As soon as he learned a client was headed to Disneyland, financial planner Wayne Rothe bought him and his wife a book on navigating the California park.

Greg Pietras, an advisor in Rockwood, Ont., also moved quickly—in his case, to counsel a client who’d left a job where he had stock and registered pension plans.

Nothing unusual about the advisors’ responses, except the clients never told them their news—at least not face-to-face.

Rothe heard about the Disneyland trip through a Facebook post; Pietras noticed his client’s job status change on LinkedIn.

They’re among a new breed of financial professionals who use social media to find out information about clients, not just to market their businesses or shape their brands.

Read: Social media more revealing than you think

Consider the three main networks:

  • Facebook, a social networking website, lets its billion users create profiles, upload photos and video, and exchange messages;
  • LinkedIn’s 200 million users see it as a Facebook for business, facilitating professional networking; and
  • Twitter, a social networking and microblogging service, helps 500 million users worldwide send and read 140-character comments about any subject.

Friending clients on Facebook, connecting to them on LinkedIn, or following their Twitter feeds all help you learn more about their personal and professional lives.

By taking smart action on that information, advisors can leverage social media to “develop deeper relationships with clients,” says Rothe, who works with Manulife Securities Investment Services in Spruce Grove, Alta.

Opportunities to connect

People openly broadcast details about their likes, dislikes, work, family, relationships, goals and plans on these sites.

While it’s important to use that knowledge appropriately (see “An invasion of privacy?” below), the information gleaned from social media is, by nature, public.

An invasion of privacy?

Social media is hardly cybersnooping, but take care when using the information obtained. Advisors who follow clients online share three tips:

Don’t cross the line. While LinkedIn is a business social network, Facebook is more personal. Wayne Rothe has connected to several clients on Facebook, but waits for them to send the friend request. “Our relationship is professional, so I let them make the initial contact. If they do, I accept.”

Relationships come before business. If you hear on Facebook a client’s child has just graduated from university, send a card or offer help with a job search before suggesting RRSP strategies now that tuition is done. “You don’t want to be a slimy salesperson,” says Brittney Castro.

Remember the personal touch. Greg Pietras once learned via a client’s LinkedIn page that he and his wife were separating. He contacted the couple directly to ask if he could do anything to help. When topics are touchy, be just as sensitive in your mode of response. Even if a client has broadcast news to their world, “some things you have to do face-to-face or by phone,” says Pietras.

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