Some financial advisors may consider social media a waste of time or an amusing distraction, but for those looking to sustain their business over the next few decades, it should be a component of a long-term business strategy.

Colleen O’Connell-Campbell, an Ottawa-based senior advisor with Scotia Wealth Management, a division of ScotiaMcLeod Inc., began to understand this a few years ago. Her target market consists of women in various stages of their lives, but she realized she needed to make a greater effort in communicating with a younger generation if she wanted to stay in business for another 20 years.

“According to what I have been reading, millennials are the next big ‘baby boomer’ [generation],” she says. “Social media is how they are communicating.”

As is the case with many other advisors, however, O’Connell-Campbell hesitated over the idea of integrating different social networks into her marketing strategy. Not knowing where to begin, seeing no immediate return on investment (ROI) and uncertainty about regulatory restrictions are some of the common factors that make advisors reluctant to embrace social media.

However, these are all obstacles that can be overcome with some research and a goal to build a simple yet effective social media plan that will complement other elements of your marketing strategy.

O’Connell-Campbell’s initial reluctance came from being uncertain about the regulatory implications. “I knew what I wanted to do but I didn’t know what I was allowed to do,” she says.

She began researching Scotia’s social media policy for its advisors by communicating with the firm’s marketing department to learn more about her obligations under the policy. She also spoke to a colleague who was already active on social media, for a first-hand perspective.

She came up with a strategy that consists of a regular presence on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, which are all allowed by Scotia.

Measuring the impact

O’Connell-Campbell feels her social media efforts have been fruitful, but she does not measure her ROI from this strategy by calculating new clients or assets. Instead, she views social media as a way to engage with her clients, prospects and centres of influence and provide others with a way of learning more about her as an advisor and as a person.

Advisors need to take note of this attitude, according to Sara Gilbert, founder of Strategist Business Development in Montreal. She says many advisors remain discouraged by the idea that social media does not produce a short-term ROI in the form of new clients.

“Social media is a medium- to long-term strategy and it’s a part of your overall business visibility,” Gilbert says.

For instance, if someone at a networking event mentions having enjoyed an article that you posted through Twitter, Gilbert says that should be considered an indicator that the strategy is working — even if that individual never becomes a new client.

“You’re being present and visible,” she says. “That means you’re solidifying your relationship with your clients and you’re bringing visibility to your business.”

Advisors should also consider the possible loss to their business if they do not make a more active effort on social media, says April Rudin, founder of The Rudin Group, a New York-based marketing company.

She notes that a prospect’s first stop after receiving a recommendation from a friend or family member is typically the internet, to learn more about the professional being referred, she says. A lack of information about you or your business on social media could prove discouraging to the prospect.

“What you don’t know is the lost-opportunity cost of not doing it,” says Rudin. “You don’t know how many referrals are made but never got to you.

O’Connell-Campbell does apply numerical criteria to one aspect of her social media strategy, and that is the impact on her pocketbook. She employs a third-party marketing company to execute her strategy, which comes with a price. However, she finds it more cost-effective than other methods of promotion.

“I tried radio,” she says, “and I can tell you, in comparison, in terms of costs versus return, social media gets you much closer to your audience in an interactive way [with less financial] resource output.”

This is the first article in a three-part series on social media marketing.

Up next: Components of a social media plan.