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When it comes to the role of social media, it appears advisors and executives don’t see eye to eye. For the 2019 Brokerage Report Card, advisors rated the overall average importance of “support for using social media” lowest out of 33 categories at 6.4, even as the average performance rating for the same category improved year-over-year to 7.2.

Performance ratings for “support for using social media” ranged widely across all firms, from 6.1 to 8.4. Vancouver-based Canaccord Genuity Wealth Management (Canada) was the top performer, while CIBC Wood Gundy and TD Wealth Private Investment Advice tied for last (both firms are based in Toronto). Quebec City-based Industrial Alliance Securities Inc. (iA Securities) and Montreal-based National Bank Financial Inc. (NBF) came in second-last, tied at 6.4.

Meanwhile, Toronto-based RBC Dominion Securities Inc. (DS) received the highest performance rating for “firm’s marketing support for advisor’s practice” (8.5).

Executives from Canaccord, DS, iA Securities and NBF say their marketing strategies going forward will include the use of social media to some degree, but that the main platform advisors use consistently is LinkedIn. Use of Twitter, Facebook and other platforms depends on the firm.

“Four years ago, if you polled advisors, the majority would say, ‘No, it’s [not] part of my marketing mix.’ If you poll them today, it’s absolutely an integral part,” says Patti Houghton, director of marketing for iA Securities.

NBF’s vice president of strategy and performance, Steve Galimi, says social media is and will be important for advisors engaging with millennials.

While that’s a common perception, the Report Card responses showed no distinct connection between the use of social media and age. While the average age of survey participants was 51.1 years old, those under age 40 gave importance ratings similar to those of their older counterparts.

Many advisors said social media and financial services don’t blend well. They failed to see their social media efforts attracting clients, and said they preferred more traditional methods of marketing such as referrals and word of mouth.

One Ontario NBF advisor says the clients who use social media aren’t “the type of clients I want. [It’s] not part of my strategy.”

An advisor in B.C., from Vancouver-based Odlum Brown Ltd., says, “I don’t think it’s as big of a deal as people [are] making it out to be. I don’t think that’s where most clients come from.”

Advisors were also wary of heavy compliance requirements, and some seemed unclear on the support their firms offer.

For example, some survey participants from DS said their firm was supportive of only LinkedIn and that the guidelines were so restrictive that it was not worth using social media. “We’re not allowed to use Facebook. I think it should be allowed but they say it’s for privacy reasons, which I don’t agree with,” says a DS advisor in B.C.

Yet Julie Brown, marketing director for DS, says advisors are allowed to have a presence on both LinkedIn and Facebook. “The feedback that I hear from advisors is that the content that we are able to provide does what they’re looking for it to do, which is to connect and engage with clients, prospects and their centres of influence,” she explains.

Other DS advisors did credit the bank-owned brokerage with offering guidance, and DS received an average rating in the social media category of 7.5, exceeding the Report Card average. The firm also rated consistently well year-over-year for “firm’s reputation with clients and/or prospective clients,” at 9.7.

Still, challenges exist for the firm’s social media users. “Everything has to be approved; they over-monitor. It’s a lot of bureaucracy,” says another DS advisor in B.C.

Advisors surveyed from iA Securities rated their firm low overall in the category of “reputation with clients,” at 6.5 – similar to its 6.4 social media rating. The main reason, participants said, was a lack of brand awareness by the general population.

iA executives say that going forward, social media will be a main component in their plan to increase their reputation. The firm in fact acquired social media monitoring platform SunGard through its acquisition of HollisWealth in 2017.

“[Advisors] can post something and it goes through our SunGard system, and if it has anything in there that we do not want, we can bring that down within seconds, almost,” says iA Securities president John Kelleway. iA’s social media presence was previously quiet because there was no management method in place, he adds.

At Canaccord, the firm that received the highest performance rating for social media support (at 8.4), most advisors said they don’t use social media much, but that the firm provides a lot of tools.

Canaccord “seems to be quite active. […] There is a wide variety of support for it,” says an advisor in B.C. Further, the advisors who leveraged Canaccord’s support said they appreciated the freedom and training.

Stuart Raftus, executive vice president and chief administrative officer of Canaccord, says, “We have very sophisticated software. […] [It] will pick up certain words or certain contextual sentences, and protect us at the front-end.”

Advisors’ opinions regarding the usefulness of social media were mixed compared to the more consistent attitudes of executives. Nonetheless, most advisors concluded that forgoing it altogether wasn’t an option.

“[I] hate it; I think it’s ruining our society. But [my firm] recognizes that it’s important for them,” says an East Coast advisor with Toronto-based BMO Nesbitt Burns Inc.

About the brokerage’s technology tools, the same advisor says, “They’ve come a long way in the last few years,” but improvements can still be made to help advisors work effectively.