This year, while I was organizing a mission trip to Mississippi for teens and adults, I sent out weekly e-mails with up-dates on our travel plans. My high school daughter said: “Dad, nobody is reading your e-mails.” I was shocked: My e-mails contained critical information for a target audience that was invested in the subject matter. “It's not that,” she assured me. “Nobody reads e-mail anymore.”
Although the key audiences with whom I communicate on the job aren't a bunch of teenagers, my daughter had a point: Basic e-mail communication is in many ways being replaced by social-media technology.
In the past year alone, time spent online increased 18%, while time spent on social-networking site Facebook rose 566%. And more than eight out of 10 adult Americans are actively using social media.
Financial planners and advisers who ignore the opportunity to reach these individuals through social-media marketing opportunities are taking a big risk. You should also consult your legal advisers to make sure you're following the new social media guidelines from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Inc.
Let's look at some of the critical aspects of a social-media program:
Your website is still your most important communication tool. A website serves as the portal to your company, its services, people and mission. It's the place where people verify who you are and, when done right, it legitimizes your business. It's also a great place to have an extended conversation or connection with your clients and prospects.
Yet many financial websites were built five to 10 years ago and look dreadful, offering nothing more than bland boilerplate content. Some are informative, but most use a home page that bombards the user with way too much information.
Your website should offer minimum choices on each page with links for more information so the user may navigate with ease and seek out the information that is most relevant. This is called “progressive disclosure.” This is not about hiding information or avoiding transparency; it's about offering choices and building a website that invites the user in on his or her terms.
If your website is not engaging your clients and prospects, how can you expect your social-media tools to work any better? The way that you communicate with your audience is by expressing your brand. Get your website right, and the Facebook fan page is a lot easier to build.
Make your site mobile. Websites should be redesigned or maximized for smartphones. These devices are now the primary mode of communication for many of your clients and potential clients. Designing your site to be mobile doesn't just mean making it smaller. It's kind of like golf and mini-golf. It's a different game. You need to rethink the work flow of the website, minimize tabs, shorten links and offer content in a smart and accessible manner.
Create a blog to provide important information to clients. Besides making your web content relevant, you need to offer frequent updates, new perspectives and reaction to real world events. This can be done on a blog. Your blog can archive commentary and link stories, and demonstrate your special approach. You can add new blog posts quickly and easily. This is where you can add a “comments section” and begin a real dialogue with clients and prospects. Finra allows you to offer this as third-party content without subjecting it to the same disclosure requirements. Consult your legal adviser, but it's important to allow for back-and-forth communication; otherwise, you are not being “social.”
Introduce social media to your marketing program. Here are the features that advisers should begin adding to their marketing programs: videos, podcasts, and interactive tools or applications. You should use video clips and audio clips (or podcasts) from press appearances or conferences where you or one of your colleagues is speaking. Post them on your blog or on your website. Create a new app or a calculator that distinguishes your special approach to planning.
Incorporate social-networking sites. All registered investment advisers should be on Facebook and LinkedIn as individuals. Their profiles should be approved for legal and marketing standards by your compliance department. Your firm should also have a corporate profile on LinkedIn and establish a Facebook fan page.
All of these tools should be designed and written following your brand standards. Ignore social media and the phone will stop ringing — if it hasn't done so already.
David Langton is principal of Langton Cherubino Group Ltd., a design communications firm.