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Working social media into comprehensive marketing plans

Feb 9, 2014 @ 12:01 am

By Liz Skinner

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A tweet on its own is just a string of up to 140 characters that may inform, share a story or express an opinion. But a tweet that sparks a response — such as a reader comment or a visit to the sender's website — that's social media working within a broader marketing plan.

That is what financial advisers need to make happen to reap the rewards of Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, experts say.

Many advisers haphazardly engage in social media and don't take the time to plan how their posts are part of a comprehensive marketing and business development plan that draws in ideal clients and illustrates the adviser's expertise. In fact, an InvestmentNews social-media survey in January found that only about 30% of the 338 respondents incorporate social-media strategies into a written marketing plan. And few advisers monitor the success of their efforts.

“Social media amplifies everything else you are doing and allows you to reach a much larger audience,” said Amy McIlwain, president of Financial Social Media. “I think of it as the first part of your sales call.”

Whether it's tweeting or posting to a Facebook or LinkedIn page, social-media tools usually drive people to a website, which should be a hub for an adviser's public relations, Ms. McIlwain said.

DYNAMIC SITES

Some advisers mistake their website for “a sort of static brochure sitting online,” and that's not going to work, she said. An adviser's website should be the landing site for content that's regularly added and updated.

“All your videos and other content need to be hosted and living on your website, and your blog should be at the heart of your website — pumping it full of fresh and relevant content,” Ms. McIlwain said.

Kristin Andree, president of Andree Media & Consulting, agrees that an adviser's website is crucial because that's the first place people are going to visit to learn about the firm.

The content on the website and that which is highlighted on social media should be information that's tailored to the type of clients the adviser wants to attract, she said. Importantly, social-media posts and the website itself have to be dynamic. Advisers who haven't updated the content on their site in 18 months are missing the boat, Ms. Andree said.

“It's almost better not to have a presence online than one that looks like you are not paying attention,” she said.

The advisers who have the most difficulty making social media part of their overall business-developing and marketing plan usually haven't figured out a vision for their firm in general, such as identifying what client base can benefit most from their services.

“If they haven't figured that out, the social-media piece just gets lost in the shuffle,” Ms. Andree said.

Jamie Cox, managing partner at Harris Financial Group, focuses on making sure his social-media posts are meaningful for the telephone company retirees his firm targets as clients.

Using Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, Mr. Cox posts comments when the applicable unions issue new contract negotiations, or he may explain certain terms of a retirement offer. Social media is an efficient way to provide clients with information that may have previously required a phone call, and it shows he's a dependable resource who is up-to-date on what's important to them. He also uses it to learn more about them.

“Social media is the marketing plan these days,” he said. “Using tools like Facebook, I can better understand the people I manage money for.”

Wirehouse advisers often have additional social-media restrictions that may limit their ability to fully implement a strategy at this point, but those binds are likely to loosen over time.

At Merrill Lynch, the brokerage firm itself is on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, but its advisers are told to limit their social-media activities to LinkedIn.

INTERACTING WITH CLIENTS

Merrill Lynch adviser James Maltese, principal of The Maltese Group, said he spends 10 minutes a day on LinkedIn looking for opportunities to interact with clients. For instance, if he learns that a client has left a position, he'll reach out and let it be known that he's available to discuss how the change may affect the client's finances.

Centers of influence are a big source of referrals for Mr. Maltese, as they are for many advisers. He expects to be doing much more with social media in the future.

“Social media is where the vast majority of advisers' marketing will be in the future,” he said. “Either they will proactively make it so or it will just kind of happen.”

Advisers should monitor the effectiveness of social-media efforts closely, according to consultants.

Success can be measured through analytics that track which sources feed traffic to an adviser's site, through growth in networks or followers, and other indicators, Ms. McIlwain said.

Increasingly, more-advanced testing and analysis can help advisers evaluate how different phrasing or even the color choice of “click here” buttons encourages or discourages site visitors to take action, such as signing up for a newsletter, she said.

Brian Ramsey, a financial adviser with Meritrust Wealth Management, said he doesn't track the success of his social-media efforts closely, though he can prove that they work.

Just last month, an individual with whom he first communicated via social media became an $800,000 client, he said.

'IT'S A DIALOGUE'

Mr. Ramsey pays for a service that posts content for him and uses search engine optimization techniques to keep his video high among search results for local advisers. He's also testing whether Google AdWords, which displays his listing for those who search certain terms through Google, brings in any prospects.

“One of the biggest challenges that advisers have with social media is understanding it's a dialogue; there's a listening aspect and a talking aspect; you can't just push content,” Ms. McIlwain said. “By listening, advisers are able to identify those money-in-motion opportunities so they can identify what issues to bring up and when.”

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