Social media can help advisors

By Neil Bearse & Betty Ann-Howard | February 1, 2010 | Last updated on February 1, 2010
6 min read

When used effectively, social media is a valuable addition to the marketing mix of financial planners.

Due to the wide distribution and democratic nature of these social tools, it’s important for planners to understand they are already involved in the social conversations unfolding online. Word-of-mouth recommendation has existed since the dawn of language, but the social web represents an evolutionary step in communication because it empowers any individual to converse with, and also discover and learn from the experiences of others.

Stories that were once merely told and overheard at cocktail parties by a handful of friends can now be blogged, tweeted or streamed live to the Web. As such, they have the potential to instantly reach thousands of eyeballs, while being conveniently archived for later retrieval with one click on a search engine.

Podcasting pioneer Gary Vaynerchuk describes this phenomenon as “word of mouth on steroids.” Indeed, the basic concepts of social communication remain the same; it’s just that the stakes are now higher. When confronted with this reality, it’s easy to focus on the potential negatives, like worrying about criticism being broadcast for all to see. But the flip side of that coin represents an incredible opportunity for planners who already do their jobs well to get their names before the public.

Taking the next step . . . strategically

For the financial planner who chooses to begin exploring these channels, it is important to start with realistic expectations. Avoid the assumption that since there is often no monetary cost, these channels represent free marketing, and can be used on an ad-hoc basis. What you save in money, you’ll be spending in time.

An easy first step is to take some time and simply read and listen to the conversations and commentary taking place online. This allows an advisor to get accustomed to the landscape without feeling the pressure to contribute right away. By simply observing questions and comments posted on Twitter or on blogs across the web, a planner can gain great insights into questions, misconceptions and opportunities that exist within the marketplace.

Cory Papineau, a Winnipeg-based advisor has used Twitter to connect with and learn from other financial planners around the world. Through this channel, he has discovered valuable blogs and industry resources to keep him up-to-date on industry news and trends. He says he gains knowledge simply by observing what others in the industry are doing, and remarks there is a disproportionately small number of Canadian planners using social media. Still, he insists, there are “vast opportunities” for those who do it right.

After becoming accustomed to the landscape, advisors should begin engaging in communities, contributing insights, knowledge and value into the market. It is important to resist the temptation of advertising services rather than answering questions.

Let’s say a single parent posts a question onto a social network about how to better save for her child’s education. (This question could take the form of blog entry, a Tweet, Facebook message or message board posting). Whatever the source, the same basic strategy applies: advisors should demonstrate knowledge rather than trying to close a deal. The planner who answers the question without resorting to a sales pitch might not ring the cash register right away, but they will earn top-of-mind status as a helpful, trusted professional.

The concept of trust as currency should not be taken lightly.

As Chris Brogan and Julien Smith describe in their book Trust Agents, people are more likely to do business with a known friendly face with a proven track record, rather than engaging a stranger. By developing a solid reputation with social connections – even those who may never do business with you directly – you are creating an environment in which your services and expertise can be recommended in a peer-to-peer fashion. This further extends the value of your efforts and your potential return on investment.

Of course, it’s not realistic to assume every potential client is active on social networks, posting their every financial question or concern. Similarly, no planner has the time and attention span to locate, consider and respond to every such post. So, advisors need to create inbound marketing channels for their businesses that allow for their online presences to be discovered by those who are in need of their services.

Searching for advice

Increasingly, people make search engines their first step in the information-gathering process. Every month, Canadians use Google or Bing to get relevant content for billions of unique search queries. The engine in turn generates a list of individual Web pages it determines are the most relevant answers to the questions being asked.

Consider for a moment the amount of knowledge surrounding financial advice, investment vehicles and useful strategies that exist only in your mind as an advisor – and then compare that to the content you provide on your web site for search engines to deliver to potential clients.

Contrast the way you converse with a potential client when he or she has contacted you via telephone with the experience provided to a potential client who is on your website. The overwhelming majority of businesses are in this exact same situation: their websites spend time describing how qualified a professional is, rather than actually distributing and demonstrating this knowledge to the visitors reading the page.

By incorporating a blog into a company website, filled with entries devoted to answering common client questions, a financial planner not only begins to leverage the inbound marketing channel, but also creates more value for visitors. This increases their propensity to inquire and engage in a business relationship.

Deborah Kearney, Executive Account Manager, Wealth with Empire Life, says financial websites must evolve from providing information about the business, and instead focusing on creating an “interactive, user friendly site that would encourage people to come back when they need financial information”.

Ironically, for the planner who’s already stretched for time, it is this conceptually arduous step of creating original content that can make entry into social media feasible in terms of time and rewarding in terms of return on investment.

Get blogging

Case in point: Take five minutes to write down every question a client has asked you in the last week alone. Each of these questions represents an opportunity to add an original article to your website, in the form of a blog post. There is no expectation each written article be a Pulitzer Prize winning masterpiece, every video be flawlessly edited or every audio clip sound professionally recorded. Begin by simply unlocking the knowledge from your mind and setting it free.

Chances are, if your clients are asking these questions, countless other clients and potential clients are asking the same things. By creating a page devoted to answering each question, you give the search engine a reason to serve up your content as a solution to a potential client’s problem.

And, by creating a valuable and useful resource, you are increasing the potential for others to link to your Web site, increasing your traffic and leveraging the power of peer recommendation. Similarly, each piece of content you create is one more item you can share on social networks as a means of garnering trust, reputation and credibility within the community.

Any addition to a routine that has proven comfortable, successful and profitable should be justified based on its merit, rather than hype. Social media is no different, and the responsible financial planner should not discard previous efforts in traditional marketing, many of which may still be lucrative and successful.

Begin your foray by allocating a few hours each week to testing out these new channels, and focus first on listening. Make use of times when business is slow to generate batches of original content and schedule these for publication over time. (This will let you function efficiently during times when the pace of business increases.) Measure the results and if they’re good allocate more time to social media communication.

However you choose to use these new channels, keep their use in the proper perspective. These are not diversions or pet projects to be pursued at the expense of running your business. Instead, they represent a natural extension of what every financial planner already aims to achieve, allowing for the discovery of new opportunities to communicate ideas, knowledge and expertise. While these new channels may, at first glance, appear drastically different from what financial planners are used to, when measured against the ultimate purpose of professionals in this field, it becomes clear they simply represent another means of enabling more clients to achieve their goals, ambitions and dreams.

  • Neil Bearse is manager of Web-based marketing at Queen’s University School of Business in Kingston, Ontario. Betty-Anne Howard is a certified financial planner with Independent Planning Group in Kingston, Ontario.

    Neil Bearse & Betty Ann-Howard