The sheer abundance of Internet blogs boggles the mind: At current count, there are more than 152 million of them. What’s more, every half-second someone launches a new blog, according to WordPress, a company that creates and manages them.
You might expect celebrities like Lady Gaga, Beyonce or Arianna Huffington to work the blogosphere. And they do. What you might not expect to encounter are The White House Blog, the United Nations Blog and the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center Blog. They’re online too. Then, of course, there are weird blogs, like the Hungover Owls Blog and the Breaded Cats Blog. (Don’t ask!)
Not to miss opportunities, the financial services industry has joined the blog fest. Firms and advisors alike have taken to cyberspace to be seen and heard, educate, opine and, it is hoped, generate new business. As a result of their enormously popular blogs, several FAs and RIAs have seen their stars rise in the industry and beyond.
Famed Alvin Toffler, author of “Future Shock,” argued in his 2006 book, “Revolutionary Wealth,” co-written with Heidi Toffler, that, in the expansion of today’s knowledge-based economy “expertise-based authority is being challenged as never before.” As an example, he cites bloggers who are “challenging the authority of professional journalists.”
Barry Ritholtz is one such blogger. Launching The Big Picture in 2003, “I didn’t think that the financial press was doing an especially good job covering what I believed to be true and what I thought was significant or insignificant,” says the chair-CIO of Ritholtz Wealth Management, in New York City. “So every now and then, I’d use my blog to push back against mainstream ideas.”
The Big Picture, enhanced by photos and lively graphics, is one of the most popular blogs directed at the general public that advisors read as well. To date, it boasts 30,000 posts and snags 1.5 million page views monthly.
What has made his blog so successful, says Ritholtz, a former attorney, is publication of a new piece daily and the RIA’s authentic voice as a practitioner with real-life experience versus the blogs of financial journalists.
“Just cranking out a lot of posts and making outrageous predictions isn’t going to get you far for very long. There has to be some thought process and real analytic thinking,” he says.
That’s the stuff of Bob Seawright’s blog, Above the Market, too. Though written for financial services professionals, consumers are avid readers. Seawright, familiar to Research readers as the magazine’s Annuity Analytics columnist, is chief investment and information officer of Madison Avenue Securities, a BD headquartered in San Diego.
Seawright’s posts — minimum 1,000 words — are considerably longer than the typical 600-word communiques of most financial bloggers. But Seawright has lots to say.
“I’m just getting warmed up at 600 words,” he notes.
Tackling meaty subjects that demand in-depth attention, Seawright blogs less often than many of his colleagues. But when he does, the content is substantial and of high caliber. It might be about behavioral economics, the stock market or financial planning. “A New Kind of Investment Outlook,” which he posted on Feb. 6 of this year, totaled 3,500 words.
“Sometimes I use the blog as a commitment device to solidify my thinking. If I’m struggling with how to deal with something, writing a piece about it works really well for me,” says Seawright, who also practiced law before entering financial services.
The high-profile Nerd’s Eye View blog for advisors, written by Michael Kitces, a partner in Pinnacle Advisory Group, spawned a flourishing offshoot business for the FA as an in-demand speaker.
Kitces’ blog focuses on the wide world of financial services, with thorough pieces about practice management, planning issues, and insightful articles interpreting industry trends. Each weekend, he curates — passes along — a round-up of notable pieces that ran during the past week.
The secret to Kitces’ success is a focus on value and, as with Ritholtz, posting articles on a continual basis. He does all his own writing, with help only with graphics and occasional technical support.
He launched his blog in 2008 but, alas, with no readers, abandoned it after only a few weeks. By 2010, Kitces had a clear focus as to his target audience and just as important, what he would use to circulate the posts: social media.
“I knew how to create content. But I never really knew how to put it out there to get an audience,” Kitces says. “Watching the growth of Twitter, in particular, did it for me.” He remains on Twitter — the biggest driver of traffic to the blog — along with LinkedIn, Facebook and Google Plus.
Specialized blogs, if done right, attract a huge following. A prime example is Bill Winterberg’s FPPad blog about technology for financial advisors, started in 2008. With practical information, he zeroes in on tech that enables FAs to be more efficient and serve up a more satisfying client experience.
“Advisors already have so much competition for their time. I don’t want to add to the noise; I want to be part of the signal and provide practical takeaways that have specific business applications,” says Winterberg, who formerly wrote software for Hewlett Packard and LeapFrog Toys. This past May, he was gearing up to expand the blog by hiring staff writers to cover specific tech areas.
Only a few years ago, it was a major challenge to launch a blog (short for weblog). Today, with the advent of services such as WordPress and TypePad, it’s easy.
“There’s an explosion in blogs for consumers as well as for advisors,” says Winterberg, based in Atlanta. “Now the challenge is for advisors to separate the wheat from the chaff and identify blogs that continually produce good information and practical resources versus those that are soapboxes or maybe gossip posts.”