The SRI financial community, with its passion for social advocacy, green technology and gender equality, is not employing social networking nearly enough to push its agenda.
However, by finding time, budgeting resources, pushing past fear and applying appropriate tools, it can deliver its message effectively, according to social media experts gathered at the 21st annual SRI in the Rockies conference held in San Antonio last month.
Members of the panel, Embracing Social Media to Grow Your Business, moderated by Bob Helmuth of Pax World Management, urged financial advisors to tap into Internet strategies to enrich existing client relationships and to prospect for new business.
Brian Reich, managing director of New York-based little m media, admonished financial advisors for "sitting on your hands" and prodded them to "think differently."
"You have to embrace the new world by looking beyond the technology," Reich said. "It's not hard; it's not scary....You have to step up, otherwise someone will eat you for lunch."
The panelists discussed ways of circumventing certain compliance issues, particularly the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority's Rule 10-06, a set of guidelines created to ensure proper investor practices on blogs and social networking web sites.
Judy Seid, founder and president of Blue Summit Wealth Management, La Mesa, Calif., and viewed as an industry pioneer for her involvement in social media, said her broker-dealer vets all of her postings.
While admittedly not tech-savvy, Seid--through trial and error--has posted on Facebook, Twitter, video links and even TV news appearances on her corporate web site.
"The only thing allowed is a static link - and even that has to be pre-approved by your broker-dealer," Seid said. "It is difficult to supervise."
However, she has discovered navigable ways around the guidelines. Her blog is compliant, for instance, because it is bereft of reader comments.
Panelist John Rooks, founder and president of The SOAP Group, Portland, Me., beckoned users to "own the conversation" by applying social media for such specific purposes as branding, driving sales, customer support or to create a dialogue.
"Look at the Internet as a wall between the company and the customer," Rooks said, comparing its advent to that of voice mail, e-mail or faxes. Users seemed reluctant to use those devices early on but soon learned - and so too with social networking. "Social media is a portal to get past that wall and reach customers."
Both Rooks and Reich advised keeping the social networking component within the context of a business, rather than turning to outsourcing.
"If you don't have time to produce a widget (on your own), you have nothing to sell," Reich said. "If you can't make time to do this (on your own), what the hell are you doing with your time?"
A major mistake some companies make is to emulate others. Be specific, Reich said. "Figure out your goals and identify which specific tools--Twitter, blogs, e-mail blast--can all be tailored to achieve them."
In addition, do not let postings become a routine activity. "Talk about what's important to your audience," Rooks said.
Added Reich, "There are no regulations against what is going on in the world. Use these topics as an opportunity to engage your audience...If what you post is compelling, readers will take it and post it and consequently, spawn greater interest."
Provide the information they are seeking and they will follow, Reich said. "Share your love for the system and your efficiency and the rest will fall into place."