In September 2012, Adam Thurgood left his position as a senior portfolio manager in Merrill Lynch's personal-investment-advisory program to become a managing director and partner at HighTower Las Vegas. Within a month, he launched a blog called “ruminATions” and published his first post, on the double-edged nature of compounding.
Since then, Mr. Thurgood has written 100 blog posts. Not only is blogging “cheap and instant,” he said, but it's also a great way for the adjunct finance professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas to show his innovation “without having to actually tell people that I'm a thoughtful person.”
As a breakaway adviser, Mr. Thurgood believes that the wirehouse world he left behind is more likely to use canned content on social media because it is already compliance-approved and ensures a uniform message for company brands.
“Producing your own content is a huge differentiator,” Mr. Thurgood asserted, noting that HighTower Advisors has started using Google Analytics to track the firm's social-media efforts on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. “I could go back and look at the new relationships I've opened up in the last 15 months and show how it was related to the social-media push.”
'MONEY OR TIME?'
It's a given in 2014 that social media is an essential part of most advisers' practices. They know that despite the regulatory hurdles and the crush of information already available online, it's important to engage clients, prospects and colleagues on social media to build their businesses.
But whether to use canned content (pre-written/preapproved by a broker-dealer or third party for multiple advisers' use), custom content (original, written by the adviser, staff or a ghostwriter) or a hybrid version that mixes both is still up for debate.
“All marketing boils down to: Do you spend money or time?” said Ted Jenkin, co-chief executive of oXYGen Financial Inc., which focuses on helping Gen X and Gen Y investors.
Finding the time to feed the social-media beast on a regular basis and coming up with consistently interesting things to say has encouraged many advisers to use alternatives to creating original content.
Preapproved content is the method used by the approximately 5,500 Morgan Stanley advisers with LinkedIn profiles or Twitter feeds. They have access to four to 10 new pieces of content daily in the wirehouse's content library, according to Lauren Boyman, head of the firm's marketing strategy.
The content includes market insights written by the firm's economists, wealth commentary written by its financial planning gurus, and tweets or LinkedIn comments that provide links to those insights and commentary.
“Compliance concerns frame everything else. We have really built our social-media strategy around that,” Ms. Boyman said, noting that Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Inc. rules require broker-dealers to archive everything that advisers say on social media.
Craig Brauff, chief executive of the e-mail compliance firm Erado Message Control Solutions, said wirehouses like to push Finra-approved canned content because they're dealing with a much larger group of advisers.
“They need content that simplifies social media for their reps and that tells their story. It's a marketing question as much as a compliance question,” Mr. Brauff said.
LPL Financial, meanwhile, has a social-media policy along with a portal where the firm takes advisers step by step through the process of getting themselves online.
Advisers who are confident with their digital skills simply can launch right into a do-it-yourself marketing campaign — so long as it meets compliance standards — or, starting in the first quarter of 2014, they can participate in the large independent broker-dealer's Digital IQ training program, which helps advisers learn marketing strategies, according to Melissa Socci, LPL's senior vice president of brand and marketing delivery.
The basic level of Digital IQ teaches advisers how to set up a web page, create an online profile and set measurable goals. After the basic training, advisers can learn more at specialist, master and elite levels, which look at platforms for engaging customers and consider best content practices.
“Advisers can't just start tweeting. We don't recommend that. They should have measurable goals,” said Ms. Socci, noting that LPL has a content library on its marketing platform with compliance-approved tweets and curated RSS feeds that advisers can share.
GOING IT ALONE - WITH HELP
For independent advisers who go it alone, a seemingly endless array of content providers — among them are FMG Suite, Hearsay Social Inc. and Emerald Group Publishing — offer libraries of preapproved content.
Other providers, such as Advisor Products Inc., offer writing services, websites, branding and marketing packages that are tailored to fit specific adviser clients.
Financial journalist Andrew Gluck, chief executive of Advisor Products, believes that original content is better than canned because search engine optimization helps clients and prospects more easily find advisers who do their own writing and posting. Search engine crawlers know the difference between original and canned content, and they give original content favorable placement, he said.
However, Mr. Gluck also believes that many advisers are too busy to produce their own content and that clients don't expect advisers to create content anyway.
“Clients and prospects don't care who writes the content; they just want good content,” he said. “If you provide content that is authoritative and unusual, then people want it. They will connect to you on LinkedIn. They will read tweets.”
Matthew Halloran, president and founder of Top Advisor Coaching, agrees that financial advisers are not professional writers and shouldn't pretend to be.
“Organically creating custom content is a terrible use of their time. I like borrowed credibility,” Mr. Halloran said. “I firmly believe in repurposing information.”
He suggested that independent advisers who want to stay active online should find interesting articles to post, write a few lines about the article, run it past compliance and then publish.
HIS OWN VOICE
But Mr. Jenkin cuts through all the noise of online chatter by taking the time to establish his own voice. His most read blog post, “I make $100,000 and live paycheck to paycheck,” has been shared more than 12,000 times, he said.
“I wouldn't worry about being an award-winning journalist. Just start blogging,” he said. “Custom content is not always the easier way to do it, but it's the smarter way.”
Mr. Jenkin said it helps that he has a good relationship with the chief compliance officer at his broker-dealer, Investacorp Inc.
“Most people think compliance officers are always saying no, but most compliance officers will be reasonable in having a discussion with you,” he said. “Sometimes they say no, but they're willing to talk. There's no reason to be afraid of compliance.”