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Back in the day, word of mouth may have been the best marketing tool for financial advisors. Today, in the age of social media, online posts have become a useful addition to old-school business networking methods.

In fact, by engaging audiences with useful content on networks such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, you can raise your visibility among existing and potential clients while increasing your chances of showing up in online search results.

Social media is a complex and fast-evolving platform, though. You must understand the tools and techniques that will help you master this powerful medium.

– Playing by the rules

Use of social media by advisors raises compliance issues. Although regulators such as the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada, the Mutual Fund Dealers Association of Canada and the Canadian Securities Administrators have issued guidelines on the use of social media, each financial services firm has its own set of rules regarding content. So, you should check with your firm’s compliance department before using these networks.

For example, Waterloo, Ont.-based Sun Life Financial (Canada) Inc. posted a list of dos and don’ts on the compliance section of the firm’s advisor website (sunlife.ca/slfas/Resources/Compliance) regarding the use of social media. That list suggests you control the posts that your audience can make on your page by adjusting your settings to require that you approve posts before they are published. Sun Life’s guidance also suggests that you cite the source of any third-party content you share online.

Particularly noteworthy is the fact that linking to online content, “liking” a client’s post on Facebook or retweeting a post on Twitter is considered an endorsement.

All this points to the need for a social media policy, especially for advisory firms that permit multiple employees to post to these networks. Some companies, such as Aon Canada, suggest that you obtain media, cyber and privacy liability insurance to protect yourself when using social media. These policies offer more robust protection against these risks than commercial general liability policies do. (Aon Canada offers media and cyber liability options as part of the firm’s specialized coverage for financial services companies.)

– Creating a strategy

One of the first steps in devising a social media strategy is to choose which social media networks you want to post on. Some advisors like to keep strictly to business, and so focus on LinkedIn. But Twitter and Facebook are increasing in popularity among business users – especially the latter because of its popularity and community-building characteristics. Much depends on your target audience, but whichever networks you choose, ensure that your social media management software covers them all so that you can administer everything from a single point.

Consistency is a main feature of any business’s social media initiative. Maintaining a steady stream of content is essential in showing readers that you are engaged and productive. There’s nothing less professional-looking than a Twitter feed or Facebook page that hasn’t been updated in six months.

Use a content calendar to schedule your posts over time. This will make social media less of a daily chore. Create a mixture of “evergreen” content (posts that can be reused from time to time) and more time-critical content revolving around specific events.

Most social media management tools have some form of content calendar. Hootsuite (hootsuite.com), for example, features a visual message-scheduling system to arrange your posts in advance. Buffer(buffer.com) lets you schedule posts in a queue that empties over time based on a specified schedule.

Another option to help ease your social media workload is Edgar (meetedgar.com; not to be confused with EDGAR, the U.S. version of SEDAR), a social media scheduling tool that reposts selected updates over time, thus capitalizing on evergreen content.

If you want to notify your social media followers about new blog posts, the If This Then That online automation service (ifttt.com) can tie together content-management tools and social media automation to generate those social-media posts automatically for you.

– Collaborative tools

When organizing social media workflow, you may want to route potential posts through more than one person on your team or perhaps divide the creation of posts among team members. A second set of eyes can help to detect any potential compliance problems before content is published. Collaboration features that enable multiple people to work together on social media content can help ensure your posts are compliant.

Look for the ability to create message approval workflow so content must be vetted by certain people before it can go live. That means the roles of those who post determine access to networks’ features so that rogue posts don’t get published. Both Hootsuite and Sprout Social (sproutsocial.com) offer collaboration features that enable you to manage your teams, including message approval workflows and user permissions.

To make full use of social media, you must measure its effect. Look for tools that provide reporting on key metrics such as volume (are posts at certain times of day read more than others?); reach (how widely are readers disseminating your content by sharing?); and engagement (how are people interacting with the content? Are they sharing it or clicking on your links?).

Most advisors, especially those new to social media, can use the reporting tools embedded in social media management apps to get the basic data that’s needed. More advanced users, including those marrying social media and search-engine optimization or search-engine marketing, may choose to use a dedicated tool such as Raven (raventools.com), which spans social media and search-engine analytics.

One tool that offers many of these features is Hearsay Social (hearsaysystems.com), a social media suite that’s designed for advisors. Hearsay tackles social media compliance with pre-approved workflows, automates publishing campaigns and permits one-to-one messaging to take online conversations deeper.

– Keeping track

Finally, consider tools to help you meet regulators’ record-keeping requirements by archiving your social media activity. Hootsuite works with Global Relay Communications Inc., an archiving company that stores social media posts and other types of data, including email, instant messaging and voice communications.

Erado (erado.com) and ArchiveSocial (archivesocial.com) also store social media posts in a read-only format for legal and compliance purposes, as does PageFreezer (pagefreezer.com).

You stand to gain a competitive advantage by using social media, but you should keep yourself protected and productive by planning your content-management strategies ahead of time.