Brown likens his firm's collegial culture to Barstool Sports and the Wu-Tang Clan. (Photo: Bloomberg)

Josh Brown of Reformed Broker fame had his T3 advisor conference session eating out of his hands Thursday as he humorously divulged how he and his partners at Ritholtz Wealth Management have become social media stars while building a fast-growing RIA firm. And he had several suggestions to advisors on how to use social media as a business development, branding and client retention tool.

He admitted that Ritholtz Wealth at first had “no deliberate plan” to grow via social media. Instead he focused on using his blog as an outlet to deliver “creative ideas” into the blogosphere. “I started [The] Reformed Broker in 2008” when few wealth managers were online, so “being early was a benefit.”

Now, he said, tongue in cheek, the blog is “read by millions; some even come back a second time.” (Brown’s Twitter feed recently crossed the million-follower line.)

A regular presence on cable television financial market shows, Brown noted how social media has changed those TV shows’ booking process. While it once was the case that bloggers would go on TV to drum up traffic for their websites, now they ask bloggers to come onto TV who already have a significant online following; the stations want to attract viewers from those followers, not the other way around.

His message to advisors: Focus on your online presence first. After all, it worked for him, despite the fact that he has “a face for social media, not for TV.”

Another suggestion for advisory firm owners who want to attract the best advisors: Focus on your culture. “Advisors join us because they believe in us,” he said. They believe in Ritholtz Wealth because “we’ve built a practice based on what we say in social media.” The same goes for growing your client base. “New clients are fans; they get what we do.”

That’s another benefit of having a strong social media presence, he suggested. “When they read you online you build a relationship that would otherwise take months of golf. And I’m not very good at golf.”

Social Media for Recruiting Clients and Advisors

Brown warned against thinking that a strong social media presence is “just marketing to bring in new clients.” Existing clients who found you online will “continue to follow you; you may get even more attention from them, not less.” However, your online presence and the posts you write must agree with how you treat your followers after they become clients. “If you’re saying one thing [online] and doing another [with clients in your practice], they will call you on it.”

You can’t just dabble in social media. Brown said he and his five blogging (and now podcasting) colleagues at Ritholtz Wealth “put up content seven days a week,” and each blogger provides links within their blogs to their colleagues.’ Barry Ritholtz, he reported, started ‘blogging’ in 1998 on GeoCities, the pioneering internet network, “when it took 30 minutes to write a post and then 30 minutes to code it.”

There’s another business development benefit to such collaboration, Brown said. “We’re taking the innate talent within the firm and playing up the fact that it’s an ensemble, a group of experts working together.” Why is that so important? “That’s what clients want.”

Brown said the best analog to Ritholtz Wealth’s business- and culture-building collegiality approach (after first suggesting the bands One Direction and Wu-Tang Clan) is Barstool Sports, “the hottest brand in sports right now.” Each of the satirical characters who post on Barstool retain their own personalities, each of whom “knows their fans better than anyone else.” That’s smart, said Brown, because “people don’t follow brands; they follow people.”

Brown then spoke of the three keys to social media success for advisors.

1) Your message must be consistent. In the case of Ritholtz Wealth, that’s its focus on “evidence-based investing and taking care of our clients.” In addition to attracting clients, that consistent online messaging is also a client retention tool, Brown said. “Our clients know where to go to find out what we think.”

Ritholtz Wealth doesn’t send out client newsletters, so even during volatile market times like the last week, “our phones are very quiet.”

2) While you can show your personality and express strong opinions in your social media efforts, you have to remain likeable. “People,” said Brown, “do business with people they like.”

3) You have to prove yourself online. “Be so good that people can’t ignore you,” Brown said, quoting comedian Steve Martin. Among his colleagues at Ritholtz Wealth who typify that approach, he said, is Ben Carlson on investing, Tony Isola and his A Teachable Moment blog and Barry Ritholtz’s The Big Picture.

Advisors Who Get It

Brown didn’t limit his social media kudos to his colleagues; he also flashed a slide listing four advisors who he thinks are “building great brands.”

Blair H. duQuesnay

Andrew Thrasher of The Financial Enhacement Group

Phil Huber of Huber Financial

Isaac Presley of Cordant Wealth

As for the Ritholtz Wealth collective’s next steps, Brown said it will continue its efforts in podcasts, and also revealed that it’s working on a video product. “We’re taking our time,” he said, but once the video project launches, he promised “it will be like nothing else in the industry.”

For the Q&A portion of his presentation, Brown put up a photo of White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and discussed Ritholtz Wealth’s experience with its automated investing program Liftoff — which he said has been successful in several ways but will “never be a big part of our business” — and why he doesn’t fear fee compression, saying advisors “should use it as a weapon for a business advantage, not regret that the cost of doing business is going down.”

A last question concerned Brown’s comment early in the presentation that President Donald Trump had tweeted that the FBI was somehow responsible for the decline in the stock market. (Trump actually tweeted Feb. 7 that “In the ‘old days,’ when good news was reported, the Stock Market would go up. Today, when good news is reported, the Stock Market goes down. Big mistake…”

Brown’s comment? “He’s just kidding; it’s like the nuclear thing” with North Korea.

— Check out Are There Enough ETFs? Josh Brown, Others Weigh In on ThinkAdvisor.