Many financial advisors are using social media more than ever before to add value and better communicate with their clients in a cost-effective manner, all while building their reputations and personal brands at the same time. There is, however, a small, but growing view that we should all reduce, or even eliminate, our use of social media as it's not as effective a communication channel — nor as instrumental in creating a profile or advancing our careers — as we would like to believe.
The overall trend right now is that wealth-management organizations are increasingly looking to digital technology to better communicate with their clients. Year after year, studies show that dealers plan to spend more on digital communication channels to meet their customer service needs than they have in the past. They're leveraging mobile and online channels for improved and more immediate client communication through client portals, statements, newsletters and other tools.
In fact, many organizations that initially approached social media with trepidation have now instituted processes and compliance systems to allow their advisors to leverage and harness social networks such as LinkedIn, Twitter and even Facebook. Case in point: a recent study from Boston-based Cerulli Associates found that advisors are more than 10 times more likely to contact clients via social media (23.6 times a year) than to meet with them in person (2.1 times annually).
All this is happening as investors are expecting more from their advisors than ever before and are seeking convenient ways to stay informed of their financial situation, either through self-serve digital platforms or services advisors offer. The result is a migration toward mobile technology and more powerful online platforms that give investors the information they want, when they want it, on their preferred devices. Given this backdrop, social media would appear to be an attractive digital channel; however, advisors who are building their careers, especially, should consider whether social media truly serves their needs and those of their clients.
Social media offers an easy way to stay connected with clients and colleagues, remain topical and part of the day's conversation. Yet, tweeting a few words or re-posting a viral article is easily replicated and unlikely to increase your value to clients in the long run. By definition, the market typically rewards rare and valued contributions by each of us in our work. Original thoughts and unique viewpoints are generally recognized by others. By contrast, social media use is neither rare nor valuable, but is pervasive and any teenager can become a prolific author with a concerted social media effort. The idea that if you do this easy to replicate, non-value added activity enough that it will somehow add up to a great source of value to your career, is unrealistic.
Granted, the suggestion that social media is ineffective and even harmful runs counter to our current understanding of social media's role in the professional sphere. Cal Newport, associate professor in the department of computer science at Georgetown University in Washington D.C., argues in his book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, that focus is the new IQ and people who can concentrate without distraction will thrive. Newport, who's a millennial himself, suggests that we have been sold this story that social media is very important for your career, whereas the harms of social media to your career are being underemphasized. He argues that the distraction these social networks cause is harmful, making us worse at focusing and being able to concentrate on difficult things.
Many of these social platforms are actually designed to be addictive so that now, 10 years since many of us first started to use social media, we've developed a Pavlovian reflex to using these services and are vulnerable to distraction. We feel compelled to tweet, post and like in an effort to remain relevant and top of mind. In a knowledge economy that's becoming more competitive and complex every day, we need to draw more heavily on our brainpower precisely at a time when social media is making it more and more difficult to maintain a train of thought.
As an experiment, Newport suggests we give up social media for 30 days, but not to tell anyone we've done so. Much of what attracts us to social media is that we believe there's an audience. Ask yourself after the 30 days, "Was my life much worse without it and did anyone notice or care that I wasn't there?" Many feel liberated once they give up social media and are able to then refocus their energies on higher-value activities. For advisors, questioning whether social media is helping their business or that its overuse is harming their efforts, they may determine that more face time or phone time will strengthen their client relationships.