“Coach’s Forum” is a place to ask your questions, tell your stories or give your opinions on any aspect of practice management. Our objective is to build a community with a common interest in making financial advisory practices as effective as possible.
I want to be more active on social media, but my firm has strict rules about what we can post. Yet there’s so much terrible financial information out there and I feel that, as a professional, I should try to correct misinformation and elevate the conversation.
Being present online also is a useful marketing tool. How can I get my firm to understand this?
I can appreciate your frustration. Social media has become ubiquitous, so it can be hard to understand why any organization would not endorse its use.
We know, for example, that consumers use social media to help make financial decisions. And millennials, in particular, rely on social media as their primary way to communicate, including with their financial advisors.
For your business, social media is a cost-effective method for you to connect with clients. From a marketing perspective, as you note, it can increase your visibility and differentiate you from the competition.
So what’s the problem?
There could be several reasons why your dealer firm does not permit you to use social media as freely as you want:
Lack of resources
Imagine trying to monitor and enforce social media rules among dozens, hundreds or even thousands of advisors across several platforms. Managing such a responsibility effectively would be labour-intensive and probably require a dedicated team (or paid third-party service). Your firm may simply not have the resources or expertise to manage the use of social media, particularly for marketing purposes.
This is almost always why dealer firms choose to restrict use of social media. There are strict rules governing the way financial services firms can communicate with the public, and using social media can present a number of compliance challenges. For example, firms must ensure that their marketing materials are fair and balanced and cannot be misleading. They also must fully disclose potential conflicts of interest. Many advisors, if left to their own devices and knowledge, would inadvertently or otherwise violate some of those requirements.
Social media can be a platform for spreading false or misleading information. It’s also fast-moving and highly visible. If your firm’s social media presence were to be compromised in some way, or if an advisor were to make a mistake in their marketing efforts, the transgression could have serious consequences for the firm’s reputation. Restricting the use of social media reduces the risk of such an event occurring.
Your firm may be concerned about the potential for client data to be accessed or shared on social media. Only one accidental — albeit well-meaning or casual — comment about a client’s financial affairs is needed to be considered a breach of client privacy.
While financial advisory and investment firms must consider the potential risks and benefits of using social media, the challenge is to find a path that serves the best interests of the firm, its clients and its advisors.
Here’s where you can help. Find a way to position yourself as a strong proponent of social media use, and one who is aware of the challenges faced by your firm and would like to find a way to make it work for everyone.
You may already have the ear of management. If not, is there an advisory board that communicates with company executives, or a senior advisor or Chairman’s Club-type of person whose support you can enlist? Regardless, try to create a persona as the “social media voice” in your firm — the person who is well informed on the issue and willing to take on responsibility for expanding its use.
Begin your campaign by first understanding your firm’s existing rules regarding social media use and why they are in place. What regulations are these rules addressing? Is your firm’s position on their application reasonable or a broad-based reaction to lack of resources?
For example, many firms initially allowed pre-approved “static” marketing content, such as advisor profiles and advertising templates, to be posted on advisor websites or LinkedIn. But many of these firms balked at interactive forums on Facebook or Twitter that could include real-time discussions that are not pre-approved. So, they banned communicating on those platforms altogether.
Next, create your wish list. From your perspective as an advisor who cares about having accurate information available to current and prospective clients, and as one who seeks to promote yourself online, what do you need? Which platforms are most suitable? What type of messaging, communication style and content would you use?
Accept that you will likely never have completely free choice. So, think about an acceptable depth and expediency for the pre-approval process.
Identify the gaps between what you want and what exists. Wearing both your hats — as an advisor and as a company advocate — what are the highest priorities? Considering what you know about the regulations and the resources required by your firm, what has the greatest prospect for agreement?
Pick two or three projects and develop a broad-based plan for each that includes:
- comparison with what the competition is allowing (be sure you have valid information)
- recommended platforms
- type of messaging, such as static vs. real-time, general information, marketing and opinions
- applicable regulations
- monitoring and supervision process
- pre-approval process
- approved users’ qualifications
- mandatory education and training for users
- penalties for non-compliance
- handling client queries or complaints
- timeline for implementation
- required resources
Add credibility to your appeal for greater social media flexibility by demonstrating how you would use it as part of your business-development activities.
For example, provide research data on your target market’s use of social media. Define your objectives, such as brand-building, becoming a visible expert, business development and education, and determine the messaging most likely to appeal to your target audience. Outline how your results will be measured and your activities refined as needed. And describe how you will stay up to date on the latest developments in using social media compliantly and effectively.
Then, make your pitch, either in person or through your surrogate, in a respectful way. Be patient. Following these steps will, hopefully, help your firm feel more confident in its use of social media.
George Hartman is CEO of Market Logics Inc. in Toronto. Send questions and comments regarding this column to email@example.com.