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Social media good for clients, advisors

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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, held recently in San Francisco and attended by about 150 advisors broker-dealer executives, marketers, regulators and others. “Your role is to talk people through the emotional value you bring to their lives.”

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 by firms and experts 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.”

Advisor Perspectives

A panel on advisors and social media organized by SIFMA, which called the session a “deep dive,” illustrates just how diverse advisors’ tactics have to be when it comes to staying relevant online. In fact, the SIFMA session—held recently in San Francisco—was more like a medley-swimming meet, as the reps explained all the different online strategies they have to master.

Take Lynn Ballou, CFP and managing partner of Ballou Plum Wealth Advisors in Lafayette, Calif., which is affiliated with LPL Financial. “I have five areas to cross-pollinate,” Ballou said about her communications strategy.

This work entails driving traffic to the group’s webpage, writing a lifestyle blog and using social media (Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn) to save time on other client communications. But she also writes a personal finance column in a local paper once a quarter and does TV appearances and radio interviews to drive traffic to her online sites and to group. This high-profile media work, she says, lights up activity on her social media sites.

When Ballou went on CNN to talk about the euro crisis, she then pushed out that news via social media. Her clients, she says, were thrilled to be associated with such a media darling.

Scott Poore of Wunderlich Securities in Memphis says he is most active on LinkedIn. This is where he posts a regular blog on wealth management, which gets plenty of feedback via a group discussion. “I reach 100,000 people through the groups, even though I have only 900 connections,” Poore said.

“This is a great means to reach people that do know us.”

David Amann, CFP, promotes his Redwood City, Calif.-based practice with Edward Jones in ways that reflect his Silicon Valley presence. For instance, Amann will review news on Reddit, a site that lets readers vote on which stories and discussions they believe are most important, and then go on Twitter to share a link that seems instructive.

“I want clients to know what I am doing for them every day,” he said.

He tries to take a critical eye to what he posts on social media. “What do people want you to share?” Amann asks. “I like to post pictures that have quotes on with a financial component to them, which I put up on my Facebook page.”

Advisor Karen Kehr, with Ameriprise Financial in Walnut Creek, Calif., says she’s found great success in keeping it “light.” When Mattel unveiled Barbie Entrepreneur (carrying a smartphone, tablet and briefcase) two weeks ago, Kehr posted the news and an image on Facebook. “It was such a success!” she said of the post.

Kehr also suggests that advisors keep their target audience in mind. “Kids are not on Facebook anymore, because their parents are,” she said. “So, I posted a question on Facebook: What are doing to teach your kids about money, and then shared what I’m teaching my three sons.”

“Don’t discount what ‘old folks’ are doing online,” added Amann. “I made this mistake, thinking only those under 40 use social media, but then switched my mindset.”

It’s all about exploiting opportunities online, notes Wesley Long, head of private-client services for Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles. “Twenty years ago, no one could share news with their clients except by phone,” Long said. “Now, look at the power of social media on your business!”

And never underestimate the value of social media, reps say. “We got a great client via Facebook,” Ballou said, thanks to some photos of her team’s holiday party that were posted on the social media website.

The client’s father reads her newspaper column and suggested his daughter contact the advisor when her husband died. “She saw our website and the goofy pictures on Facebook,” explained Ballou. “That sealed the deal. You just never know!”

Kehr says that investors want to “work with people they like and can relate to.” And this philosophy drives her social media activity, as well as that of other Ameriprise advisors.

“I’m doing social media all the time now,” she said. “It’s second nature, and I don’t see it as a time waster. I’m not writing all my own content, but picking some up [from Ameriprise].”

Social media is very effective as an asset-growth tool, Kehr explains. She can post an invite on LinkedIn, for instance, and then it gets shared quickly. “We get a lot of return. We have it going all day long,” she added. “And I’m getting business from it!”


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