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Lots of likes won’t cut it — next-level social media for advisors

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I remember the moment I realized the internet was about to change every aspect of my life. On my commute home, I noticed a van that belonged to a plumbing company. The company name, a catchy slogan and contact information were painted in bright lettering, accompanied by a snappy logo. And at the bottom, the URL for the company website.

A website for a plumbing company? What possible use could that be, I wondered. (Remember, this was in the days when we thought that the only way to get an estimate was to call for an appointment, check customer reviews, or get other information all by making an actual phone call. And it was probably on a landline.)

I was getting a lot of likes, follows and shares. But very little of that was resulting in new business for my firm.

Now, of course, my surprise seems quaint. We’re so accustomed to .com, .net, and .org that it’s surprising when someone doesn’t have their personal web page and suite of social media handles. We get mildly annoyed — admit it! — when one of our older clients confesses they prefer not to use email.

As financial advisors, we know that if we want to be taken seriously, or even just survive, we must have an effective digital and social media presence. According to Pew Research, 74% of online adults use social networks regularly. More specifically, nearly 5 million affluent investors use social media to research financial decisions. Seventy-nine percent of financial advisors said they had acquired new clients specifically through social media. Among advisors who were very active on social media, more than 70% reported an increase in AUM or revenue due to social media marketing.

Further, according to 2017 benchmarks, financial services has an average cost-per-lead of $272, one of the highest such rates of all industries. That makes sense given the size of investable assets and the long sales cycle. But it also signifies the opportunity at hand for firms willing to invest in digital marketing strategies.

The bottom line is that any financial services enterprise wanting to remain relevant over the long haul must not only understand digital marketing and social media, but also requires a well-positioned, thoughtfully presented online identity that engages via social media, website pages, and emails.

But how? We’ve all asked that question, especially those of us born too early to be considered digital natives. And many committed the same initial error that I did: we tried to do everything at once. We used the good old pasta method: we threw blogs, tweets, social media posts and guest articles at the virtual wall to see if anything would stick. We reasoned that if we were everywhere all the time, surely we’d be someplace at the right time.

What I now realize is that this non-strategy was a recipe for social media burnout and failure. After all, how many of us would tell our clients, “We’re going to try a little bit of everything, and maybe something will work out”? Instead, we spend time with them to find out what is most important to them, what their long-term goals and dreams are; we assess their level of understanding and their attitudes toward the attributes of the financial markets. Next, we evaluate market-tested, evidence-based methods with a demonstrable track record. Only when we’ve executed these initial steps do we develop recommendations for a long-term plan designed specifically to put our clients on the path toward success.

Many advisors have made the same initial error that we did. Using the good old-fashioned pasta method, we threw everything against the virtual wall — blogs, tweets and social media posts — to see what would stick.

In other words, I needed a digital marketing and social media consultant who could work with me the same way I work with my clients. And I was fortunate enough to find one.

Driven by frustration and sure there must be a better tool somewhere, I opened conversations with Gretchen Halpin of Beyond AUM, a firm that specializes in helping financial advisory firms understand, define and implement solid digital and social media methods for practice management and growth.

What her team helped me understand was that my digital and social media strategy needed to mirror and incorporate the character of my practice. In the same way that I focus my attention on client populations with certain common characteristics — my women in transition, my thriving retirees, and my family stewards — my content, search engine presence, and social media funnel needed to be differentiated with these audiences in mind. Instead of a scattergun approach on the front end — aiming at everything in general and nothing in particular — they explained to me that I needed a purposeful intake strategy, one shaped like the results I wanted to achieve.

The concept made sense to me. After all, this was the same approach I took with my clients. But as I would learn during the initial implementation phase, the transition to an orderly, disciplined social media strategy isn’t a 45-degree path from bottom left to top right. Just as with the financial markets, there are starts and stops, ups and downs. In the same way I constantly counsel my clients to stay the course with their long-term strategies, my new team had to remind me — they still do! — that building an effective digital presence requires time and patience.

For example, in the days when I was cranking out all those haphazard tweets, blogs, and other efforts, I was actually getting lots of “likes,” “follows,” and “shares.” Like any short-term gratification, that felt really nice. But very little of that was resulting in new business for my firm. Why? Because most of that “social media candy” was coming from individuals who were not qualified prospects for my services.

Nevertheless, I have to admit that during the early months of implementation, I started to get antsy. Where were all my “likes”? Why weren’t my articles getting shared as often? Somebody had taken away my candy, and it made me nervous.

And then I was contacted by a person who had been following my social media profile for the past few months. As he began talking, I learned that he was not only qualified for our firm’s client profile, he was interested in learning more about our services. He said to me, “I feel as if I can trust you, because the things you’ve been talking about in the media and online are the same things I’m concerned about. I sort of feel like I know you.”

Eureka! Things began to make sense. I realized that focusing on vanity metrics such as likes and shares is a lot like reacting emotionally to the market instead of staying focused on long-term outcomes. When our social media and digital communication strategies speak directly to the goals and unique challenges of our ideal clients, those are often the people who respond. You get what you ask for. The key is to understand what you’re asking for and to put your request in the proper format.

I’ve learned a few valuable rules of thumb for those going through the process for the first time:

  1. Segment your client base into the niches you wish to serve.
  2. Audit the content you have to address their unique financial planning, investing, and retirement questions for what content needs to be developed.
  3. Study your keywords: What brings visitors to your website or social media?
  4. Appearances matter: make sure your strategies and platforms represent your brand well.
  5. Amplify! Put your content to work for you. Make sure it is optimized for search engines, and that it is being posted at the right time in front of the right people.
  6. Repeat. Just as a financial plan is not a one-and-done process, you must stay consistent about your digital philosophy and continue to add value.

Don’t put yourself into a digital frenzy, trying to do everything for everybody all at the same time. Instead, spend some quality time with a media and communications professional who can help you tailor the right strategies for the client populations you are most interested in serving. That’s one of the most important stepping-stones toward building a practice that will remain relevant and profitable, long into the future.

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