Whether you’re actively developing social media strategies or still a skeptic, you know it’s important to have guiding principles.

Christopher Barger’s The Social Media Strategist: Build a Successful Program from the Inside Out proposes a few. Barger was the lead social media strategist for General Motors between 2007 and 2011; before that he was IBM’s “blogger-in-chief.” He knows how large, complex organizations work and has built successful social strategies within them.

Barger identifies three principles to using social media successfully. They are:

1. Trust is a capital commodity

Social media is not a new channel for old marketing messages. To be successful, social media efforts need to build social capital, according to Barger.

Many companies turn to social media only after they find themselves with an image problem or at the centre of a PR crisis. However, that’s too late. Both corporate and individual brands need to earn the online community’s trust well in advance of needing to draw on it.

To build relationships that support your business activities, you should:

  • Share information you think people will be genuinely interested in (like news and analysis), not marketing information that interrupts what they’re interested in.
  • Reveal some of your personality, so people can get to know you. For instance, talk about some charitable causes you’re passionate about, and why.
  • Be generous with your time and help others. If you can point someone toward a useful article or event, or connect two like-minded acquaintances, that’s appreciated.

2. Markets are already social

Marketers have built careers on managing brands through media messages they were able to control. That game is over.

“The ability of anyone and everyone to air an opinion—not to mention the larger breakdown of authority and trust in Western society, especially in America—means that audiences long ago stopped taking your word for how good your product is, what your brand stands for, or whether your news is truly relevant.” (Barger, p. 8)

Consumers are saying what they want about your brand, industry, products and profession on social networks, and make purchasing decisions based on input from peers. However, few advisors are tuning in to these conversations, missing opportunities to provide alternative perspectives and build trust.

To become part of such discussions:

  • Connect with people who already know and think well of you, such as clients, customers and peers.
  • Listen to what they say by following their updates, reading and liking their comments, and paying attention to their blog posts.
  • Always seek ways to add value to conversations. For instance, share relevant information or connect people with content that will help them.
  • Avoid online arguments about specific strategies or products. If you must address the argument, do it in person or one-on-one with your client or contact.

By adding value in your clients’ online networks, you’re more likely to be top of mind when someone goes to their social network seeking help with financial affairs.

3. Success comes from creativity, not size

“When it comes to social media savvy or success, size doesn’t matter. Big brands come up with great campaigns; small brands and individuals come up with great uses for social tools. Success comes from creativity, and creativity isn’t inherently present in small organizations and missing from big ones.” (Barger, p.16)

Advisors working in wealth management can leverage the creativity of both large organizations (their firms) and small ones (their own practices).

Firms can and should redeploy some of their marketing budgets away from traditional advertising, which doesn’t work in social networks. Instead, they can focus on producing and curating engaging content for their advisors to share in social networks.

Some samples of engaging social media content are:

  • Succinct, well-written articles from the financial media that convey a viewpoint you share;
  • Visual content, such as charts and infographics, that simplify and elucidate; and
  • Video clips that can be used to explain and educate people about complex and hard to grasp concepts.

Social media is not a short-term strategy

Mastering social media tools and networks requires a significant up-front investment of time and energy. And the ROI of this investment is measured in years, not months.

However, advisors and firms that invest now in acquiring the skills and training to succeed in social media will be rewarded with competitive advantages and big payoffs down the road.

Jay Palter is a social media strategist and coach with two decades of professional experience in financial services, software development and marketing. To subscribe to his weekly newsletter, go to
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