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Financial Advisers Are on Board with Social Media, but Questions Still Linger

The findings of the Putnam Investments 2015 Social Advisor Study, which surveyed more than 800 U.S. financial advisers, point to the fact that social media continues to become an increasingly essential tool for advisers to communicate with their clients and build their book of business. Here are some of the study results:

  • 81 percent of advisers currently use social media for business, up from 75 percent in 2014
  • 40 percent of advisers (vs. 25 percent in 2014) use four or more social networks for business
  • 69 percent of advisers report social media is a significant component of their overall marketing effort—up from 56 percent in 2014
  • 79 percent of advisers report acquiring new clients through social media (up from 66 percent in 2014) with average annual asset gain from such clients standing at $4.6 million

These numbers appear to provide tangible proof that social media has grown to be the most direct path for advisers to reach out and influence their key audiences. However, despite this success, some degree of skepticism among advisers continues to linger. Below, I’ve listed the three most recurring questions financial advisers pose to our firm about social media.

Does Social Media Really Matter?
When confronted with this question, we consistently reply that the answer is debatable. What works for a financial planning practice may not work for a wealth management firm. And, in some cases, social media may not be a choice at all. However, before rejecting it, there are some key factors to be considered:

  • Unlike meeting a prospect face-to-face, or attending a live marketing event, social media interaction does not require travel and the costs associated with it
  • It allows advisers to exhibit knowledge and expertise to an audience beyond her or his established database of contacts and leads
  • It empowers advisers to create a sizable virtual network to develop new business
  • It helps foster conversations about an adviser’s brand
  • It establishes a bridge between an adviser’s website and her or his target audience—a good social media page will drive traffic to the adviser website
  • It enables advisers to position themselves as an expert sources at a negligible cost

How and Where Do I Begin?
Traditionally, the answer to this question has to do with what the adviser is seeking to achieve. Before engaging in social media activities, we recommend that our clients familiarize themselves with what other advisers, journalists and bloggers are doing—for example, the type of topics they cover, the frequency of their posts, the volume and quality of response they receive. This preliminary exercise will enable them to gauge whether or not social media is an effort they “really” want to pursue.

The second step is getting acquainted with a couple of platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter. After joining them and establishing suitable profiles, the next action is to create engaging content—topics of compelling interest to the adviser’s core audiences—that includes tips, guidelines and actionable ideas. Then post such content on the adviser’s website and concurrently proceed to “push” it via established social media accounts. Ultimately, your social media engagement should seek to achieve two key strategic goals: 1) engage your audience prompting it to share your expertise and guidance; and 2) direct traffic to your website.

How Can I Handle Compliance?
Traditionally, compliance is advisers’ major deterrent to social media. Often, this is due mainly to their lack of understanding on how to meet social media compliance requirements. Prior to launching into social media interaction, it is crucial that an adviser attains a good understanding of FINRA’s rules governing communication and specifically how they regulate social media activities. FINRA’s guidance, articles, podcasts and videos on this topic abound and are easily found on the Internet. To shield themselves and their firms from legal consequence arising from bad social media interaction, advisers must establish a social media policy—that includes archiving procedures and guidelines—and if needed, seek appropriate legal counsel.

With social media, like with any other type of marketing communication effort, advisers must pay utmost attention that any post, comment, tweet is FINRA compliant. For example, a post or tweet in which an adviser may support a specific stock or bond could represents a “recommendation.” As such, it could be consequently treated as a breach of FINRA’s suitability rule and bear legal consequences for both the adviser and her firm.

Claudio PannunzioClaudio O. Pannunzio
President and Founder
i-Impact Group
Greenwich, Conn.

 

Editor’s Note: Other FPA social media-related content that may be of interest to you include:


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Social Media Strategies of High-Growth Firms

Your clients don’t want to have to rely on you for everything—they want information to make educated choices. And the way to engage them and other prospective clients is through content development and social media, found a recent study.

The study, titled “Communication Evolution: Financial Professionals and the Future of Thought Leadership and Social Media,” was conducted by the Financial Planning Association and LinkedIn was conducted by If Not Now Research, found that was the case.

The study found that clients crave more knowledge and many high-growth advisory firms are satisfying that craving by curating content and sending it out to current and would-be clients via social media, which is termed in the report as “thought leadership.” And it’s paying off.

“The study draws an important connection between the drivers of client engagement and communications strategies that will help advisers stand out from the crowd,” said Julie Littlechild, President of If Not Now Research.

“This report aims to help financial advisers of all business models understand how their peers are engaging in social media and thought leadership, the connection between business growth and these communication tactics ,” writes Lauren Schadle, CEO and executive director of the Financial Planning Association.

Some of the study’s biggest takeaways include the following:

Clients are engaged online. All age groups surveyed engage in online searches, but different age groups do so differently. While younger clients (ages 18-44) are more likely to search prior to meeting an adviser, older clients (ages 55-64 and those over 65), are more likely to look up an adviser to validate their impression of them.

Clients are engaged in social media and they expect you to be too. The age range of those most engaged in social media is 18-44 with 62 percent of respondents active on LinkedIn, 86 percent active on Facebook, and 55 percent active on Twitter. LinkedIn is the primary site advisers are using—76 percent of those surveyed—which is a good thing because the clients surveyed said they expect their advisers to at least be on LinkedIn.

Clients want education. They sought you out because they want professional help, but they also want to be educated on the issues so they can make their own informed decisions.

Firms that curate and push out educational content grow. Firms that wrote blogs, newsletters and other informational content and pushed it out via social networking sites and email saw growth over those who didn’t. The study found that 67 percent of high-growth firms said they added new clients as a direct result of using multiple professional and social sites, including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

“Today we have a choice: to watch how the change plays out or to take action and be part of the change,” the report notes. “The data suggests that the leaders are the high-growth firms that are reaping the rewards of driving the change.”

You can find the full study here.


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Email Prospecting: 4 Tips to Make the Most of 2.7 Seconds

email-on-ipadOne of the biggest challenges for advisers when prospecting is to secure that initial meeting. Often the preliminary outreach to a prospect may take place via email and in that case getting a positive response—or a response at all—can be an arduous mission to accomplish.

According to The Radicati Group, a technology research firm, 1.9 billion non-spam emails are sent every day. To stand a chance to be acknowledged, email messages must be smartly crafted to grab recipients’ attention and motivate them to respond. Other consumer studies also revealed that it takes only 2.7 seconds for an average person to decide if they want to read, delete or reply to an email. This is in part courtesy of our increased use of handheld devices, which currently represent a preponderant portion of all email interactions.

A couple of industry statistics will help you gauge the impressive growth and usage of email on mobile devices:

  • 53 percent of total email opens occurred on a mobile phone or tablet in Q3 2014, from 48 percent in Q2 2014.
    (Experian, “Quarterly email benchmark report,” Q3 2014)
  • Mobile email opens up 180 percent in three years, from 15 percent, Q1 2011 to 42 percent in Q1 2014.
    (Campaign Monitor, “Email interaction across mobile and desktop, Q1 2014)

What are some of the key factors that prompt prospects to delete emails? Key culprits traditionally include convoluted language, use of industry jargon and failure to make a strong case for value—are you worth your prospect’s time? Will you be for her or him a valuable source?

Ultimately, it is not the service or product that you are pitching that will prompt your prospects to take action. Rather, your capacity to convince them that you understand their challenges and that you can help them achieve their goals will be the deciding factor. This is what will persuade them that getting additional information or requesting to meet with you will be a good investment of their time.

Here are some of the crucial factors you must bear in mind when crafting an email:

  1. Grabbing Subject Line: Use concise language. Do not exceed 50 characters. Be clear, consistent, use action words to inspire and, when possible, consider adding the recipient’s first name
    Length: The statistics above make a compelling case for prospects reading emails on mobile devices. Consequently, keep your emails short—preferably under 100 words
  2. Personalize: According to HubSpot Science of Email research, personalizing an email increase click through rates by 14 percent. So, conduct some specific research that can help address the recipient’s challenges and openly quote it in the text.
  3. Credibility: Do not shy away from name-dropping. If the prospect was referred to you by a third party, mentioning that individual’s name may significantly increase the odds of a response
    Value: The first couple of sentences should unequivocally state what you are offering and why it is valuable. To accomplish this goal, clearly state your value proposition. Also, go the extra mile by sharing any educational material you may have on the topic and clearly enunciate to the reader the benefits she will derive from reading such material.
  4. Closing: In closing your email, remember that your goal is to establish an ongoing conversation. Include a call-to-action and word it in a personal and engaging manner, be it a meeting request or a telephone call.

Claudio PannunzioClaudio O. Pannunzio
President and Founder
i-Impact Group
Greenwich, Conn.


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Diamonds and Your Social Presence are Forever

The internet was once regarded as an “other” space that existed beyond the reaches of “the real world.” What happened on the Internet wasn’t to be taken seriously–it wasn’t real. This rather strange concept of the Internet is now changing, due in large part to the rise of social media.

While some continue to miss the Tweet, there is a growing consensus that what is said or done online has a direct and measurable impact on the physical, tangible world.

And all of this mass communicating we’re doing, every think-piece, Tweet, status update, and picture we post, is being cataloged–it’s been said that history is now recorded faster than it’s actually taking place. The Internet is one large encyclopedia of the human experience, and unlike the hardcover collection on our shelves in the basement, it cannot be destroyed by flood nor fire.

Diamonds and your social presence are forever.

In other words, navigating an online presence is hard, and two social media sites in particular get people into the most trouble.

Facebook
On Facebook, keeping your personal and professional self separated is a must. For many of us, even before we considered our future careers, Facebook was around to make sure we wouldn’t have one. Depending on how long you’ve been active on the site, Facebook tends to be a place of old college buddies, new babies of those old college buddies, and beer. Probably of you consuming it. With your old college buddies.

Instead of mixing business and pleasure on your profile, create a business page for your firm. This way you can guarantee that what you post is professional and in keeping with your business brand. Most of your clients aren’t interested in seeing you in your college glory days. In that same vein, restrict access to your profile to only include friends–they’re less likely to tattle on you if you make a blunder.

Twitter
Twitter’s an odd bird. If you’re a professional, it likes a mix of business speak; unrelated yet interesting articles from around the web; and the odd pithy personal update. Unless you have something akin to an obsession with declaring the veracity of unicorns, it’s not imperative to maintain a personal Twitter account as well as a professional one. If you do have said passion, create a cleverly disguised pseudonym and Tweet to your heart’s content–just remember which account you’re logged into.

While the readership of Twitter is generally accepting of a variety of posts, the deceptively open and on-the-fly nature of it makes it prime real estate for gaffs. You may be Tweeting from the comfort of your own home, but your Tweet is out roaming the world. And once it’s out, it’s almost impossible to stuff that bird back in the cage.

The big takeaway?
While it’s true there’s a potential landmine waiting to explode with every social media post, it’s also true that how we conduct ourselves online shouldn’t be any different than how we conduct ourselves in person. Unless what you have to say qualifies for the Whistleblower Protection Act, if you wouldn’t say it out loud, don’t say it online.

Absolutely speak to your audience, but also give thought to the possible reaction outside of it. And before you wade into whichever moral issue is up for debate, do a quick cost-benefit analysis to determine whether your opinion is worth the potential loss.

Oh, and don’t forget to have fun!

Kellie GibsonKellie Gibson
Marketing Writer
Advisor Websites


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Tapping Technology for Review Meetings

Many advisers have replaced at least some in-person review meetings with technology-supported meetings (e.g. via Skype) This practice is becoming more popular for several reasons:

  • Clients want to save time or may prefer the comfort of their own home or office instead of driving to the adviser’s office.
  • Advisers may prefer the efficiency of review meetings aided by technology.
  • People in general are more technologically savvy and comfortable with the notion of technology-supported meetings.

On the other hand, it is unlikely that one would use a technology-supported meeting as a vehicle for developing or strengthening a client relationship.

Pros and Cons
Advisers who conduct technology-based review meetings report that these meetings set up win/win scenarios—they’re more efficient for the adviser and more convenient for the clients. Typically, there is less chitchat and a tendency to get down to business sooner, so review meetings end in half the time that in-person reviews take. Still, there are some differences and possible downsides to be aware of:

  • Less chitchat may be efficient, but it can rob the adviser of tidbits of information that enhance the client relationship or provide cues about a client’s understanding of, or comfort with, his or her financial status.
  • Most likely, the adviser’s staff isn’t involved in technology-supported meetings, resulting in less input for the adviser. In addition, some staff may miss having the opportunity to interact with clients, an experience that gives purpose to mundane tasks such as filling out paperwork.
  • Both clients and advisers need to assume the added responsibility of ensuring that personal information passes only via secure lines.
  • Although advisers may have trained both spouses to participate in in-person client meetings, it may be easier to tap only one spouse or partner when the move is made to technology-aided meetings, which could open the door to some miscommunication.

Change Happens
This isn’t the first major transition in client meetings. Many tenured advisers remember transitioning from appointments in their clients’ homes to meetings in their own offices. That shift happened approximately a decade ago, and no harm was done. Nevertheless, advisers may want to keep these tips in mind as this change unrolls.

  • Be sure that both spouses are involved in at least some technology-aided review meetings.
  • Prepare clients for the importance of cyber security. 
  • Practice video technology before using it. For example, depending on camera placement, looking directly into a client’s eyes on the screen can appear as if the adviser is looking elsewhere. Looking into the camera, however, though not intuitive, comes across as looking directly at the client.
  • Consider adding staff to some technology-aided meetings, depending on your staff’s relationship with a client.
  • Offer in-person meetings as an option. Even if clients don’t want to take advantage of this offer, giving them the opportunity for in-person interaction is advised.

Financial planners are relationship people. Efficiency is wonderful. But efficiency that takes precedence over relationships is dangerous.

Joni Youngwirth_2014 for webJoni Youngwirth
Managing Principal of Practice Management
Commonwealth Financial Network
Waltham, Mass.

 

Editor’s note: Read an article in the May 2015 issue of the Journal of Financial Planning that focuses on how to prevent identity theft here. Also, listen to an FPA webinar titled “Leveraging Cloud Technology to Overcome Cybersecurity & Compliance Risk” here. Another helpful webinar, titled “Mobile Security: Defending the Devices that Power Client Productivity” can be found here.


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Information Overload and Content Marketing

Organized MindIn his book, The Organized Mind, Montreal neuroscientist Daniel Levitin posits that we now consume the equivalent of 174 newspapers’ worth of information a day—five times what we consumed back in 1986. Unfortunately our brains still have the same limited processing capacity.

This may help explain why we’re exhausted after spending a day online, even if most of that day is spent looking at pictures of cats.

A few things are at play here. The advent of the Internet has given us instant access to information—no more waking up to the morning newspaper, hitting up the local library, or waiting for the nightly news. Missed your favorite radio show? No matter, it is waiting for you. The concept of time, namely its passing, ceases to exist in the realm of the Internet. The Internet is always, always present—both in ubiquity and in tense. It is now.

And boy, do we love it. Not only do humans have a natural thirst for knowledge but we are hard-wired for novelty, and all of this online information is hitting that pleasure center and leaving us insatiably hungry for more.

And with demand comes supply.

Enter stage left: content marketing.

According to the Content Marketing Institute, which we found on Google (via a search that took a slothful 0.38 seconds to perform), content marketing is defined as:

“The marketing and business process for creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

People want information that tells them who you are, what you do, and why they should trust you. At that point, maybe then they’ll part with their hard-earned sheckles in your direction. Creating content that delivers this information is a great approach. It combines the technology of the times with the demands of the day.

But maybe you’re starting to see the potential catch inherent in the plan.

As so many businesses have embarked upon a content marketing strategy, surfers of the web have gotten exactly what they asked for—a metric ton of information.

In fact, more information than they know what to do with.

There is so much information that supply has now arguably surpassed demand. And while technology might be operating in the future, our ability to actually process all of this information is still stuck in the Stone Age. We’re not very advanced machines.

But there’s no going home. Now that we’ve been given exactly what we want, there’s no going back. As a business, you can’t simply stop producing information (the cost and devaluing of this information is a discussion for another time).

So in a space flooded with information, what are some ways to navigate content marketing without running yourself ragged and inundating your readers?

  1. Think it through. What kind of content are you producing? Is it directly related to your product or service, or only tangentially so? While informing your readers and establishing yourself as a trustworthy source are important aspects of content marketing, conversion is essential. If your content is not converting visitors into leads, you need to re-evaluate your strategy. A good approach is to use your content to teach the value of your product or service.
  2. Produce quality over quantity. It may seem counterintuitive, what with the sheer amount of content you have to fight with to be seen, but by and large, good content performs better than more content. It’s hard to do both but if you have the time and resources, keep at it; if you have to sacrifice one for the other, quality should win over quantity every time. It’s important to note that ‘good’ and ‘quality’ depend on your approach—the BBC and Buzzfeed operate on entirely different concepts of each, and both are wildly popular.
  3. Create incentive. Make it worth the wait. If you are producing thoughtful, engaging content, your visitors will want to keep returning to see if there’s more, and will be delighted when you have delivered. If you’re producing an abundance with little value, the incentive decreases and visitors might only check back occasionally—if at all.

Another approach is to erect a barrier between visitors and your content. Build a call-to-action that requires their email or phone number in exchange for an e-book or whitepaper. This might sound strange, but arbitrarily ascribing value makes something valuable, and therefore more enticing to visitors. Just don’t disappoint.

Kellie Gibson

Kellie Gibson
Marketing Writer
Advisor Websites

 


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3 Powerful Stats That Affect Website Usability

Whether you’re a financial adviser or a web designer, it’s easy to understand why it’s important to build a website that visitors can use. When a visitor arrives on any adviser’s website for the first time can they inherently, fluidly find the information they’re looking for? Recently, I came across this article from Smashing Magazine that cites evidence on the importance of creating a user-friendly site. Here are three science-backed usability stats that I found especially interesting:

Let’s back up… what is website usability?

Website usability is a fancy tech term that refers to how user-friendly a site it. According to Google, web usability is:

“… the ease of use of a website. Some broad goals of usability are the presentation of information and choices in a clear and concise way, a lack of ambiguity and the placement of important items in appropriate areas.”

Scroll Call

After nearly a decade of research on how people use the internet, Nielsen Norman Group discovered 77 percent of first-time visitors don’t scroll. At all. Let’s rephrase: when a visitor arrives at your adviser website for the first time, they only see what is “above the fold.”

This data represents how important the homepage of a site is. First-time web visitors come to a site with three *big* questions:

  • Who are you?
  • What do you do?
  • Why should I care? (this is the most important)

While it’s not a good idea to cram every detail about a firm on the homepage, it’s important to make the best use of the space that’s available. The best adviser websites are designed to draw in first-time visitors and are compelling enough to make them want to stick around.

White Space Helps Us Focus

White space on a site is kind of a valuable commodity, but it’s all about balance. Too much white space can be perceived as uninformative or boring, while not enough white space often leaves visitors feeling confused and overwhelmed.

Smashing Magazine referenced a study by Lin (2004) that found a “good use of white space between paragraphs and in the left and right margins increases comprehension by almost 20 percent.”

Optimizing the amount of white space on a page helps visitors understand and process the information they’re taking in and focus.

It’s also worth noting that white space doesn’t have to be white. The term refers to the empty space between other stuff (words, pictures, buttons, forms, etc.) on a page.

“Quality of Design Is an Indicator of Credibility”

According to this article from Smashing Magazine, many researchers and institutions have questioned what factors influence how web users perceive a site’s credibility. Of the research that’s been performed, there are a few elements we all agree are important:

  • Layout and design
  • Consistency
  • Typography
  • Color
  • Frequency of updates

Long story short, web visitors are shallow and distracted (often by hundreds of other websites). According to the most research performed to date, web users definitely judge a book by its cover, forming their own ideas about your firm based on the quality of the design. A well-designed, professional-looking website increases perceived credibility among web visitors, while a disorganized, outdated adviser website does the opposite.

Maggie Crowley 1Maggie Crowley
Marketing Coordinator
Advisor Websites
www.advisorwebsites.com
Vancouver, British Columbia

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