maurello, head of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association’s private client group. “And social media fits so nicely into the fabric of helping investors fulfill their financial goals.”

Believe it or not, Keith Watts, head of Facebook’s financial services business unit, says this work makes the industry “sexy.”

“The work you do is so personal,” he said during a panel discussion at SIFMA’s Social Media Seminar on Thursday in San Francisco. “Your role is to talk people through the emotional value you bring to their lives.”

The audience comprised about 150 broker-dealer executives, marketers, regulators and others.

Social Steps to Follow

The first expert to break down the best social media strategies for firms and advisors at the SIFMA event was Hearsay Social CEO Clara Shih, who also serves on the board of Starbucks.

Her tips: Be “findable” online. Grow your network. Hear or listen to clients and prospects, “so you can tailor your message.” This means “going from manual and cold to automated and warm,” she says. Next, say and tell — succinctly and in way that establishes your credibility.

“People don’t want to read 20-page white papers,” Shih said. “They like 140-character messages that tease” and link to this information.

The popularity of Amazon, she adds, means “we want highly personalized [online] interaction. All ultrahigh-net-worth and mass-affluent investors want communication that is just for them from a real human being.”

And these social-media communications have to be “on their terms, not just 8-5 but any time on any device — omni channel,” Shih said. “Online signals lead to offline conversations.”

Leaders’ Advice

“Trust has been eroded in financial services, as several industry leaders have talked about on LinkedIn," said Jennifer Grazel, head of category development for the financial services industry at that business-oriented social network. "Companies rebuild trust, like you do, by being relevant, authentic and transparent.

“Social media is essential to brand rebuilding,” Grazel emphasized.

She pointed to the use of social media for firms and expert to “humanize themselves, pointing to the former PIMCO CEO Mohamed El-Erian. “He was always posting at our conference two weeks ago,” Grazel added.

This can be done frequently via Twitter, pointed out John Ploumitsakos, director of online sales for the website.

“Water-cooler chat now happens in real time,” on sites like Twitter, he said, “and you have to have your message be relevant real time.”

This means your Tweets have to “be real,” and advisors and broker-dealers need to keep their core communications consistent. “Speak with one voice across all media rather than running disjointed campaigns,” Ploumitsakos said.

New York Life’s “Keep Good Going” campaign, adds Watts, is a good example of a communications campaign emphasizing this value and working well across different social media platforms.

“This type of campaign can help with eroding trust,” Watts explained. “Rather than seeing you as part of the ‘big bad 1%,’ people can say ‘you are making my life continue and my [financial] life work. Remind them of that.”

Ploumitsakos stressed that the “best unpaid content is the best paid” content when it comes to building followers — and clients.

“Building a follower base is like [selling] annuities,” he said. “About 90% of followers are for life. But this means you have to keep up your content to keep up trust and think critically about this for these long-term relationships.”

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