Two in three financial professionals say they are reluctant to use social networks due to compliance concerns. Perhaps you are among this group. Yet with more than 500 million people logging onto Facebook, 200 million on Twitter, and 100 million on LinkedIn, how can you afford not to be where your clients and prospects are?
Regulatory rules from the SEC, NYSE and Finra (formerly NASD) have prevented financial professionals from fully harnessing the power of LinkedIn, Facebook, and other social media for connecting with prospects, building client relationships, and growing business. Part of the solution is technology. A recent partnership between LinkedIn and Hearsay addresses the regulatory requirements (namely, data archiving and secure storage, e-discovery and monitoring).
The other part of the solution is training and best practices. In researching and writing my book, The Facebook Era, and in my subsequent work with thousands of financial professionals, I've developed my favorite set of tips to help make you successful on social media:
1)Get compliant. You need to ensure that you and your firm are protected from regulatory breaches which could result in severe fines or having your privileges revoked. For this reason, many financial institutions prohibit access from the workplace to social media sites. But financial professionals are also liable for social media communication that takes place from home or a mobile device.
Check if your company has a compliance software solution. If it does not, suggest that they adopt one so you and your colleagues can get started and do so with peace of mind.
2)Choose the right social network(s). If you are new to social media or have limited time, choose one network to focus on. Ask your clients which social network they prefer, or search for their names on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to see which one is favored by the majority of your clients. You will probably find that few use Twitter, most are on Facebook and many on LinkedIn. The next step is to consider where and how your client demographic would appreciate communicating with you. In my experience, although clients are on Facebook, most prefer to engage with financial professionals on LinkedIn.
In addition, LinkedIn represents an unusually wealthy user population; the average user has a household income of a $109K. So, consider focusing on LinkedIn, but don't forget to also reserve usernames on Twitter and Facebook in case you expand your efforts down the road.
3)Create a high-quality personal brand. Your social media profile is a public representation of your personal brand. Invest in a professional but friendly photo. Read over and spell-check all updates and postings to ensure they are high quality, well-written, and error-free. Present a consistent image by using the same photo and bio in every Web profile you have, and you will create a trustworthy and memorable impression.
4)Keep your profile up-to-date and interesting. Set aside time on a regular basis to share timely and relevant content (this is how you establish expertise on financial matters), and to interact with others on social media. But don't get carried away - the top reason people typically "unlike" or "unfollow" a business is over-posting. The second reason is irrelevant or stale content. A good rule of thumb is to post at least once per week but not more than once per day.
5)Optimize profile keywords. One of the best ways to brand yourself and to be found is to optimize the keywords and headline which appear on your profile. The keywords you choose affect not only LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter searches, but also results on Google, Yahoo!, and other search engines. What keywords and phrases are prospects likely to search on? Perhaps "how to manage inheritance" over "private wealth management" or other self-ascribed descriptors commonly used by financial professionals. Insert these terms - in a natural way, of course - in as many places as possible on your profile. These opportunities include your headline, current and past work experience, and summary of your capabilities and specialties. As you repeat the terms or "keywords," you boost your chances of appearing high on the list when people search for professionals in your category.
6)Position yourself as a trusted authority on financial matters. Consider what makes you special when you work with clients in person and replicate those practices online. Remember that building relationships requires time and investment, not a constant sales pitch. The rule of thumb is that you can talk about yourself no more than one in five posts. The rest of the time, posts need to focus on delivering value for clients and prospects, such as news or market commentary.
LinkedIn Groups offer an excellent opportunity to build your credibility. Financial professionals can win followers and build trust over time by providing quality answers to posted questions or initiating interesting dialogues of your own where you may present a unique angle.
7)Join the conversation to build rapport. Connect with customers, prospects, and others by liking, sharing, and commenting on their posts and updates. Log in often to keep tabs on important life events in your clients' lives including weddings, newborns, birthdays, and job changes. Often, it makes sense to acknowledge and congratulate these milestones using offline means such as a phone call or a handwritten note. The power of LinkedIn or Facebook is to help you efficiently gather all of this news, but it's up to you and depends on the demographic of your audience how you wish to follow up.
8)Identify opportunities to grow your business. Take advantage of real-time updates from social networking sites to continually prioritize your prospecting and relationship-building activities. Job changes, joining a board, moving to a new city, growing a family or being involved in a merger or IPO often presents opportunities to sell or up-sell. A significant life change can signal that an individual may be ready for additional financial services or require a new financial plan.
9)Use social media to do your homework. Social media can give you a vital competitive edge when prospecting. Not only can you research people's work history, interests, and background, you can also find the ways in which you intersect. For example you can use LinkedIn to see whom you might know in common with a prospect in order to ask for a warm introduction from your mutual friend. You can also research your prospect's company so you can understand what issues might be top of mind in his/her professional life.
10)Build buzz for your events. When you host events, savvy use of social media is an ideal way to research attendees, drive attendance, and even get attendees to network with each other online. Publicize your event - whether it be an IPO party or a presentation of your capabilities - by using the Event feature on Facebook. If it is a public event, your attendees can expand your reach by inviting their friends. You can also provide value by bringing groups of like-minded individuals together. Create a LinkedIn group for your clients to network with each other before and after the event.
Like the Internet last decade, social media interactions on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter offer a wealth of opportunity and time savings for financial professionals. But of course, social networking sites are not a replacement for tried-and-true traditional methods like a face-to-face meeting, phone call, or handwritten note.
The best social media strategy is one used in conjunction with offline techniques. Indeed, with a little effort on the compliance front and a willingness to do your homework to keep up with what is happening in your clients' lives, you can become that much more effective the next time you pick up the phone, send that handwritten note, or attend a charity function.
Clara Shih (firstname.lastname@example.org) is CEO of Hearsay, a leading social media management platform for financial professionals. In 2007, Shih developed the first business application on Facebook and subsequently authored the New York Times-featured bestselling book The Facebook Era: Tapping Online Social Networks to Market, Sell and Innovate (Prentice Hall, 2010).