Every day, millions of people surf the Internet to conduct business-to-business (B2B) research. They want to determine anything and everything. Which software should they buy? Who should they turn to for legal help? How do advisors in the financial services industry stack up against each other? How do they separate themselves from roboadvisors?
More than 90 percent of B2B customers now conduct online research before making a purchasing decision, and they typically conduct 12 searches before settling on a brand or company, according to the Changing Face of B2B Marketing by Google/Millward Brown Digital.
Add these general online searches to the research your clients and referrals are conducting, and you can quickly realize the staggering impact of your website.
A few months ago, I asked Is Your Website Working for or Against You?, and many people told me the suggestions I made helped them rethink their website approach. Now, I want you to take those lessons and go a step further by evaluating the effectiveness of your website. Remember, Google evaluates your website to determine its value and search ranking, so you need to by using Google Analytics or a similar application.
- User Behavior Flow. When someone visits your site, where do they go and how long do they stay on your site? Do they linger on the homepage for a few seconds, or do they visit some of your subpages? If so, which ones? Understanding their patterns lets you clearly evaluate where you might want to change your content, design, and/or navigation.
- Acquisition Path. How do people get to your website? They may get there by typing in your web address, through a general search using keywords, by referral from another site, through your social media posts, or other avenues. You want to see a good channel mix that indicates people are finding you in a variety of ways.
- Network Size. How many people visit your website? Does this reach or exposure seem too low or about right? If the former, again think about the acquisition path, and consider increasing your social media activity and newsletters, while adding fresh content to your website.
- Sales Traction. What type of sales conversion and close ratio are you realizing?
- Blog Post Popularity. If you regularly add blog content to your website—and perhaps lead your followers to the blog via an email or social media post—look to see which ones have done well. Conversely, look at the blog posts that received little traction. Keep in mind that the title of the blog is often what draws people in, so make sure yours are strong by using a tool like CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer.
We all want our websites to be beautifully designed, uniquely branded, mobile enabled, and rich with relevant search engine optimized content. Yet, it’s equally important to step back and see if all that goodness is indeed delivering.
With 25 years in the financial services industry, Sheri is a recognized influencer, popular social media speaker, and a creative marketing force. As president of ShoeFitts Marketing, she collaborates with broker/dealers, financial advisors, third-party administrators, and financial professionals to help them leverage marketing tools and social media strategies to make meaningful connections that build business and grow sales.
Are you still just dabbling with social media and digital networking? Oh, maybe you’ve created a LinkedIn profile, but your photo is a cropped pic from a party, and your personal headline, summary and experience sections read more like a job-hunting resume than a networking magnet. What’s more, you don’t use social media to discover valuable information to help generate sales!
A recent Putnam Investment study shows some 81 percent of financial advisors now use social media for business. Frankly, I find this percentage a little high since at nearly every speaking event people tell me they are still reluctant to use social media. The most common reason I hear for this hesitancy? Compliance. Yep, that wonderful regulatory requirement we have in financial services.
Yet it’s important to remember that compliance is not a barrier. It’s just a hurdle or a speed bump. With some 75 million Generation D (digital) investors, and their $27 trillion in assets, you just cannot ignore the social space.
It’s equally important to also remember that social selling is not about being popular. It’s about sales! Likes, friends, and connections are only worthwhile if they help you build your business.
So, how do you get past those compliance concerns? Start with baby steps. First, understand there are some simple and easy rules to follow. Second, use common sense! The same regulations and rules that apply to your other sales and marketing efforts also apply to the digital space.
To provide more specifics and examples, I recently broke out the Mastering Compliance unit from my Social Selling for Financial Advisors eCourse. In Mastering Compliance, I show you how to navigate the compliance waters by covering:
- Rules and regulations
- The difference between static and interactive content
- Three rules you MUST obey, and
- Online conduct rules and monitoring requirements
I know compliance is not something to be taken lightly. After some 25 years in the industry, the last 10 of which I have spent concentrating on the social space, I understand your pain! That’s why I’m also currently offering the Mastering Compliance unit at NO COST.
I want you to feel comfortable using the digital world for social selling. Then, even if all you do is maximize your LinkedIn profile, you will be heading in the right direction. Later, you can up your game and learn how to jump more fully into the digital conversation.
So, stop dabbling! Compliance and social selling can co-exist!
Today’s connected world requires businesses to include an active digital presence as part of their B2B or B2C marketing plan. Yet, unlike many professionals, advisors in the financial services industry must incorporate one little extra step with that activity: Compliance. Okay, little may be an understatement!
Not to worry. I feel your pain. I get the need for qualifiers, and I know sometimes source material needs a footnote and other times it requires a full compliance review.
However, the process isn’t scary. It just takes some basic know-how and advance planning. To move from a state of paralysis to active digital marketing engagement, just keep these seven tips in mind to navigate compliance:
- Public and Accessible – Internet communication is typically open and easily searchable. As such, compliance considers all web content and social media posts to be the same as in-person or written communication. Be mindful and discerning with your communication content and tone.
- Fixed or Evolving – Digital content is considered either static or interactive. Static content requires pre-approval for fixed content such as your website copy, blogs, newsletters and LinkedIn profiles. Interactive content typically does not require compliance approval and includes evolving commentary and conversations in social media posts, tweets, and updates.
- Just Like Scrapbooking – Compliance regulations require all social media activity and contact be supervised and archived by your firm or a third party for three years. Archiving requirements are dictated by your broker-dealer or firm’s compliance department and can also include stipulations set forth by the SEC, FINRA, FFIEC and/or CFTC.
- Best Advice is NO Advice – Avoid giving advice or making investment recommendations on any of your digital content, be it social media or website copy. The best advice is personal and personalized; neither is possible with online content.
- Not a Popularity Contest – Although likes, recommendations, and endorsements may seem nice and make you feel popular, they are considered client testimonials and are prohibited by the SEC. Fortunately with LinkedIn, you can hide “endorsements” and “recommendations” with the click of a button. Keep in mind, advisors can include third-party review sites, but it’s best to make these hyperlinks so the information is current (which means it can include negative commentary).
- Mind Your Links – Curating and sharing third party content on your social media sites and in your blogs or newsletters has many perks. You don’t have to create everything and you can pass along newsy or noteworthy information within a personalized context. However, you must know your source, and realize you can be liable for the content if it is false or misleading. Because of this liability, some compliance departments may need to review any linked content.
- Create a Policy – Every company, be it in financial services or not, should have a digital communication or social media policy. This can be done as a stand-alone policy or as part of your general HR documentation. In either case, the policy should define all aspects of your online presence by covering website content (and blogs) plus all social media interactions. You can have your employees help draft one if your company doesn’t yet have a policy. Or, if you do, make sure your employees are comfortable and engaged with the policy. A digital communication policy-literate workforce, is a compliant one.
Compliance and regulatory rules and stipulations should not keep you from participating in online engagement. You just need to keep in mind the rules of the game, and when necessary, allow time for compliance to review content. We are well into the digital age of marketing and communication; make sure you’re a savvy participant!
With today’s increased focus on digital marketing and automation technology, the continual push for better access to goods and services through the Internet is inevitable. Equally understandable is the growing role of robo-advisors in the financial services arena.
The term robo-advisor brings to mind the futuristic scenes from RoboCop and creates an ominous worry for traditional advisors. How real is the worry, and what can you, as a seasoned advisor, do about it? Plenty!
First, start by accepting and understanding the goodness associated with robo-advisors; chiefly, that more people now have access to the world of investing. Many of the robo-advisor customers are young professionals just getting starte who are attracted to the lower entry minimums, the 24/7 data access, low fee schedule, and the ease of investing. Note that an increased knowledge base now means more savvy investors in the future who could conceivably go beyond this starting point and reach out to financial plan advisors in the future.
Next, realize that you cannot compete on price with these online investment management sites. The fees and the overhead costs are lower. Period.
Instead, you need to recognize the technology aspects you can address, while also differentiating your strengths from the algorithmic portfolio models commonly used by a robo-advisor.
This means you cannot ignore digital marketing! The Internet is not the problem, just as robo-advisors are not the problem. In fact, there really isn’t a problem, merely opportunities.
Your website, blogs, social media presence, and email newsletters must be an integral part of your marketing strategy. Nearly everyone, from Millennials to Gen X to Baby Boomers, wants and expects a solid and rich online presence. If you don’t have one, you’re considered old school (not in a good way) and out of touch, and your abilities are questioned.
How can you be knowledgeable and up-to-date about the latest trends and investment strategies if your digital marketing is suspect? You cannot.
Just as importantly, that digital marketing must say something about your value-add. Pretty pictures and graphics may attract attention, but you won’t keep a customer’s interest for long if you don’t provide a give and showcase your industry knowledge.
Clients and prospects want to know why they should work with you now and in the future. What do you offer that they can’t get from a robo-advisor? What is it about your skills and background that make you special?
Your day-in and day-out relationships matter as well. Yes, an online presence is vital, but do you also take the time to get to know your customers? Do you understand their wants and needs? Do you know what keeps them up at night?
The bottom line is: How can you help your clients and prospects? What can you do for them that no other advisor, and certainly no robo-advisor, can provide?
Craft your value-add, your mission statement, and your give carefully and with your customer in mind, and you will put yourself way beyond the commonplace and futuristic competition.
The proliferation of new communications channels, from social networks to file sharing platforms, has tested compliance professionals who need to ensure all business communications are appropriately retained and supervised, as required by FINRA, SEC and other regulatory bodies.
In this environment, which compliance professionals are more confident about their practices surrounding the oversight of social media? Those who allow social media and have policies governing its use for business purposes – or those who prohibit it?
Findings from the just-released Smarsh 2013 Electronic Communications Compliance Survey are striking. Surprisingly, they show respondents who indicated they allow and govern social media use are nearly twice as confident in their ability to provide specifically requested messages, within a reasonable time frame, for compliance purposes.
On the other hand, respondents who prohibit social media were less confident in their ability to prove their policy of prohibition works. This was true across almost every type of communication, including public and enterprise social media, and text messaging.
One can infer that firms that prohibit the use of social media want to avoid any compliance issues by banning the medium altogether. However, these firms still have the burden of proving their policy is being followed by employees (most important in an audit scenario). That can be challenging when non-sanctioned social tools are adopted by employees for personal and corporate communication (Facebook, Twitter, instant messaging, enterprise social media platforms). Without clear social media policies and enforcement, compliance professionals have the difficult task of making sure there are no rogue social media users and tools in their company.
The reality is your employees are going to use social media, in some form, in the workplace. The survey confirms that it’s a good idea to embrace social media as a valid form of business communication, and have a proactive policy in place to enforce proper use, similar to your company emails.
Even better – have a social media archiving solution that lets you capture, supervise, review and produce employee communications when they are requested, with ease.
Find more information about social media compliance trends in the Smarsh 2013 Electronic Communications Compliance Survey Report.
For more information about Smarsh archiving and compliance for social media, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Smarsh released the third annual Electronic Communications Compliance Survey Report at FINRA’s 2013 Annual Conference on May 21, 2013.
This year’s report shows us that while compliance professionals still experience challenges in the oversight and retention of electronic communications, professionals in financial services have become more comfortable with greater regulatory scrutiny, new communications tools and channels, and the increasingly complex demands of email surveillance.
Compliance professionals are also adjusting their policies and procedures to adjust to the proliferation of social media and mobile devices in the workplace, too.
As compliance professionals move past the initial fear and uncertainty of using these for business communication, they are becoming more comfortable and familiar with the day-to-day, practical challenges of managing oversight of social media and mobile devices. The survey also reveals they are more confident in their ability to meet compliance obligations related to social media and mobile, too.
In the report, you’ll also find out…
- What social media platform leads the way in adoption by financial services professionals, with nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of respondents now permitting its use.
- How many survey respondents say they have policies regarding the most popular social media platforms, including LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, AND how many have a corresponding archiving/supervision system in place to support policies.
- Who is more confident in their ability to provide specifically requested social media messages within a reasonable time frame during an audit (it’s not who you think).
- What types of company-issued and personal devices are on the rise at financial services firms, according to survey participants.
- Why policies governing the use of company-issued and personal devices are only part of the compliance solution (and firms need a follow-up step to ensure they meet compliance regulations in this area).
- Which respondents have more confidence in the capture and archiving of business communications on mobile devices, and more.
Find more insights about compliance and electronic communications trends in the Smarsh 2013 Electronic Communications Compliance Survey Report. Download it now at www.Smarsh.com/2013ComplianceSurvey.
Smarsh recently released its second annual Electronic Communications Compliance Survey report, revealing the findings of a survey of compliance professionals in the financial services industry. The report examines the concerns of compliance officers in today’s demanding regulatory environment and indicates significant challenges in practice for electronic recordkeeping and supervision, particularly for mobile devices, social media and websites.
“This year’s survey findings illuminate the shifts underway related to electronic communications compliance,” said Stephen Marsh, CEO and founder of Smarsh. “The retention and oversight of electronic communications has becoming increasingly complicated as employees are presented with a growing number of options to communicate-from instant messages and mobile devices to websites and social collaboration tools-and compliance officers must adjust quickly and comprehensively to mitigate risks to their firms.”
Mobile devices and communications a top concern
Over the last year, there has been a significant increase in the number of firms that allow a variety of mobile devices for business purposes. Extending compliance practices to oversee these communication devices is a top three compliance concern, cited by 63 percent of survey respondents. More than half of firms now allow iPhones, iPads, Android phones and tablets on the corporate network.
Last year, FINRA issued Regulatory Notice 11-39, stating that firms are required to retain, retrieve and supervise business communications regardless of whether they are conducted from a work-issued device or personal device. Archiving and supervision practices governing communication from these devices, however, lag behind those in place for laptops and desktop computers. Today, the majority of compliance professionals (65 percent) said they would have minimal to no confidence in their ability to produce text messages during examinations.
Firms adapt to social communication channels
New communication channels remain the second biggest concern for firms. However, organizations are adapting and increasingly taking steps to formalize their position on social media use. Nearly eighty percent of respondents indicated they have written policies to address use of LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, a significant increase from the year before, when less than half indicated they had a policy in place. However, the findings reveal that when it comes to putting archiving and supervision systems in place for social media, most firms (more than 60 percent) have not yet taken action.
“Social media is following a similar adoption path to instant messaging and email,” said Marsh. “As with those communications channels, we are seeing firms first put policies in place. Then, they turn their attention to enforcement and how they can effectively and efficiently supervise and archive the communications – ultimately leading them to employ a technology solution.”
Websites in use, but retention and supervision systems lag
Most financial services firms have an online presence through their websites, which have become increasingly interactive with videos, slideshows, Flash and other interactive elements. Respondents indicated that website content was the second most requested communication type during regulatory examinations, second only to email. At the same time, 41 percent of respondents indicated having minimal to no confidence in their ability to produce website content during an examination, and only 35 percent reported having an archiving and supervision system in place for websites.
The full survey report is available for download at www.smarsh.com/compliancesurvey.
The Smarsh 2011 Electronic Communications Compliance Survey shed light on the electronic messaging compliance concerns of professionals in the field in a year that saw emerging challenges like social media and mobile messaging add complexity to the compliance landscape. In fact, almost four in every five survey respondents were concerned about new communication channels and methods of communicating. A year later, FINRA has reinforced its focus on social media and electronic communications in its 2012 examination priorities letter. The SEC also recently released a Risk Alert on social media after charging an Illinois-based adviser with selling fictitious securities on LinkedIn.
How are your peers supervising social media use at their firms? What are the top priorities for compliance departments with regard to supervising electronic communications, and how have these changed since last year? The time is clearly right to reexamine the attitudes and concerns of compliance professionals!
Smarsh is calling on compliance professionals in financial services to provide insight through a short questionnaire for this year’s compliance survey. Enforcing policy and supervising organizational use of electronic communications is an important part of a compliance department’s responsibilities, and the information culled from the day-to-day experience of those tasked with managing these growing challenges will truly shed some light on the related pain points and best practices.
Respondents to the survey will be the first to receive a copy of the survey results report when it is released, and for each qualified registrant, a donation will be made to one of four selected children’s charitable organizations:
- Boys Town
- Make-A-Wish Foundation
- National Center for Learning Disabilities
- The National Children’s Cancer Society
Be assured that all answers are completely confidential and anonymous, and will only be analyzed in aggregate. Learn more about the survey at Smarsh.com/ComplianceSurvey, and please forward on to any of your colleagues in the industry.