Making the most of social networking

Yes, there's hype — but also great potential

Apr 11, 2010 @ 12:01 am

By Davis D. Janowski

Somewhere between the hype and the compliance-driven negativity lies the truth about social networking for financial advisers: the technology offers great potential.

Social-networking sites — including LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Ning — can provide cost-effective ways to improve adviser marketing, share ideas with other advisers and clients, and learn about investing and practice management. Among leading advisers, the use of the medium has been evolutionary.

Chris Cooper, whose eponymous financial planning firm manages $225 million, added connections to several social-media sites — as well as a blog — when it redesigned its website.

“If you are just depending on search engines, you are not going to have any traffic to your site,” he said. “You have to consider things like fan pages on Facebook — Twitter on steroids. While none of this is a panacea and you don't get a lot of business from it, at least not yet, you have to be there.”

And that is really the point for now — being there and getting started. Here are two five-step plans to do just that. The first is for newbies; the second is for those who are more experienced and already have a presence in the social-media realm.

TAKING THE FIRST STEPS

1. Sign up. Those who haven't already done so should sign up for LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter accounts. To prevent compliance or regulatory issues from becoming a problem, use a personal e-mail address for now and don't in any way associate these initial accounts with your advisory business.

2. Explore. Each site and its associated community are very different. Begin by simply perusing the interface of each and learning your way around. Each has good help menus with plenty of recommendations for getting started.

LinkedIn is straightforward, professional and buttoned up. It is home to 60 million subscribers intent on keeping up with colleagues past, present and future.

Facebook, with its 400 million subscribers, is more a community interconnected by way of friendship and family; its interface is often confusing but there are a mind-boggling number of features — you can't learn about them all in even a month's time, so relax and explore at your own pace.

Twitter is really a completely different animal. In simplest terms, this service is about broadcasting messages of 140 characters at a time, but you don't have to say, or tweet, anything yourself if you don't want to. Become familiar with Twitter by searching anything, and I mean anything, in which you have an interest. Since more than 50 million messages are generated on the site each day, a search on even the most esoteric or obscure subject is likely to bring results — and people to start following.

3. Expand. The networking aspect of these sites is central to what makes them tick. They are of much less benefit if you aren't connected to others. Once you have accounts at Facebook and LinkedIn, go to the search box on each site and enter the names of some friends or colleagues. Find a few and ask them to connect with you. Then explore some more. See, in turn, your friends' connections and observe how they share information and with what frequency. This will help you become more familiar with each site.

4. Thought leaders. Now that you've gotten your feet wet, begin searching for some of the people you most respect. Look for authors, media commentators and prominent people in your field or hobbies that you enjoy. See how these “experts” are using the sites. Scroll down their profile pages and look at the groups they belong to on LinkedIn and Facebook. Begin following their tweets on Twitter. Don't overdo it, keep the number manageable, and don't get overwhelmed or spend too much time on the sites.

5. Business. Begin searching social media sites for the companies that serve your business and whose products you sell. Chances are good that you will find some out-of-the box marketing strategies not present on their websites. The market research and consulting firm kasina LLC recently found that each of the 41 top financial services companies it studied — from AllianceBernstein LP to The Vanguard Group Inc. — had a LinkedIn page. In addition, 19 were on Twitter and 13 on Facebook.

FOR THE MORE EXPERIENCED

1. Share for better search results. To get more from social networks, give more of yourself in the way of personal information (although not your date of birth or Social Security number, of course). Still, the more complete your profile on LinkedIn, the higher your name will appear in search results there. For example, you should include a strongly written summary of your business, with keywords, a listing of your previous jobs, as well as your specialties and hobbies — all of which will improve the likelihood of people finding you in a search. Similarly, setting your profile on LinkedIn to “full view” under “edit profile settings” improves how well Internet search engines find you. Having a Facebook page and Twitter profile for your business is also going to improve its search engine rankings. Note that profiles on Facebook are tied to an individual, but anyone also can set up a separate and distinct page for a business.

2. Join the sites' groups. Both LinkedIn and Facebook have very active group features. Perform keyword searches on both to find groups — such as the Financial Planning Association or the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors — that you belong to, publications you read and the regulatory bodies that police your industry.

LinkedIn groups, for example, have discussion boards where you can share thoughts, post your own questions and find like-minded folks with whom to connect. The answers section on LinkedIn is also a good place both to post questions and answer those of others. Providing answers in areas in which you have particular business expertise can get you additional recognition and raise your search profile there if you are frequently selected as providing the “best answer” to questions in a category.

3. Network your networks. You can save time in managing your social-media presence by tying things together where you can. For example, you can now export your Facebook page updates to Twitter, you can post tweets by updating your status on LinkedIn, and you can add buttons with hyperlinks to your e-mail signature block for any social network. These will take people directly to your profiles and pages on those sites.

4. Monitor the compliance landscape. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Inc. released some much-awaited guidance on social media in Regulatory Notice 10-06 in January. Finra is still analyzing its stance on social media, so save time and effort by monitoring the blogs of social-media compliance technology companies for updates. Three such sites are arkovi.com, socialware.com and facetime.com.

5. Monitor yourself. You can use keyword searches on a variety of sites and applications to monitor what people are saying about you on Twitter. Examples of such monitoring sites include hootsuite.com, radian6.com and tweetdeck.com.

E-mail Davis D. Janowski at djanowski@investmentnews.com.

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