Financial advisors who do not engage in social media are missing a huge opportunity to build stronger relationships with many of their clients and centers of influence, and ultimately, to build a thriving culture of world-of-mouth, referrals, and introductions for their business. But what if an advisor works for a broker or dealer who doesn’t allow them to use social media for business. It is possible to take a 100 percent personal approach in engaging on social media and get business benefits from it. However, there are very fine lines that they will have to be careful not to cross.
FINRA’s latest regulatory notice on social media requires social media activities to be supervised if they are business related. So, what does this mean? Our interpretation is that if you identify yourself as a licensed and practicing financial advisor affiliated with your broker-dealer or DBA on your social media profiles, then that is advertising content requiring pre-approval from your broker-dealer. Any status updates, shared content, messaging and discussions in groups or forums regarding financial topics would be business-related communications. Any content that is not financial in nature and not directly business development for your financial advisory practice is non-business related. Bottom line: Sharing content about any financial topics is out.
How Do Advisors Benefit If They Cannot Talk About Financial Topics?
What makes social networks so powerful is the ability to build and strengthen relationships. Once the relationship is created, then you can take business-related communications and activity away from the social network and use approved and authorized channels to actually communicate.
Establishing a connection is the first part of the battle. Growing the relationship is the second, and converting the relationship to a client is the third. Just because your broker-dealer isn’t allowing you to do the second and third on social media doesn’t mean that the ability to do the first isn’t valuable.
And, to be honest, the freedom that you have by not being allowed to talk business on social networks could potentially be more beneficial because none of your activities are limited and the relationships you build may be stronger because the new people you’re interacting with may feel like you have no ulterior motives.
How to Implement a Non-Business Social Media Strategy
First Step: Build profiles that don’t reference your current financial advisory practice.
This is very easy to do with Facebook and Twitter.
It’s not so easy to do with LinkedIn. Here are three successful methods for LinkedIn profile building without identifying yourself and your business.
First Method: Simply identify yourself as a financial services professional or financial professional working at an undisclosed company or self-employed. Because not all financial occupations require licensing and regulation, that should be generic enough; however if it isn’t, then you can also call yourself a business owner. Additionally, in the summary or in your position description, mention that your current company and regulatory agency does not allow you to use social networking for advertising and business development purposes and that if someone is interested in learning more about your occupation or business they should send you their contact information and you will contact them through approved business-related channels.
Second Method: If you are involved in a leadership position in a nonprofit or community organization that you are committed to, then use your profile to benefit them. List your leadership position as your current position. Then, in the summary section discuss your passion for that mission and your use of a social network profile to benefit their cause instead of promoting your business. If people are interested in learning more about your business, let them know you would be happy to discuss it in another forum.
Third Method: Use another declared business as the basis of your profile and interactions. I have a client who is both a financial advisor and a sales coach. Both are established, legal, and declared businesses. His profiles are all about his sales coaching business. His interactions in groups and status updates are all about helping others become better sales people. Once he’s built the relationship, he’ll mention to people that he is also a financial advisor. What this has allowed him to do is build a great niche client base of sales professionals and small business owners who saw his expertise in another field and made the leap in thinking that he was likely to be as effective in his main area of expertise—financial planning.
Step 2: Build a Solid Network of People Who Are Willing to Help You
The second part of the non-business-related strategy is focusing on building a solid network of people who are willing to help you. Building that network is what is most important. Once you’re connected to them, then you have other contact information you can use to communicate with the connections regarding business-related matters through approved channels. Now, we don’t recommend that financial advisors be open networkers to find and connect with people just to be able to cold call them. However, connecting with everyone you meet and having a significant interaction with is definitely the way to go.
Step 3: Connect the People Within Your Network to the Rest of Your Network to Help Them with Their Businesses
Since you can’t talk about your business, you’re going to need something to talk about. Promoting your network, their businesses, and business activities gives you great content that is not self-serving. Additionally, the people in your network are going to be enormously grateful and much more likely to help you with your business through referrals and unsolicited third-party promotion (as long as it’s not a static recommendation on your profile about your financial advisory practice). If someone decides to do a spontaneous status update on their profile that will disappear in two weeks about what a great financial advisor you are, then there are no compliance issues as long as you don’t interact with it. Then, the hope is that some of the shared connections in your network see it, jump on the bandwagon by commenting or liking it, and whoosh!—social media works! Huge, viral, temporary, visibility that you weren’t involved in, can’t control, and can’t get rid of until it completes its life cycle or the owner removes it.
Step 4: Build Yourself Up as an Expert in a Nonfinancial Topic
Pick a topic that correlates to your expertise as a financial advisor or that appeals to the target market you want for your financial advisory practice. Another similar topic would be small business ownership (the nonfinancial stuff, of which there is a lot!). Topics of interest to your target market could be as simple as your passion for wine or other interests that may appeal to a wealthier market or volunteerism that would appeal to those charitably inclined as well as the nonprofits themselves that could be referral sources. It just comes down to knowing your target market.
Final Tip: Invest in an Archiving System
Even though you’re not discussing business-related stuff, the only way to prove it is to preserve it. A few of the archiving platforms do have individual level accounts that are cost effective (Erado and Arkovi come to mind). These will record all of your social media activity and communications no matter which device you use and are a safety net you cannot afford to go without.
Matthew Halloran is co-author of The Social Media Handbook for Financial Advisors: How to Use Linked, Facebook, and Twitter to Build and Grow Your Business, Director of National Development for GIVE Strategy, a mission-driven company that focuses on helping connect financial advisors, CPAs, estate planning attorneys, clients, and planned giving directors to redirect $1 billion to charity, and the founder and President of Top Advisor Coaching. With over 80,000 Twitter followers with a 99 percent effectiveness rating, 1,000 LinkedIn connections, and 700 Facebook fans, he knows how to gain followers to help build business. Having coached and consulted hundreds and spoken to thousands of financial advisors, Halloran knows how financial advising practices work, and believes that social media is the new marketing frontier for transforming the prospecting aspect of any financial services practice.
Crystal Thies is co-author of The Social Media Handbook for Financial Advisors: How to Use Linked, Facebook, and Twitter to Build and Grow Your Business and founder of Crystal Clear Buzz, LLC. For more than three years, she has helped small and large businesses, sales teams, and sales professionals use social media for sales and business development. Because of her experience and expertise as a licensed financial planner, Thies’s clients include many RIAs and financial advisors, in addition to major broker-dealers, wirehouses, and banks. Thies is known as the “LinkedIn Ninja”—a title given to her by her clients and followers.