By Kristen Luke
Everywhere you turn these days, people are talking about social networking sites-Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, to name a few. If you are like most financial planners, you may be skeptical of their use as a marketing tool. Yet more and more planners are signing on to these sites as a way to drum up new business. In fact, in May, FPA published the whitepaper Online Marketing Methods: Planner Best Practices, which found that 60 percent of planners who average 16 or more online leads per year use social media.
Social networking sites are allowing planners to connect with more people more often, and in a shorter period of time than they could through face-to-face meetings, phone calls or e-mails.
If you are interested in integrating social networking into your marketing plan, and your compliance department has given you permission, you'll want to start with Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. Each one has its own unique style and purpose. Choose the site that best fits your business strategy or a combination of sites to achieve different purposes. Here is a rundown of three of the most popular sites for financial planners and how you can integrate them into your marketing strategy.
Facebook is the perfect site for financial planners who have large social networks or have clients who fall into the Facebook demographic, which these days, can include anyone from teenagers to 60 year olds. Facebook, compared to some of the other sites, is socially oriented, requiring a different strategy than most planners are used to. There are several strategies planners are using to take advantage of Facebook as a marketing tool.
Create a personal profile. No matter how you decide to use Facebook, you will need to set up a personal profile. For some planners, this is as far as they go with Facebook. The strategy here is to connect with your "friends." You can connect with family members, friends, former classmates, casual acquaintances and even clients.
Planners share personal information about their lives with the intention of building bonds with prospective clients. Facebook also provides insight into the personal details of a prospective client's life that you wouldn't know otherwise. Some planners include articles or links to remind their "friends" that they are indeed in the business of providing financial planning and investment advice.
Create a business page. If you want to take Facebook to a more professional level, there is the option to create a business page. This allows you to separate your personal profile from you business profile. The strategy here is to gather "fans" of your business page who will receive updates from your business as new information is posted. The key to success with this strategy is to regularly post information to your page such as upcoming events, articles, blogs, podcasts or videos you have personally created as well as links to other information you find valuable to your fans-who, don't forget, are your current and prospective clients.
Create a group page. Depending on your target market, you may want to create a group page. This will allow you to gather a community of people around one common purpose, which may or may not be directly focused on your business, but includes your target demographic. For example, one planner has created a group focused around women and money. The group allows women to share ideas about their money, careers and businesses. The planner acts as the facilitator of the group page, giving her great visibility to her target market.
LinkedIn is suited for financial planners looking to connect with working business professionals. Since LinkedIn is designed solely for business professionals, it provides planners with the opportunity to connect with centers of influence in addition to prospective clients. There are a couple of basic strategies you can implement to make LinkedIn a valuable marketing tool.
Use your LinkedIn network. For LinkedIn to be successful, you will want to build a large network by connecting with as many contacts as possible. Developing your LinkedIn network is an ongoing effort, but once you have a few contacts, one strategy is to use your network to provide introductions to new professionals. To do this, begin by looking at your contacts' connections. If you see someone you'd like to meet-either in person or through LinkedIn-you can ask your contact to provide an introduction. This will enable you to connect with new professionals through a warm introduction.
Join groups. By joining different LinkedIn groups, you are able to connect with people outside of your network. The strategy here is to join groups that encompass your target market or centers of influence. For example, if small business owners are your target market, you may want to join your local chamber of commerce's LinkedIn group. You will want to contribute to the groups by adding discussion topics, responding to discussion questions or providing links to articles of interest to keep your name in front of group members.
Twitter is a great networking tool that blends the line between the social aspects of Facebook with the professional nature of LinkedIn. By sending short, 140-character messages to your "followers," Twitter enables you to quickly build and nurture relationships. If you participate on Twitter on a regular basis, you'll find that you will soon connect with people you otherwise never would have met. This can include potential clients, centers of influence and the media. To make Twitter a success, you'll want to focus on two strategies.
Focus on your expertise. Think of Twitter as an online networking group. It is completely acceptable to talk about your personal life, but you want your audience to be clear about your expertise. The majority of your posts, or "tweets," should be related to your business in some way, clearly positioning you as the expert in your field. This can come in the form of sending tweets that include links to your Web site, upcoming events, articles, podcasts or videos. It is also quite acceptable to share third-party information, such as links to news articles. The key to success with this strategy is to become a resource for your followers in the area relating to your field of expertise.
Engage in conversation. It is important not to look at Twitter as a one-way broadcast advertising your business. Twitter should be a conversation between you and your followers by using direct messages and a feature called "@replies." This will help you develop more meaningful relationships with your followers. It is also good to meet your Twitter followers in person or have a phone conversation whenever possible. This brings the relationship offline to something more tangible. Remember, connect with centers of influence and the media as well as potential clients, since they can provide you with additional opportunities to reach your target market.
Whichever social networking site or sites you decide to integrate into your marketing plan, it is important to remember that social networking is still networking. Don't expect miracles to happen overnight. Take time to build your social networking relationships just as you would with any other relationship. Most importantly, remember to speak with your compliance department before implementing any marketing program. There is still quite a bit of ambiguity when it comes to what planners are allowed to do with social networking sites, so check first to avoid violating any rules.
Kristen Luke is the principal of Wealth Management Marketing (www.wealthmanagementmarketing.net ), a firm dedicated to providing marketing strategies and support for financial advisers. She works with independent advisers to develop effective marketing plans and provides the back-office support required to implement the strategies.
Kristen Luke will be speaking about social media at the FPA of the National Capital Area's practice management program in Vienna, Va. on Nov. 19. Visit www.FPAnca.org for details.