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

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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.

Hash-What? Your Official Guide to Using Hashtags

Once you’ve created and curated content that best supports your brand strategy, no doubt you’ll bring it to the digital space. Hashtags, those pound signs (#) we often see on social media networks, are couplings that group our digital matter with other related, online content.

And, that is what hashtags do. They organize content and increase the visibility of your posts. For example, as media outlets stream online content related to the recent government shutdown to various social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, they’ve largely agreed to tack the hashtag #shutdown to related social network posts. This collective tagging effort neatly organizes posts for interested parties who are following this event. Utilizing a #keyword search, users will receive a relevant search return of topic-specific posts. Also, hashtags keep track of trending topics—when people tag, we have insight into where the people’s interests lie. The hashtag also acts as an exclamation point to this social media post—a specific and striking hashtag is eye-catching and less likely to get lost amid your customers’ social media feeds.

Hashtags are also used at a variety of organized events. By tracking a hashtag associated with the event, attendees can interact with one another even while seated in a breakout session.

 

Where and How Hashtags Should Be Used

Used first on Twitter in 2007, hashtag capabilities exist today on most mainstream channels of social media such as Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, and Instagram.  It is important to use hashtags sparingly and strategically, thus giving you the most bang for your buck.

Hashtags Tips

  1. Don’t tag article words such as #a or #an.  People aren’t searching for these words.
  1. Be judicious. One or two tags per tweet or status update is sufficient. Tag the relevant keywords that people will be searching; be strategic to yield the greatest impact.
  1. Tag complete ideas. Separately hashtagging terms such as #Financial #Solutions won’t categorize your content successfully. (Do you know how many “solution” bits of content exist on the internet?) Tagging #financialsolutions greatly increases the chance of reaching your right audience.
  1. A hashtag may be placed anywhere within a sentence; it can be postscript (Great game!  Another victory! #Dodgers) or incorporated within the text. (Great game. Another #Dodgers victory!)  Make sure not to use any punctuation or spaces in your hashtag.
  1. Realize that you can also use hashtags as listening devices. Consider a regular basis for terms such as #401k, #finances, #money, etc. (Twilert is a great resource for following a variety of hashtags on a regular basis.) There are many words that individuals use when describing their financial life. Listening in on those conversations via Twitter may provide some ideas for your client outreach, or content creation.

 

If you’re referring to a specific event or article, consider searching Twitter; most likely, there is a hashtag assigned and you’ll want to ensure you use the established version.  Creating your own obscure hashtag in relationship to a high-profile topic probably won’t benefit your social media visibility.

Hashtags are also a valuable resource in supporting your brand.  Creating a unique-to-you custom hashtag groups your content, but, if done creatively and mindfully, also adds an extra punch of brand voice to your online presence.  Before committing, research the tag you have in mind to confirm that it hasn’t been adopted by another party; you don’t want to align yourself with some unusual or unfortunate group.

 

Hashtags Gone Wild

To fully understand the reach of hashtags, it’s important to realize that outside the scope of financial marketing and organizational applications, hashtags are also used in social media to gather memes, images, content, and engagement surrounding many other genres such as pop culture and humor (#failedchildrensbooktitles, anyone?).

Hashtags:  They may seem irrelevant—another thing to do—but actually they’re quite important.  Hashtags are the complement to your well-crafted social media strategy; they come in the form of a user-friendly tool that steers your digital presence onto the online streams of your key targets.  Visibility to the right audience=#win.

Start at the Finish Line: A 6-Step Social Media Strategy

AdvisorTweets’ parent company, Smarsh, is based in Portland, Oregon, a city known for its great beer, fabulous food, and quirky approach to life. Portland’s unconventional style is never more evident than when grown adults agree to hurl themselves down a local hill in homemade soapbox carts.

Portland’s PDX Adult Soapbox Derby, around since 1997, features a brave group of racers willing to face speeds of up to 45 miles per hour, enclosed in a tiny vessel. Prizes and bragging rights are awarded for categories such as Best In Show, Lifetime Achievement, Best Engineering, Crowd Favorite, Best In Art, Most Original and, you guessed it, Best Crash. But, before a racer even begins to head down the hill they may wish to have a clearly defined strategy. (Who would ever consider careening down a hill with a curve named “Blood Alley” without one?)

The same goes for social media. Regulatory hurdles have created challenges for firms in the financial services industry, placing many advisors at the bottom of the leaderboard. Now many firms want to simply hop in the cart and get into the race. In some instances, you may get lucky; usually, you’ll leave prospects on the sidelines wondering about your brand, your customer commitment, or what you’re selling.

Your strategy need not be overly complicated and complex. By adopting a simple plan with a built-in that allows for the unexpected, you’ll be in the race instead of watching your competitors zip past you on the social media autobahn.

1. What is your social media goal?  This is the most critical component of your strategy. If you haven’t clearly defined your true purpose for using social media, you’ll likely miss the finish line altogether. Social media is such an expansive arena; identifying a goal may be difficult. Keep it simple. Perhaps start with one or two achievable goals and expand as you gain confidence. Here are some ideas for initial strategy:

  • Competitive intelligence
  • Lead generation
  • Customer service
  • Brand awareness
  • Public relations

2. Who is your audience? This is a natural complement of the purpose and goal factor. When defining your audience, be specific as possible. While many advisors’ practices tend to court either individual wealth clients (business-to-consumer (B2C)) or institutions and organizations (business-to-business (B2B)), these are broad definitions that won’t serve you as effectively. Can you narrow your scope to clarify by gender, generation, socio-economic group, or by business type, size, or location? These specifics will guide you in the process as you create content, reach out to influencers, and grow your group of followers and connections.

Tune into the right channels.  There are hundreds of social networks worldwide—the exact quantity is ever-changing as networks frequently enter and exit the internet. Your audience, as well as compliance restrictions, will provide you helpful clues as to which social platforms are appropriate for your business needs.

Facebook:  The average user of the largest social media network—67% of online users are active Facebookers—is a 30-year-old female, city dweller who commands an annual salary of at least $75,000.

Twitter:  In 2012, Twitter—the fastest growing social network saw a 116% increase between Q2 and Q4 in the 55 and over user demographic and an 81% jump in the 45–54 age range.

LinkedIn:  The financial services realm is second only to information and technology (IT) in industries represented on LinkedIn, a platform that offers opportunities for B2B and B2C, alike.  The average LinkedIn user earns $109,000 a year and visits the site to research companies and products.

Google+:  Don’t underestimate this social network; Google+ has more active users than Twitter.  G+ boasts a largely male-dominated audience (two-thirds) with a worldwide reach.  The network interaction tends to focus on technology-centered topics of dialogue.  The opportunity to create impact is here and waiting.

Instagram:  Two-thirds of the top one hundred brands have a presence on Instagram, the photo- and video-sharing social media network; ninety-eight percent of brand photos are user-shared to Facebook.

3. Who will create and curate content? Notice the subtlety in this question? Creating completely original content at all times, is an unrealistic goal, considering the staffing levels at most firms. Thankfully, many social media geeks suggest a ratio of 30–40% of original content posting combined with 60–70% made up of sharing and interaction. This approach goes hand-in-hand with the intention of giving before getting. Here are some additional considerations:

  • Who will manage your social media effort? Will you use internal or external resources? In either scenario, do they have the necessary expertise – and financial services marketplace knowledge – to portray your firm’s voice and expertise?
  • How will you oversee the content development and compliance reviews? Your name is likely on the door or otherwise associated with a valuable book of clients and relationships. Your social media efforts must positively reflect the vision of the firm.
  • A quarterly or annual editorial calendar will help you get a bird’s-eye view of monthly or weekly themes and can provide context for content development.
  • What smarts are you going to give away? Social media is a prime opportunity to define yourself as the expert in your field.  Sharing your “know-how” can put you in a position of the “go-to.”
  • What compliance guidelines must be taken into consideration? There are strict regulatory guidelines associated with social media participation for financial services firms; depending on your business structure, you may also have broker-dealer policies to abide, as well. Before you broadcast anything, ensure you’re fully aware of, and in accordance with the rules and regulations.
  • What is your call to action? What do you want your audience to do as a result of engaging with you? In some cases, you may simply raise awareness, educate, or interact with your community. However, as you consider sharing your proprietary content, it’s important to keep profit clarity.  How will this affect your bottom line?

4. How will you interact? As you conceptualize your online presence, do you envision your persona portrayed as a person or a company logo? (In financial services, people buy from people. Keep this in mind as you consider your options.) Will your voice be playful or professional? The platform may help you make this decision.  Facebook campaigns are often humorous, visual, and more casual in nature; LinkedIn posts are centered on business, personal or professional development topics.

5. How will you adjust course? Preparing for the unexpected is an important aspect of your social strategy. You’ll want to have flexibility built in to help you shift focus if the economy takes a turn or if an extraordinary life or world event happens. Social media is social, and keeping the human element of interaction in mind builds authenticity and credibility. For example, you wouldn’t want a stream of your automated business-centered posts to continue on when local families or business are in the midst of, or recovering from the aftermath of, a natural disaster.

One of the more daunting tasks of social media management is handling the possible online presence of negative commentary regarding you or your firm.  There’s always potential for a less than favorable review; having a social media or online presence doesn’t preclude that.  In an optimal situation, any issues of client dissatisfaction would be resolved prior to the broadcast of details on the Internet; unfortunately, it can’t always be avoided.  By addressing issues publicly, in an authentic, credible voice, you send the message that your firm cares about providing a high level of service.  Accolades are easy to receive; having the tough conversations while people are watching may help you map out a plan of necessary changes to decrease the chance of future mishaps.

6. Document your success criteria. Social media is a segment of your overall marketing outreach strategy. Like marketing, it will take some time to learn the landscape and make an impact.  In the past, many firms simply focused on the quantity of followers or connections. These days, trends point to quality: quality of leads generated, quality of engagement, and quality of web activities.

It may seem counterintuitive, but starting at the finish line—the place you want to be when a social media plan is established and functioning as intended—and working backward, offers great insight into having valuable conversations in appropriate platforms, using an effective voice.  By defining your route and the various avenues to pursue (via the guidance of a sound social media strategy), you’ll reach your destination safe and sound.