Social media is a marathon, not a sprint, and a successful strategy requires patience, hard work and endurance. But for advisers who haven’t yet put on their running shoes, it’s not too late to get on track.
The boom of online communication is hardly a new advent in the world of business. “Liking”, “tweeting”, “commenting” and “connecting” are words that have made their way into the common vernacular. This means that more so than ever, an online presence is moving from an added extra to a must-have tool for communication.
However, while the wave of online communication continues, US social media expert and founder of i-Impact Group, Claudio O Pannunzio said Australian advisers are falling behind the curve.
“It appears that Australian investors have not yet fully recognised the power of social media as a means to share valuable investment information,” Pannunzio said.
“In my opinion, it is just a matter of time before Australian investors will catch up on this trend and financial advisers should begin to position themselves accordingly now to benefit from this emerging trend.”
And they can no longer afford not to. The Yellow Pages Social Media Report 2012 found that 98 per cent of surveyed respondents used the internet, with 36 per cent using social media every day.
Slowly but surely, advisers themselves are recognising this opportunity.
Research from Zurich and Beaton Research and Consulting found that Twitter use by advisers has increased by 123 per cent from 10.3 per cent in December 2011 to 23 per cent in April this year.
The use of Facebook by advisers has increased from 48.5 per cent to 66 per cent and YouTube has seen a boost from 27.8 per cent to 43.5 per cent.
The number of planners using LinkedIn has increased by 74 per cent from 39.9 per cent in December 2011 to 69.5 per cent in April this year, which is significantly higher than the community at large.
Humble Financial Services director Colin Williams says that while the increasing use of online communication is promising, investors need get involved if they haven’t yet made the move to online.
“Don’t forget that social media is not a sprint, it’s a marathon; its something you have to work at,” Williams says.
“But the gun went off four years ago so if you haven’t even put on your running shoes just yet you better start getting out there because the race has started.”
Know your audience
Before touching a mouse or turning on a computer, Williams says the most important thing for an adviser to do is pin down their target audience.
“First and foremost they need to really consider what their business is all about and they really need, to understand what their target market is,” Williams says.
“Then they can start delivering messages to that target market, which will be much sharper than a shotgun type approach, which is a trap that many fall for.”
Elixir Consulting managing Sue Viskovic also extends this to the choice of social media that an adviser should decide to use.
“They need to look at their target clientele first of all. If they have a professional clientele and they want to target other professionals than maybe LinkedIn would be the best option,” she says.
“Facebook tends to be much more about social, personal engagement. An adviser needs to look at their clientele so they can get much more specific around the tone to the right sort of people.”
Engagement is key
Most advisers have their own website for their practice but Innergi founder Robert Skinner said that too many treat their online offering as a digital brochure.
“So you have a bit about yourself, you have a bit about how you work with clients, maybe some testimonials and some information about how you charge for your service,” Skinner said.
“But there is nothing for existing clients to be able to interact with, because they already know that stuff.”
Williams agreed that this is a fundamental mistake of practices and makes a website difficult to engage with.
“When you land on a website most people tend to take between seven to 11 seconds to make up their mind if they’re in the right place, so if they land on a dull and boring website, they’ll click away,” Williams said.
“That type of website is effectively dead; it doesn’t get picked up by Google and doesn’t get picked up by any search results as well.”
Viskovic said that a creative spin on the traditional quarterly newsletter can increase engagement by an adviser’s client base.
“You can actually replace that static hard copy newsletters that adviser send out monthly or quarterly by having a good blog,” she added.
It’s social media, not a soap box
While putting content on social media is a must, advisers need to remember that their goal is to facilitate a conversation, not use it as their own personal pedestal.
“If advisers are going to get on social media, they’re going to want to make sure they’ve got lots of content and lots of interesting things to say,” Skinner said.
His business, Innergi provides planner websites with a financial knowledge centre designed to increase client engagement with an online site.
“If advisers are going to get on social media, they want to make sure they’ve got a lot of content and interesting things to say and our knowledge centre has thousands of pages,” Skinner said.
“Whether you going to highlight a module or tweet a calculator or tell people to watch a video I think that’s where we’re finding our interest levels increase.”
Pannunzio agrees that it’s important for advisers to engage an audience by providing expert information.
Sharing content that is likely to be interesting to an audience is a key way to stay ‘front of mind’ with clients when they are looking for financial advice.
“Advisers’ goal on social media is a straightforward one: to be recognized as trusted expert sources in their domain by providing engaging, useful and relevant information,” Pannunzio said.
“In addition to posting their own content, I always encourage advisers to share news and information from media and bloggers that play to their expertise and that, most importantly, their clients and prospects may find valuable.”
One of the key differences between online media is the ability to communicate with a wider audience all at the same time.
Viskovic said that this allows an adviser to promote themselves as a person, rather than just a planner and to engage with prospective client, making them more likely to choose your business.
“I think if an adviser keeps it really technical and cold I think then they’re missing a great opportunity, because a website is a great way to share your culture,” Viskovic said.
“People think they have to look professional… but talking to people through your website that you would talk to them as you were in front of them is quite important.”
Pannunzio agrees that the personal element of social media is the most important opportunity it provides for advisers.
“Advisers must NOT forget the most fundamental rule of Social Media engagement: Be Social! Ergo, aside from financial topics, they should share with their audience personal content, such as hobbies, interests, community and philanthropic involvements,” Pannunzio said.
“This will help establish a more personal bond with clients and prospects.”
Create a brand
For many, social media is a way to connect with friends, but advisers need to remember to treat social media like a business.
Pannunzio said this means being seen as an expert by their network.
“[Advisers should] position themselves as expert sources and brand leaders, as their “followers” will recognise, value and share their expertise by [sharing] content,” he said.
“The latter action makes them become your brand evangelists.”
“They must understand that the ultimate goal of their social media engagement is to trigger a response or prompt their audience to follow a call to action.”
Make it a habit
While it might be time consuming, Skinner said it is important that an adviser keeps their website or social media hubs stocked with recent information.
“What I think is a common trap is things like the newsletter. So you go to look at what is the most recent information and sometimes you’ll see the last monthly letter was from 2007.”
“It’s better to actually go and delete the whole page rather than show that you’ve got out of date material.”
Viskovic said that advisers who use social media will see the payoff from it, providing they update it regularly.
“Make a habit when you talk to your clients, particularly when they love the experience with you, is to ask them if they have LinkedIn or Facebook and suggest they write a recommendation for your profile,” Viskovic said.
“It’s all about consistency. Work out your strategy, get a good understanding of it and make it a habit.”
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