You will find no shortage of consultants or colleagues with strong opinions on the right way to blog and use social media. But no one can tell you why you should be pursuing a web strategy.
You have to figure out the “why” for yourself, but the good news is that once you do, the “how” will be easier to determine.
So here's the deal: Although I can't tell you why you should be a social adviser, I can tell you why I have become one, and perhaps this will help you determine your own answer.
Over the past five years, I have put a lot of time, effort and energy into developing a strong web presence, and it has totally changed my life and the trajectory of my career. My blog began in November 2008 because my wife and son were out, and I had nothing to do. Seriously, that is the truth.
Initially, there was no “why.” I had been reading many blogs during the financial crisis, and one day, I said to myself, “Why can't I do this?”
I went to WordPress, came up with a clever URL and began bleeding all over the digital page. I just wrote the first thing that came to me, a screed about the proposed bailouts or some such nonsense.
It felt really good to unburden myself with that toxic bile. Really, I was just venting.
So at first, the blog began out of boredom. Then it became a coping mechanism during an impossible time for my business as a retail broker.
I had complete freedom to write whatever came to mind then because no one was going to read it anyway — or so I thought.
Within a few weeks, there were comments being left below my rants. There was traffic coming in from a handful of other bloggers who had somehow found my site and were relating to whatever I was doing.
And then a few regulars showed up who started e-mailing me to keep going, that I was onto something.
So I kept going.
This may very well happen to you, too, should you decide to invest some time in social media and discover a talent for it.
It is weird when you find out that people are reading you. You begin to feel a sense of responsibility. You are compelled to keep going. You are shamed by your own psyche to keep improving and working at it.
And before you know it, you are a blogger.
You share with a galaxy of readers, peers and potential business relationships. You trade links and comments with some of the smartest, most confident members of the financial adviser community, who have begun to blog and broadcast, as well. You get written about and invited to things. You get a torrent of feedback, mostly positive and encouraging.
You learn what works in terms of building an audience and what is a waste of everyone's time.
Habits are being formed and rituals established. Other hobbies fall by the wayside.
You get attention for your opinions, and it feels good. You want more of that.
The lines between free time and work begin to blur because you are fascinated by the subject matter of your work.
It ceases to be work. Reading feels like breathing in, and writing is how you exhale.
You also meet people from all walks of life and from every echelon of the industry. Connections are made, friendships formed and doors opened that you never could have imagined.
And in the process, you also grow smarter because it is impossible not to.
The sheer amount of reading and researching and rebutting involved with having a foothold in the financial blogosphere is on a par with any college course that you have ever taken. Along the way, a lot of your opinions are going to change, so much so that you will be embarrassed about your older writings, and you will be unable to browse your own archives without cringing.
And by the time the media start paying attention, you aren't even surprised. Of course they're paying attention. They begin calling for quotes or requesting you for a speaking gig because you are now an up-and-coming authority.
You have influence, which can't be purchased or conjured by a public relations firm. Influence is earned, and you earn it every day.
By now, you are “marketing” without actually marketing. You have become something entirely different than what you were when you began.
You've created something that can't be faked and can't be bought.
The sheer volume of your work marks you as knowledgeable. The quality of it trumps almost anything else that you could be doing to build a reputation.
As you can see, the “why” evolves as your online presence grows. What started as a lark — “Hey, I will start a blog” — suddenly will begin to feel like a regular publication circulated to a circle of like-minded readers.
As you keep at it and up your game — both in terms of content and in how you distribute — it becomes a part of your routine. It is a part of your research process.
Then it becomes a tool for business and, finally, a tool for your marketing.
And if you put the right time, energy and effort into it, it becomes all of your marketing.
Sure it does, but here is the catch: There is no shortcut. The social web is a meritocracy, and no one who matters is going to send traffic your way because a publicist e-mails your links around.
It must be evident to the crowd that you aren't blogging and sharing for marketing purposes, because no one will respect it or want to read it. Your work must be an authentic attempt to get smarter and share what you have learned out loud.
A blogger who arrives on the scene with all the answers and no interest in entertaining the ideas of others will quickly find himself alone and unread.
My first bit of advice is simple: Start quietly. Make a mess while no one is reading you. Find your voice as a writer and know that it is all leading somewhere, provided you truly want it to. Do this humbly and with an open mind, and watch as the “why” begins to take on a life of its own.
Josh Brown is co-founder of Ritholtz Wealth Management and a financial commentator on CNBC. Follow him on his blog, The Reformed Broker, or on Twitter @ReformedBroker.