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Advisers: Being digital is no longer a luxury

By Blane Warrene

Feb 12, 2014 @ 9:04 am (Updated 9:25 am) EST

Choosing to be digital in financial services is no longer a luxury. I've witnessed this shift from trend to reality during the past five years, most directly as an archivist and adviser to firms in our industry. Here we explore three key areas where indicators point to the mainstream embrace of the digital business model.

The momentum is much clearer now just by exploring the digital streams emerging from industry conferences like Morningstar, Schwab, T3 and TD Ameritrade. There you will find thousands of interactions, engagement and discussions across social platforms.

THE EVENT HASHTAG

In particular you will be hard pressed to see a major industry event without a Twitter hashtag (i.e. #eventnameandyear). They offer a digital water cooler for attendees to engage and share to their extended networks and perhaps more compelling, a much deeper view into the value of the event to those not in attendance. This, in essence, becomes a marketing lure for the next year's event. Moreover, the host institutions can learn much from an analysis of the underlying data monitored during an event.

Leslie Marshall, who directs Morningstar Inc.'s events, magazine and social-media initiatives, uses event hashtag data to confirm Morningstar is reaching its target audience accurately.

“The top three types of posts with the conference hashtag were generated by journalists, financial advisers and asset managers — the three main groups we want to reach with our thought leadership,” Ms. Marshall said.

“Through this analysis, we calculated the follower reach for #MIC25 at 1.9 million. This expands the reach of the conference by reaching investors who are following these three groups,” she added.

A TOUCH OF SOPHISTICATION

A second indicator is a move to get beyond the basics. As an industry, we've spent considerable time discussing regulatory guidance and the fundamentals of what it takes to get started, for example, using social media in your business. The focus has been to assess the need for:

• A sound social-media policy, and reasonable policies and procedures

• The need for records retention

• The ABCs of using social networks (i.e. setting up profiles, etiquette and learning the art of social listening)

Now the questions are turning a corner to more substantive. In three recent speaking engagements with financial advisers as the prime audience, the conversations zeroed in on outcomes:

• How can I build a workflow to follow my digital content from creation to publishing to analytics – and learn what is working and what is not?

• How can I establish a consistent pipeline of new content and possibly explore new formats, like audio and video?

• What techniques can I use to stitch engagement on social media to my business systems and processes (i.e. identifying and tracking opportunities, relationships and influencers)?

Marie Swift, president and chief executive of Impact Communications, Inc. sees increased activity especially among independent advisers.

"A number of early adopters are seeing real results from their persistent and focused efforts. Of course, some advisers have been slower to adopt the new digital realities; so some foundational and intermediate skills are still being taught by social-media consultants like me who are called in to teach the fundamentals," Ms. Swift said.

She also believes advisers must lead the way by demonstrating their success to others.

“This demonstrates a level of mastery and brings a new touch of sophistication to the industry because the knowledge is tested in the trenches and then freely shared with peers," she added.

COMPLETING THE JIGSAW PUZZLE

The final signs pointing to a more mainstream understanding of the digital business model is reflected in the emergence of more responsive design web solutions and redefined models for the website.

Many industry website providers have made moves to enhance their offerings to include blogs, support for embedding video and audio, and social network integration.

It is also more likely to find a financial firm that has set out on their own to build a custom responsive web site that incorporates a blog and their social networks.

A new family of startups, such as Advisor Deck and Vestorly, are seeking to redefine the modern financial web site. They seek to achieve this through curating high-quality content, social-network integration and perhaps most importantly, analytics to provide insights for measuring progress.

Viewed independently, these indicators might seem incidental. However, when viewed together it is apparent we are seeing both a broader understanding of the digital business model, and also a heightened awareness of the powerful effect of having a strong digital presence with increased visibility.

Blane Warrene speaks and writes frequently on technology and the intersection of marketing and compliance in financial services. He co-founded Arkovi and QuonWarrene, the former acquired by RegEd in 2012. He produces the Digital Well podcast and is focused on helping financial advisers and institutions explore and define what being a digital business means to them. .