As more and more advisers use social media in their practices, a truth is becoming obvious — the most successful are careful never to lay on a hard sell. Instead, they use social-media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook to make personal connections with like-minded people, many of whom eventually become prospects.
Here, three advisers share the sites and strategies they use to gain clients from social media, and what other advisers can do to make the most of the new interconnected world.
In just two years, Brittney Castro has turned her social-media efforts into an average of four new clients a month.
Ms. Castro, 29, founder of registered investment adviser Financially Wise Women, an affiliate of LPL Financial LLC, began blogging in 2011. The plan was to get people to subscribe to the blog's e-mail list and, once they did, start talking to them about financial planning.
The blog has since blossomed into a variety of ways to connect with clients and potential clients through social media. Now, Ms. Castro does everything from web videos to tweeting (@BrittneyCastro), and plans to start recording a regular podcast.
Ms. Castro specifically targets professional women in their 30s and 40s, so don't be surprised to see blog posts like “Massages, Pedicures and Facials: The Rewards of Financially Wise Women” sandwiched in between posts explaining what financial planning actually is and tips on how to manage your emotions when investing.
It's posts such as those that help Ms. Castro stand out from the crowd and reach her ideal clients.
“I know what their concerns are and where they're going,” she said of Gen X and Y professional women. “People don't just want to read updates about what the stock market did today.”
The outreach efforts have paid off.
This year, she's averaging about four new client consultation requests a week through social media. About 25% of those consultation requests turn into real client relationships — a ratio Ms. Castro expects would be a lot higher if they were coming through referrals from existing clients.
“You have to filter them a bit more when they come through the website,” she said.
Most of Ms. Castro's success has come from social-networking giant Facebook.
“You have to go where the people are,” Ms. Castro said. “I focus on women, and there are a lot of women on Facebook.”
To help get noticed, she joined a number of groups that cater to the type of client with whom she wants to work. One such group is Marie Forelo's B-school group, which targets female entrepreneurs.
Her Facebook page has more than 3,230 likes so far.
She has nearly as many followers on Twitter (@BrittneyCastro), but she sees that platform as more of a tool to network with other professionals and media than to reach prospective clients.
The one social-networking site she's staying clear of today is LinkedIn, which, ironically, is the first such site she joined.
“It's harder to connect with people personally on LinkedIn,” she said. “It seems very salesy and corporate.”
Ms. Castro plans to begin focusing on podcasts, which will be available for download via Apple's iTunes store. She plans to feature regular guests talking about a range of topics such as money, entrepreneurship and even love.
While social media has played a key role in attracting more clients to Ms. Castro's firm, perhaps more importantly, it's kept her job exciting.
“It's my creative outlet,” she said. “As much as I love financial planning, that gets boring.”
— Jason Kephart
H. Jude Boudreaux
The Twitterverse is the cocktail party of social networking: Keep it brief, light and pleasant.
That's the advice from H. Jude Boudreaux, a fee-only adviser at Upperline Financial LLC. Ever since he started his own RIA practice in September 2010, Mr. Boudreaux, 35, has parlayed his Twitter personality into an essential part of his business. Check him out at @HJudeBoudreaux.
About 20% of his clients come from his social-media interactions. “When I was starting out my new firm, it was an enormous help,” Mr. Boudreaux said.
While Twitter seems off-the-cuff, the adviser noted that there are many subtleties and social graces to consider when typing out those 140-character messages. For one thing, Mr. Boudreaux didn't scoop up those clients by hammering away at them with posts about financial planning and his practice.
“The thing with Twitter is that it really is a cocktail party,” he said. “You don't want to be the guy at the party handing out flyers. That's a recipe for disaster.”
Many of his posts are about New Orleans, restaurants in the city and the Saints football team. These are all ways to engage with locals in small conversations just to raise awareness of his presence on Twitter.
Early on, Mr. Boudreaux also posted blogs on financial planning issues. He made a point to tweet about the blog posts twice a day — once in the morning and again in the afternoon. Sure enough, one of his local followers was reading and sharing his planning posts. Eventually, the two began sending each other direct messages, and that led to a face-to-face meeting — and the follower became one of Mr. Boudreaux's first clients.
The prospects the adviser has encountered via social media tend to be in the “young earner” set: They're professionals who are seeking guidance on how to make their money last or who are tackling other coming-of-age goals, such as paying down student loans or accumulating money for a down payment on a first home.
Mr. Boudreaux admits that there are Twitter users he's gotten to know pretty well despite never having met them. But when it comes to determining who makes a good prospect, it depends where the interactions go. Those who are nonresponsive or curt tend not to make the cut.
And since he works independently, Mr. Boudreaux is able to tap a broader client base than he would if he were still working with a more established firm.
Specialization is key for advisers who want to raise their profile in the Twitterverse: Become part of your local community, both geographical and professional. Mr. Boudreaux stays in touch not only with people about town in the Crescent City, but he also regularly interacts with other financial advisers.
Ditch the pitch
He also sticks to a rule: For every one thing he'd like to post about his business, he has 19 interactions about other topics. “Being too salesy is the big risk,” Mr. Boudreaux said. (And make sure all of those tweets are archived, he added, perhaps through a system such as Arkovi, as they count as marketing.)
Advisers should know that not all social-media outlets are created equal. If Twitter is the cocktail party, then Facebook is the wedding reception and LinkedIn is the mixer.
“There are people I connect with on LinkedIn who I don't know very well, but Facebook is relatively intimate,” Mr. Boudreaux said. Save Facebook for clients with whom you have the best rapport, so you can stay plugged into their most important moments, he recommended. Use LinkedIn for introductions and research on who's being hired and who's retiring.
Finally, be sure to steer clear of outsourcing tweets to third parties or programs, but make sure you don't spend all day coming up with posts. “It's dangerous to outsource social media,” Mr. Boudreaux said. “Your community will know you're not real, and the Internet doesn't need any more bots.”
— Darla Mercado
Sophia Bera loves Twitter — and not just for work. “Twitter is also an interesting way to meet new people — and I now have physically met a lot of people I originally met through Twitter,” said Ms. Bera, 29, founder of Gen Y Planning LLC. “I've also done a lot of writing that has connected people with my Twitter profile” (@sophiabera).
She recently was named one of the top financial advisers for Millennials by the website MoneyUnder30.com and parlayed that into writing occasionally for the site.
“In fact, even my communication with [site organizers] has been through a form of social media; both of our meetings have been through Skype,” she said.
Another thing about social media and Skype in particular: It has made her less focused on a client or prospect's location and allows her to reach out to people she thinks are more compatible.
Skype, she said, is conducive to that type of working style. Her younger prospects and clients like that they don't have to take a few hours or half a day off to come in and physically meet with her.
Twitter has opened other doors, as well. For example, it has helped her connect with other advisers and get herself noticed by those putting together conference sessions. She was recently asked to serve on a social-media session at a regional Financial Planning Association conference in Atlanta. She initially met the folks putting it together using — what else? — social media.
An entertaining aside to that particular event: She sought advice on where to stay from another person in the Atlanta area, though she knew the person solely through social media.
“Hey, I'm coming to Atlanta in May, and I'm wondering what part of town I should stay in? She said, "You should just stay with me,'” explained Ms. Bera.
“We had never met in person, but we have a bunch of things in common. We're world travelers, we had each been with our respective spouses for years, both own and manage investment properties and we are both foodies,” she explained.
And that, she said, is the real power behind social media — being able to get to know people without wining and dining them, yet at the same time getting to see what matters most to them.
Then it becomes all the more likely you'll be able to apply that knowledge to helping them in a meaningful way.
“Be nice to folks on social media and you are likely to be repaid — unexpectedly — tenfold,” Ms. Bera said.