Avoid the Social Media Vortex

In today’s technology-centered business environment, social media is an integral part of a well-developed marketing plan. Yet, the oversight, participation, and management of LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Google+, Pinterest, and so many more apps can leave your head spinning. Add into this mix your own personal interactions, and soon your time is sucked up into a spiraling social media vortex!

Yet even the most avid social media devotees can find help through strategic planning, online management tools, and even old-fashioned productivity enhancements.

Clarity of Purpose — Just as you carefully consider your business strategy and marketing approach, be purposeful with your social media platforms. Understand who you are trying to reach and how best to meet their needs through social media. Simply throwing endless sales pitches at clients and prospects is useless, unproductive, and likely irritating.

Online Management Tools — A variety of apps now exist to manage your internet use and social media postings. Several companies also include tracking and monitoring of reposts and feedback.

  • Buffer — Lets you pre-plan automatic social posts. Just create multiple posts for social media sites like LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook and schedule the days and times you want them released. You can make timing adjustments when needed or cancel them altogether. Buffer also provides analytics to monitor retweets and shares. https://bufferapp.com/
  • Freedom — Provides a break from the internet and all the distractions by blocking access for a predetermined time. Turn it on whenever you want, set the length of the block, and work offline without interruption. And, as the company points out, “If you need to cheat and get back online, you can reboot.” http://macfreedom.com/
  • Anti-Social — Gives you a break from social media for a few minutes or hours. Like Freedom, you can reboot to get back online. http://anti-social.cc/

Say No — Remember, you don’t have to connect or friend everyone; be deliberate! If you receive a LinkedIn connection request from someone you don’t know, it’s okay to respond with “Can you spend a few moments sharing how you think a connection could benefit us both?” Also, feel free to block individuals and businesses or remove people from your feed.

Simple Tools — Effective social media pacing is also possible with some simple tools.

  • Use a Timer – Old fashioned, but effective!  Determine how much time you want to spend on social media, set a timer, and then stop when the buzzer rings!
  • Set a Schedule — There’s a reason many events occur at the same time and for the same duration every day–consistency and dependability. Take this same approach with your timed allotments for social media engagement.
  • Create To-Do Lists. Simply keeping a mental list can be amorphous and overwhelming with social media. Instead, start every morning by outlining your priorities. The list creation can take whatever form works best for you; I favor giant stickies–one for each social media site–but a dry-erase board or notepad work just as well. The constant visual reminders help keep me on track and increase my productivity.

Form Follows Function: Functional and Effective Finance Web Design

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Most financial advisers and investment professionals agree on the need for a well-designed website. It’s the virtual equivalent of a well-designed office. For better or worse, it makes a statement about your practice that influences the perceptions of clients and prospective clients.

Which is why it’s important to make your website reflect your brand. So when it’s time for a website refresh or re-do, should you outsource the project or do it yourself? It depends. The keys are to decide what kind of site you want, whether you have the resources to dedicate to the project, and how much you want to spend.

Form follows function

Website types range from a simple brochure template to a completely customized, highly interactive and content-rich design. Decide on the purpose of the website: Is it a marketing tool? An information resource? How important is it to distinguish you from your competitors? Who will provide and update the content? How often? The more you want from your site, the more customized it should be.

Even a brochure-type site should offer a choice of design templates as well as simple marketing tools such as contact links, map finders, information-request forms and limited site statistics. A step up from the brochure approach allows users to access dynamic content such as informative newsletter articles, financial calculators, stock quotes and other research tools. More sophisticated sites are built to reflect your corporate identity and may include custom-designed banners, backgrounds, forms and animation.

Examine your staff resources

Building a website from the ground up takes expertise. It involves strategic planning, project management, web design and development. It also requires database development, website hosting, domain name registration, online marketing and search engine optimization (SEO).

Those things take time, too. You could spend hours doing things that a skilled web professional could do in minutes. That’s not only more expensive. It’s also time away from serving clients.

So unless you have a web development team on staff, your time is probably best invested by outsourcing from a professional website supplier.

Choose a vendor

If you decide to go the outsourcing route, your next step will be to choose a vendor. In your research, ask if they provide a range of choices, including budget-friendly options. Does the price include such things as hosting, domain registration, content, forms, maintenance and SEO? How long have they been in business? How many websites have they produced?

Websites are not a once-and-done thing. So it’s important to work with a vendor that provides good continuing service and an easy-to-use product. Updating the content should be simple, fast and intuitive.

Another consideration is financial-industry expertise. Instead of supplying generic website templates, some suppliers specialize in websites for the financial services industry. These vendors may offer online tools for investors to conduct research, access their portfolios and read FINRA-approved articles on investment and finance.

Set your budget

Prices vary depending on project size and functionality. At the low end, you can use online site-building services and get a professional-looking, if not unique, site set up for $300-$500. More-customized designs for small firms start at $2,000-$3,000. Factor in monthly maintenance fees, too.

Not surprisingly, most financial advisers and investment consultants choose to outsource. They’d rather pay an expert to do what they do best. And that makes sense. After all, that’s why your clients hire you.

More and more interactions with clients and prospects these days happen online. So, whether you outsource or insource, whether you choose a simple or more full-featured site, make sure your virtual office makes visitors feel welcome, engaged and maybe even a little impressed. Consider the money spent on a website not just as an expense but as an investment that, managed properly, will yield a return.

To see a menu of SEC- and FINRA-compliant website plans for financial professionals, check out Smarsh Sites, a service of Smarsh, a technology leader in the financial-services industry since 2001.

Top 10 Twitter Taboos

I was perusing my Twitter feed the other day when my eye caught a particularly off-the-cuff status. One entity I follow harshly criticized a rival. I couldn’t help but be put off. Friendly banter between competitors is normal and expected, but malicious conduct is not. A code of etiquette exists on all social media platforms—it mirrors what we would expect to observe in a face to face setting. The behavior I witnessed can result in a loss of followers, but more importantly, it can cost the trust of clients and partners.

As financial advisors, FINRA regulations add another layer of complexity to social media conduct. Here is a list of Top 10 Twitter Taboos for financial advisors:

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1. Tweet Advice Twitter is great for establishing initial connections and maintaining those connections. It’s not the venue to transmit sensitive information such as stock tips.

2. Tweet Blindly Twitter is interactive and published content doesn’t require FINRA pre-approval, but every financial company should have its own social media policy in place. Always consult with your company’s policy before participating in any social media activity.

3. Ignore the dissenters. Twitter used for business is about respectful engagement. Don’t shy away from people who offer different opinions or insights. Use this platform to acknowledge them; you can always request offline time to address an issue.

4. Post when tired or otherwise not yourself Chances are, there’s a more opportune time to post on Twitter than before going to bed. If you’re tired, in an emotional state, or relaxing with a glass of wine after dinner, you may not be in prime Twitter form. There’s no harm in waiting to tweet.

5. Tweet someone’s product Posting about someone’s product or service may be viewed as an endorsement, which can cross the line with FINRA regulations.

6. Use auto-responses. Canned replies feel impersonal and sometimes they don’t accurately apply to the situation. Twitter is an interactive platform, intended for social connection. Bottom line: There’s no replacement for a human being.

7. Tweet whatever comes to mind. Akin to tweeting when tired or in an emotional state, tweeting from the hip can backfire. Carve out time in your schedule for social media so you can really consider your tweets prior to posting. Even though it’s a social forum, you’re still using Twitter to represent yourself as a business professional.

8. Talk to yourself. Twitter encourages dialogue, often with individuals or brands you may not have access to otherwise. Don’t make the conversation one-sided; take time to learn about the people you connect with.

9. Retweet if you like it. Know what and whose information you are retweeting. Retweeting is often seen as an endorsement of content. As the head of a company, if you retweet an article you and your company are essentially blessing everything in that article, even its speculative commentary. Investigate prior to passing it along.

10. Stir the pot. This may seem pretty straightforward but you’d be surprised at how often this gets people into trouble. Retweeting content can proliferate speculative or false information if you don’t have a full understanding of the information you’re sharing. Also, remember that sarcastic undertones are often missed via the written word. A joke can be easily misunderstood.

Here is one thing you can do, whether on Twitter or any other social media network to provide value to your followers and define yourself as an expert in your field: provide unbiased education about various financial concepts.

For instance:

  • What is a 529 or gift tax?
  • What is the cap you can put into your 401k plan this year?
  • Tips on financial budgeting
  • What is the general economic outlook for 2014?

Finally, don’t forget to sprinkle in a bit of appropriate humor and personality so people can easily relate to you. Never lose sight of the reality that people buy from people. Your clients want to know there is a real person behind the tweet or status update.

Remember, if you’re interested in using social media, you’ll need a solid archiving & compliance solution in place. www.smarsh.com/socialmedia

Social Media Policy: A Worthwhile Investment

twitter bird what policy

As an advisor, chances are you can practically draft an investment policy statement (IPS) in your sleep. But, where do you stand on a social media policy statement? Do you even have one in place?

At a recent networking event, I was involved in a conversation with a professional who talked about his newly distributed, official social media policy. I asked how he intended to execute his plan amongst his employees; that question was met with a blank stare. Perhaps he believed establishing the policy was the finish line; however that is just the beginning.

Here’s the reality: Just as you wouldn’t write an IPS and then dismiss the importance of ongoing monitoring, a social media policy needs oversight, archiving, and ongoing change to be truly effective. FINRA regulations require financial industry professionals to be diligent in company and employee online conduct. Now is the time to get a social media policy written and implemented, if you haven’t already.

Word Use

Your social media policy must be a living document with input from your employees. This document will outline the dos and don’ts of online activity to protect you and your company as well as your staff. Be sure your policy contains specific language defining what is included under the social media umbrella. With so many platforms and applications today, clarity cannot be overdone. Generally, a social media policy should outline rules related to the areas of confidentiality, privacy, ethics, competitors, and fair use; the goal is to establish appropriate-use guidelines. Consult an industry-versed attorney for professional guidance specific to your company.

Monitor the Situation

Monitoring of employee and company social media activity is a non-negotiable must. Be upfront with employees. Let them know exactly how their content is being observed and the reasons why. An act as seemingly innocuous as endorsing on LinkedIn, liking a post or page on Facebook, or retweeting on Twitter can be considered a company testimonial. Monitoring employee online activity isn’t a no-confidence vote; it’s a requirement that’s necessary to evaluate your company’s compliance in the social media realm.

Alternatively, taking a more hands-off approach by hiring a designated social media compliance officer or using one of the emerging industry-specific monitoring software applications are options. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but there are many choices available for your business needs.

Lock and Key

Federal regulators require that every shred of social media activity generated by financial services institutions is archived for three years. That’s a daunting task. It may be helpful to look into a provider such as Smarsh , which specializes in archiving.

Feed the Mind

If your employees help draft your social media policy, you’ve already got a leg up on education. A Lunch and Learn is an excellent way to engage employees in a relaxed setting. Social media is always evolving. Education doesn’t need to feel cumbersome and time consuming, but plan for regular updates.

A social media policy protects your firm, your employees, and you from liability. Putting social media-use guidelines in writing is a vitally important step to take in this Digital Age. It ensures everyone within your firm is on the same page and that you are fulfilling the rules and regulations required by FINRA.

Mind Mapping: New Directions Leading to New Ideas

Photo from https://www.examtime.com/

Photo from https://www.examtime.com/

Even on my best writing days, I may find myself staring at a blank computer screen; developing truly engaging content can be so challenging. I’ve learned that, although an editorial calendar can keep me on track, it’s pretty useless if it doesn’t have any content in it. Creating fresh ideas and content is important.

If I can grab ahold of even a general concept or topic, mind mapping is an ideal tool to develop that kernel into a complete body of work—because it mirrors the architecture of how our brains naturally function. (Though the human brain is still a mystery, research has identified that our brains search for information and process data in branch-like patterns.) The mind map method encourages and captures our organic thought processes in efficient and visual ways, flexing our right and left side of the brain. You can work out a map on good ol’ scratch paper or save some trees and use software instead. Working on a computer provides added benefits such as an endless work area and easy editing capabilities.

I’ve developed a quick how-to guide to get you started brainstorming on your mind map journey:

  • Start in the middle of a blank page, writing or drawing the main idea you’ll explore. I suggest you work with your paper or screen in landscape orientation.
  • Develop subdivisions, subtopics, and facts related around this central concept, connecting them to the center with broad lines.
  • Repeat the same process for the subtopics, branching individual facts off subtopics when appropriate. Connect each of those to the corresponding subtopic, using thin lines.
  • Let your right brain go crazy. Use lots of colors, drawings, and symbols. Be as visual as you can; the more effort you make, the more brain reward you’ll receive.  Mind mapping awakens memory power and information processing, as well as cortical skills of logic, rhythm, lines, color, lists, daydreaming, numbers, imagination, word, and gestalt (meaning: seeing the whole picture).
  • Keep idea labels short. Use a single word if possible—or better yet, just a picture. When you start mind mapping, it’s tempting to write blocks of text, but it will be much more effective if you represent your ideas with a single word or figure.
  • Vary text size, color, and alignment. Draw connective lines in different lengths and widths. Provide as many visual cues as you can to emphasize important points.

Mind Maps: Colorful and Cool, But Useful, Too!

Once you have a mind map in place, it’s important to know how to transform all the sensational ideas you’ve developed into a cohesive piece of writing. The large center hub of your mind map represents the main idea of your article or blog post. Create a double-spaced bulleted list of each sub topic. Under your subtopics, incorporate indented bullets for any additional details and facts you may have included on your original mind map. In just minutes, you’ll have an ordered list of every point you’ll want to cover in your written piece.

The mind map is a replacement of the outlines we’re familiar with when we need to organize thoughts and ideas. Truthfully, we aren’t linear, left-to-right thinkers (though traditionally, we cultivate our ideas in these directions) and mind maps really push us to think in radial ways.

This process probably won’t feel intuitive initially, but push beyond the awkward in search of the reward of previously unconsidered perspectives. There’s no time like the present to try a new methodology. Now that you’re motivated with all this fractal brain talk, get mapping!

Improve Your Social Calendar for 2014

Organization is one of the major keys to a successful and sustainable social media strategy.

This year, make a resolution to create an editorial calendar—it’s a great way to bring some calm to the chaos.

One of the greatest social media challenges is keeping pace. It’s important to create, curate, and publish fresh content frequently, maintain a consistent presence on social media channels, and stay on top of the ever-changing trends. Being relevant, informative, and there are huge parts of what define you as an expert and a thought leader in this industry; that’s largely how you’ll build a valuable audience. It can feel like a lot to juggle, but an editorial calendar is an excellent tool that can help you keep everything running like a well-oiled machine. Here are some tips for creating your own editorial calendar:

1. Keep it simple.

You don’t need a new app or web-based system to create or maintain an editorial calendar. Send messages to yourself; keep a to-do list, or voice-record brainstorming ideas as they come to you using tools you already have, such as a smartphone or tablet.

Or, you can add an editorial calendar to your WordPress dashboard, and then write and schedule weeks or even months of content to post whenever you choose (once your blog posts are finalized, you can set a schedule, and they’ll even auto-publish). Some of the most reliable WordPress calendar plugins are Editorial Calendar by Stresslimit, Edit Flow, and Future Posts Calendar by AaHa Creative. If you aren’t comfortable with website tinkering, or if you aren’t a WordPress convert, Microsoft Excel and Google Calendar are great alternatives.

The purpose of an editorial calendar is to corral all those fantastic ideas that unexpectedly pop into your head and gather them in one central location. This alleviates you of the stress of remembering what that great idea was you had two weeks ago while pumping gas.

2. Create Monthly Themes

Start now and create an overarching theme for each month. This will help create a focus for your brainstorming and your blog ideas will flow more freely. Identifying a theme also allows you to get ahead of the content game and identify other industry-leaders you may wish to invite to guest blog. A monthly theme creates a sense of organization, which followers and writers always appreciate.

The organization lent by monthly themes is also, overall, an attractive quality to your followers. Even the most left-brained individual cannot thrive in utter chaos, so your readers will appreciate the organization of your content. Additionally, it conveys that your company is a brand with focus and direction. Those are admirable qualities we all expect to find in a trusted industry leader.

3. Have a Weekly Routine

Establish a weekly routine to dedicate time to your editorial calendar. These are the articles your followers will look forward to every week. A schedule ensures you fulfill the expectations of your followers.

Perhaps you have a weekly feature titled Monday Money that is a recap of the previous week’s investment-related events. Whatever you do create, be consistent with it and make it your own. (And, when you post it on social media, make sure you’re using a custom hashtag!) When an audience specifically seeks you as their source for information and advice, you’ll know your editorial strategy is working.

As the year winds down, you may find yourself with some downtime. Why not grab a mulled cider, eggnog, or a candy cane with this list of tips, and start working on your own editorial calendar for the quickly approaching 2014?

You Can’t Break the Internet

 

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I’m sure it’s either happened to you or you’ve seen it play out. You attend a social event and wind up talking to a young adult, perhaps new to the workforce, and most likely clueless about investing. You try to expound the merits of getting started early. You may recommend a book, tell them about your own mentor, or offer them a quick overview of dollar cost averaging (or the miracle of compounding). But, you’re well aware of how this conversation will end: this overwhelmed twenty-something will politely thank you and immediately discard everything you’ve said. Investing often seems daunting to newcomers. There seems to be too much information to get started, so many younger professionals get a late start, and then find they must struggle to catch up to their peers.

Last Sunday, I attended a luncheon hosted by my friend Beth, held in celebration of her husband’s retirement. Beth has a huge family; there were guests of all ages. A scenario unfolded that was similar to the investment situation. Curiously however, the roles were reversed. A twenty-something, Celia, was offering advice on starting social media marketing for a new business venture. She was chatting with Kyle, a middle-aged lawyer who just left a big firm to start his own practice. By the end of their conversation, he seemed to wave her away; I saw confusion and what appeared to be a look of fear on his face. Over dessert, I asked Kyle what he was afraid of when it came to social media. He admitted that while he had a simple website, when it came to any further actions, “I know I’ll do it wrong.”

The Name of the Game

As some of you know, the most popular social media sites—Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn—walk you through the steps of getting a page up, running, and published within an afternoon. Have a cup of tea, relax, and let your mouse do the work. Whatever you do, do not dismiss the name of the game. Social media is designed to be social and, you know, fun. Since professionals, businesses, moms, and teenagers—representing users from so many countries possessing a wide range of tech savvy—access these interfaces, the set-up processes are low on frustration and difficulty by design. It’s all very intuitive and getting started usually entails filling out a form, which is the first step toward your business name being populated into the Facebook search user base. We call that “visibility.” The only way to “do it wrong” is to not do it.

On Being “Good at it”

Tech firms in Silicon Valley have embraced this philosophy and quote to reinforce the importance of proactivity: “Done is better than perfect.” This maxim is rumored to be plastered on Facebook’s office walls. Leveraging social media is akin to any game you’ve ever played. You may have liked the game the first time you played even if you weren’t so skilled. The more you do it, whether chess or social media, the easier it gets and the more nuances you perceive and understand. However, just establishing a social media presence isn’t a nuanced process. That is the single most important lesson here. You don’t have to be an expert at the game on Day One. You just have to play.

What If…?

I suspect the fearful ones are afraid they may break the Internet. (“What if I accidentally post a check-in at my boss’s house on every Facebook status?”) Honestly, it’s a little ambitious to believe that any of us are capable of breaking the Internet, because like the cockroach, it can survive just about anything. The Internet will always grow and morph and adapt to new terrain, prevailing more resiliently than ever.

Ultimately, the purpose of the Internet is to answer our questions. (Seriously, how did we survive before Google?) If, in fact, you believe that you’ve broken something, just ask the question. You’ll soon realize you are not alone in whatever life dilemma you face: “Why does my cat attack my feet?” or “Did I break the Internet?” (No, you did not.) And, for a really useful application of Google, you can search relevant questions such as, “How do I un-tag people on a Facebook status?”

What is the moral of this story? Giving in to fear of the unknown is a mistake. The rewards of social media participation are too great to be overlooked. It’s time to get Nike on yourself and “Just Do It.”

As you’re preparing to dive into social media, remember that you need to have a comprehensive archiving solution in place so that you’re able to meet regulatory requirements while getting your social on.

Mind Your Social Media Manners

Recently, while dining out with friends, our food server delivered the wrong order to our table.  The dish also happened to be topped with an ingredient of which one friend is seriously allergic. While thanking our server for the prompt delivery I calmly explained the situation. She was horrified and apologetic. We threw in some humor to provide levity and five minutes later the food we originally ordered made its arrival. When we received our bill, two meals had been taken off our total. It spoke to the effectiveness of courteous, respectful interaction. Being kind and engaging often just works.

This principle extends to all modes and areas of interaction. Minding your manners in the digital space is critical, but that’s often underestimated, unconsidered, or just plain forgotten.

Without The Tone, What is the Message? Internet communications— on social networks and in email correspondence—can easily be misconstrued. Without the benefit of observing social cues such as voice inflection, tone, and pitch, as well as facial expressions, it can be difficult to judge the actual tenor of a situation. Perhaps you’ve been there; maybe you’ve received an email and wondered about the sender’s true intent. Were they being sarcastic or were they expecting a serious reply? Be sure to review your own communications before pressing that send or publish button, (particularly given the regulatory hurdles financial advisors face) to ensure you are sending the right message. If your message is light-hearted, keep your jokes squarely in neutral territory; all other dialogue should be straightforward and sincere to eliminate any chance of confusion or misinterpretation.

Venue Change, Rules Remain: Connecting through a smartphone or laptop must be regarded as the Digital Age equivalent of a face-to-face advisor-client meeting. The existence of Twitter and LinkedIn don’t exempt us from social graces. Though many of our interactions now happen on these social media platforms instead of boardrooms or restaurants, we are still able to extend that metaphorical hand. Greet people, introduce yourself, be as respectful as if you were having coffee, and engage, engage, engage. This takes a little practice, but in short time, you can become quite skilled at relationship-building with a vast audience of people located all over the world.

Social networking platforms aren’t faceless communities; these are real conversations with real people. It is as important as ever to remember your ‘please and thank you’ when making connections and looking for business opportunities. Don’t hesitate to express gratitude for recommendations or introductions to potential new clients. Everyone appreciates appreciation.

Don’t Go Directly to No: With a presence on several social networks, I often receive connection requests from people with names I don’t recognize. Frequently, I don’t know the person at all, or maybe I met them once in passing, or perhaps they are associated with a mutual friend. I can choose to decline or ignore the request, but networking isn’t just about connecting with people I already know. Take a close look at those requests; initial haste runs the risk of overlooking a valuable connection. I usually respond to hazy requests with a note, asking the person for more information on why we’d make a good connection.

Never lose sight of the fact that your online personality and behavior are major factors people use to form first impressions about you and your business, similar to the way your physical presence and demeanor are influential. Be mindful and intentional, never forgetting that Virtual You is acting in alignment with behaviors Face-to-Face You embraces every day.

Social Media: What’s your policy?

We’ve all heard the stories of disgruntled employees who are pink-slipped after participating in some social media activity deemed unacceptable by their powers that be. Are the principles and standards that govern your employees’ use of Facebook clear and accessible, or are they undefined or too vague?

There’s no room for ambiguity here—particularly given all of the compliance-related issues you must address. In the same way you and your clients draft investment policy statements to define and confirm your clients’ financial objectives, a social media policy ensures your firm’s management and staff are on the same page about social media activity related to business. The policy eliminates any confusion, and can help protect the best interests and image of the firm and employees, by establishing and educating everyone about acceptable vs. unacceptable social media activity. Here are a few tips:

  1. Understand the Playing Field. Any advisory firm should be aware of the compliance-related issues associated with social media participation. This information needs to be clearly outlined in your social media policy.
  2. Common Sense=Common Use. Despite disclosures and disclaimers, the public may still form opinions about your firm based on employee statements or actions. Anyone on the payroll who is allowed to speak about the company must write knowledgeably, accurately, and display top-notch professionalism. There’s no place for argumentative, offensive, or abusive behaviors or communications.
  3. The Internet Never Forgets. Thanks to search engines, screen grabs, cached files, archiving, and way back machines, every shred of content put forth on the internet lives forevermore. Coach employees to understand they shouldn’t publish any statement, photo, or comment they’ll be embarrassed to see five, 10 or 20 years from now.
  4. Confidentiality. Company information that’s not available to the public cannot ever be shared or discussed. This includes information regarding personnel. A confidentiality breach can expose your firm to liability.
  5. Privacy is an Illusion. The opposite concept to confidentiality is that privacy is a myth where internet activity is concerned. Behave as if any update, direct message, or communication will be posted on the front page of the New York Times. If it’s not suitable for the newsstand, don’t hit the publish button.
  6. Inform Management. Any employee who intends to create personal, non-company content (such as a blog) and reference their company or its current or potential products, employees, partners, customers, or industry competitors must inform management prior to posting, to ensure compliance with state and federal regulations. (The term “getting dooced” didn’t materialize out of thin air, after all.”)
  7. It Never Hurts to Ask; It Sometimes Hurts When You Don’t. Err on the side of caution. If an employee is ever doubtful of the appropriateness of a potential comment or post, ask them to consult with human resources prior to publishing.

These guidelines will get you started on the road to realizing the importance of putting a social media policy in place. However, you must consult with a legal professional to assist in the development of your official social media protocol.

There’s peace in knowing your social media outreach will be protected by a staff that has full understanding of the boundaries you’ve built around social media use.

Social Media: Listen In

Social Media: Listen In

Gossip: In high school, it was the worst. I hated being talked about in passed notes and hushed whispers. It felt so personal, and I never knew quite what was being said about me. How times have changed.

Today, gossip is a financial advisor’s best friend. We likely spend many hours talking about our firm and our solutions as part of our efforts to grow an audience that will listen to all we have to say. Some of these brand-building efforts can be taken online—where we can listen in on the results.

We all want to know what people think, don’t we? If I was aware in ninth-grade that Gavin Mackenzie* had a crush on me, I would have most certainly chosen him as my biology lab partner. Alas, my school was too big and that bit of gossip didn’t reach my ears until it was too late. In our businesses, of course we want to be as attentive and accommodating as possible to the people that use our services. We don’t want any of our clients to pair up with a different lab partner because we don’t offer what they like, want, or need.

Many financial advisors view social media as a one-way communication vehicle—a broadcast and marketing medium meant to sell services, share news, and post opinions and ideas. They miss out on the opportunities to research consumer trends, investigate competitors, and actively engage with clients and prospects through listening. Paying attention to the two-way communication in the social media space provides valuable information and feedback; it’s worth dedicating time to this effort lest we end up sitting alone in biology class.

Listening to your clients is easier than you think. What ten keywords do you want to track? Start with names: yours, your firm name, people in charge, and services or products you offer. Get specific. The first step in setting up listening channels is establishing an email address specifically used for email alerts. You won’t have to check a million websites and get distracted on Facebook; you can just order everything to your inbox and go from there. Don’t just make one email address; make two. The first is dedicated to your brand, while the second email address is dedicated to tracking the web conversations about your biggest competition. (Don’t you want to know who else Gavin Mackenzie has a crush on?)

The first alert you want to set up is the tried and true Google Alert [www.google.com/alerts].  Which are the most highly trafficked websites where you’d be likely to appear? Yelp, Twitter, Youtube, Pinterest, LinkedIn? Most mainstream networks offer a quick URL designated to set up email alerts.

RSS [rich site summary] feeds are another helpful tool. You can set up RSS feeds for your favorite websites, news sites and the blogs you read for inspiration (like this one!). A wonderful resource that teaches the basics of establishing RSS feeds is http://www.webmonkey.com/2010/02/rss_for_beginnners/.

Twitter is an obvious choice for listening, as well. Although there are tons of great Twitter applications that can be customized to your specific needs—when just starting out it’s easiest to use the traditional Twitter search bar. Type your brand name and your relevant keywords, and examine the results. Make sure you select to view “all” tweets and not just the top ones.

Follow your clients and any of the firms you do business with, too. Watch their feeds for clues about what they like, what they dislike, and any personal preferences they may express. You’ll learn other sites they visit online, topics that may interest them, possibly restaurants they visit and more.

For financial advisors serving the consumer market, Facebook provides a huge opportunity to get to know your clients on a very personal level. If you’re able to connect with them, you can learn a significant amount about their families, pets, restaurants they enjoy and their most favorite topic of conversation—themselves! Attend to what you learn by listening, and bring those facts and findings into your relationship. Show your clients you care about them on a level beyond business, and you can build brand loyalty and cement your relationship beyond your quarterly investment meetings.

Gossip has a new look. It’s not the mean-spirited, ambiguous chatter of yesteryear. Today’s talk is specific conversation we are privy to courtesy of resourceful tools that allow us access to the discussion. Instead of creating rifts, we’re using this dialogue to improve our craft and better serve our clients. It’s talk worth listening to.

*Names have been changed to protect the innocent.