The Latest And (Marketing) Greatest At The Morningstar Conference

So much of this business happens virtually—marketers, especially, spend little time in the physical presence of their financial advisor clients or their competitors.

MARIO GABELLI AT MORNINGSTAR CONFERENCE

MARIO GABELLI AT MORNINGSTAR CONFERENCE

To me, the novelty of everyone coming together under one big tent is at the core of the appeal of the Morningstar Investment Conference and what drives so much of the energy of the sessions and the Exhibit Hall. The conference is where industry participants come out from behind their desks and mingle, and where luminaries such as Mario Gabelli navigate the Exhibit Hall within easy reach of mere mortals.

The 2015 affair, held Wednesday through Friday last week, didn’t produce the OMG factor of Bill Gross in sunglasses, as happened last June and reverberated the rest of 2014. Regardless, Morningstar produced another successful and engaging event. I attended as a guest of Morningstar's Leslie Marshall, Director–Events, Magazine and Social Media, and my thanks to her and her team.

As I’ve done the last few years (see the 2014 and 2013 posts), I made a couple of random notes to mention to you. While others have reported on the substance of what was said at the event, the focus of these comments is on how content and marketing messages were shared. Pioneering work from previous years—whether in social, the mobile app, Exhibit Hall creativity—was improved upon in 2015. By and large, the change I spotted this year was incremental forward motion.

A Whole Lot Of Tweeting Going On

An event is about the exchange of ideas, and that’s something that happens from the presentation dais, in the Exhibit Hall and in one-on-one conversations. Social media amplifies it all. Let’s begin with Leslie’s report on the 4,600 #MICUS tweets and 31 million timeline deliveries by what I'd guess is the largest number of engaged Twitter accounts to date.

Asset managers continue to sharpen their use of the #MICUS hashtag. The following tweets showed that Wells Fargo and MFS were paying attention to the general sessions while simultaneously pursuing their goals to drive booth traffic. Well played.

Twitter is the back channel but this year for the first time, Morningstar displayed tweets on the big screen in between general sessions. Even more reason to give your conference tweets some oomph.

Now Including LinkedIn

The #MICUS focus centers on Twitter, which makes sense because that’s where most of the conversation takes place. But a few asset managers also brought Morningstar into their LinkedIn posts.

In addition to live tweeting from its @Vanguard_FA account, Vanguard created a LinkedIn update about what others tweeted from a product manager's Morningstar appearance.

One almost never sees this: A Calamos LinkedIn update quoted the comments of another asset manager, PIMCO, on active management while linking to a Calamos piece.

The App As A Content Repository

It’s official—the head nod is being replaced by a session attendee lifting up a smartphone to snap a picture of a slide. Is there a better compliment for a presenter?

But maybe this too will go by the wayside. Although not explicitly promoted this year, Morningstar is starting to use its browser-based app more as a go-to place for content—slides, whitepapers, links, etc., according to Leslie. She calls the app a "resource repository for attendees."

Attendees don't need to strain to take a photo of a slide if their event app contains a link to the entire presentation. And, tweeters can just take a screenshot of what's on their phones. More to the point for mutual fund and exchange-traded fund (ETF) marketers, this is another means of distributing your content.

As you can see in the screenshot below, the Morningstar app event listing for the general session featuring J.P. Morgan’s David Kelly also included a link to the slides to the J.P. Morgan deck. 

JP Morgan Morningstar App

But this year a link to an asset manager document was uncommon. Typically, the event listings linked to a Morningstar deck associated with the breakout sessions (featuring representatives from multiple firms). A PIMCO general session listing linked to Morningstar’s June 2015 analysis of PIMCO.

The Social Media Center Comes Into Its Own

A few years ago, the Social Media Center was an oasis occupying an impressive amount of real estate in the otherwise bustling Exhibit Hall. I used to enjoy shooting the breeze with Blane Warrene and crew, only occasionally interrupted by financial advisor attendees. Most seemed to speed up as they passed.

But, props to Morningstar for sticking with it because last week the social media center was hopping. No more playing around with social media—it seems the surveys are getting it right, advisors are engaging.

Experimenting With Periscope

I looked forward to the conference as an opportunity to experiment with Periscope, an app released this year that enables a user to livestream or “broadcast” to Twitter.

Where better to use Periscope than to livestream what's happening at an event? That’s what I thought prior to the start of the conference and that’s what I continue to think, despite a fairly rough go of testing it myself.

My experience illustrates the hazards of working with new platforms. I was using Periscope for Android, which was released in late May. Things can go wrong or at least not as expected, and that can be discomforting in a professional setting when the value of the communication is that it’s live. Luckily, this was all for my own experimentation and no animals or clients were harmed.

My vision as I took to the Exhibit Hall first thing Thursday morning was to start Periscoping in the hopes that others would follow and interact with my account. (Because Periscope offers only a follower search, I even added #MICUS to my Twitter account profile just in case someone was searching for #MICUS Periscopes.)

Assuming all the correct settings are turned on, account followers are notified when a broadcast is live. They can interact with the broadcaster to comment, ask questions or send a little love in the form of a stream of hearts. This is so new, I wasn’t expecting a gang to pile in, but I was hoping there’d be some interest.

yes, it's a selfie stick

yes, it's a selfie stick

Prior to Thursday, I’d tested everything I could—streaming and talking and walking. Also, I came packing a sophisticated livestreaming camera aid that you may also recognize as a selfie stick (but aimed outward).

The value of Periscope is the livestream. But I wanted to save what I’d created so I’d tested the autosave to Camera Roll feature, too. The sound levels, available bandwidth and overall energy of the Exhibit Hall that morning all were things that couldn’t have been tested ahead of time.

As one of my first “scopes,” I created a 16-minute video during which I walked the hall, taking time to show each booth. In my wildest dreams, I was providing a service for the stay-at-home marketer who might want to check out his or her own firm’s booth or get a feel for the Hall layout in general—in real-time!

In fact, this happened—Natixis’ John Refford spotted me Periscoping, sent a request via the chat note within the app to see a livestream of the Natixis booth and the team. So, I created a special livestream just for him. It worked, sweet.

Periscope Broadcasts

I wish I could show you both of those videos but for some reason I can’t. The videos were saved, I can watch them as a replay within Periscope and on my phone. But despite repeated efforts to download them in a variety of ways, these videos won’t budge. There's barely an online user community to reach out to, and I’m still waiting to hear from Periscope’s support.

Two videos are able to be accessed, and their quality will likely reassure you that you’re not missing much not seeing the other two videos. There’s a lot of pixelation, the audio and video are out of sync at times, the lighting and the volume are not great.

If all I wanted was to create a video to show later, my camera on my phone would have done a much better job. Periscope offers the promise of both showing a stream live (and I had higher quality expectations) and saving that stream to use later.

Having hopefully managed your expectations, the following are two livestreams (since saved and lightly edited as videos) that I created. My hope was that they might draw a live question or two from Twitter at large but none materialized. Even so, I'd underestimated the distraction of watching the phone for viewers to join or chat while filming an interview at the same time.

MainStay's Virtual Greeter

The first video shows MainStay’s virtual greeter, which was easily the most innovative booth traffic-driver (my tweet referred to it as booth bait) at the conference this year. MainStay is 2 for 2 for producing the Exhibit Hall's top head-turner, following an equally innovative campaign last year.

MainStay’s Director of Social Media Frank Ranu explains how the lifelike motion-sensitive greeter uses a few opening lines to draw attendees in to watch brief video clips.  

T. Rowe Price iPad App

T. Rowe Price was one of a few firms that seem to have devoted their booth space to their apps (J.P. Morgan Funds being another). I wandered into the booth and found myself talking to Darrell M. Riley, Asset Allocation Group. We’d planned on doing a demo, but the demonstration iPad happened to be low on battery at that very moment (the heartbreak of live). Darrell smoothly segued into an explanation of the MarketScene app strategy.

Later, I just had to chuckle about what I put these two gentlemen through. The Exhibit Hall was dotted with professional lighting and video setups, and it was their luck to be visited by a woman waving a dinky phone on a stick, asking them to talk to it. Oh and to remember, “Everything is going out live to Twitter!” They were sports.

I encourage you and your teams to research Periscope—and vertical video in general—yourselves. There are lots of possible applications for a livestream and it could be awesome. As with all other platforms you don’t control, just remember to limit your dependency/exposure and have a Plan B communication method ready.

Were you at the conference this year? Please use the space below to tell me what I missed.

New Insight Into Advisor Marketing: Those Mobile Apps Make A Difference

Cogent Reports released some fascinating data this week about the effectiveness of various digital, traditional and media marketing tactics. Of course, what’s not to love about the headline of the press release: “Digital Outreach Delivers Impressive Results for Asset Managers.”

Websites and Webinars scored well, but the big surprise was the finding:
“On average, more than three-quarters (76%) of advisors exposed to asset managers’ proprietary mobile apps indicated they are likely to increase business with the firm, compared with only 34% of advisors who were not exposed (a 42-percentage-point lift).”

This is for Q1 data posted to the Cogent Reports Advisor Touchpoints™ portal, which tracks the performance of the marketing efforts of the 15 leading mutual fund, exchange-traded fund (ETF) and variable annuity (VA) providers.

Not to be crass but...ka-ching! Driving more business is what marketing is all about.

Of the nine Cogent touchpoints, the average lift ranges from a low of 15 percentage points for News recall to the high of 42 percentage points for mobile apps and Websites.

I encourage you to read the press release and a related blog post with an image that names the Cogent-tracked firms that are leaders in the various tactics. It’s a three-way tie between J.P. Morgan Funds, Franklin Templeton and Vanguard in the apps category, and the American Funds Website still rocks, according to this data. 

Awesome intel and thanks to Cogent for giving us a peek at the proprietary research. 

Compared To B2B, B2C

It's exciting to think that something so new (the first apps were launched in 2008, and asset manager apps followed) could be having such an impact for app providers.

Unfortunately, a relative few asset managers have committed to what's required to launch and continue to maintain/enhance an app (see a related April 2013 post and October 2013 post). Prior to this data, some have struggled to make a case for the investment required. Providers' business success with apps has been a bit of a sleeper.

Every business needs a Website and email and print materials (I guess). But a mobile app? That's been assumed to be optional in this industry—even though by 2013, 92% of the top global brands had apps in Apple's App Store and 75% in Google's Play Store, and small businesses, including many financial advisors', have followed with their own apps.

Also, a milestone was crossed last year when comScore reported that 52% of the time consumers spent online occurred within apps, leaving 40% of the time spent on desktop browsers and 8% on smartphone and tablet browsers. 

Mobile apps may be even more important when marketing to advisors than in other forms of business-to-business (B2B) or business-to-consumer (B2C) marketing. The graphs below are a rough comparison of what Cogent reports is effective in advisor marketing versus B2B and B2C marketing, as reported on by Webmarketing 123 in a February 2015 report, 4th annual State of Digital Marketing report.

There is a difference to keep in mind when considering these: Cogent data tracks financial advisor response to the digital, print and media marketing of 15 tracked firms while the Webmarketing 123 data is based on a survey of marketers’ view of content marketing effectiveness, including return on investment. 

Based on what’s shown below, what works across the three types of marketing is generally in sync. The big divergence, however, is in the importance of a mobile app to advisor marketing. It’s not like the rest of B2B marketing. In fact, the importance of the delivery form (although likely to be much heavier in content and product data) is more on the order of B2C marketing.

First here’s a simple ranking of Cogent’s touchpoints using the Cogent measure in the first image above: lift in asset manager brand consideration after exposure, in percentage points.

The graphs below show some of the same tactics, as reported on by Webmarketing 123.

B2B Digital Marketing Effectiveness
B2C Digital Marketing Effectiveness

A few additional notes:

  • "Website" is not a discrete category in the Webmarketing 123 survey. Instead, it reports on more granular work than Cogent—videos, case studies, blogs, infographics and ebooks—all of which presumably have a presence on the B2B or B2C marketer’s Website. If I could pick one category for Cogent to add to its touchpoint work, I’d ask for two: videos and blogs.
  • Note that SEO (search engine optimization) and paid search are two categories broken out in the Webmarketing 123 survey and appropriately so since both are deemed to produce more revenue (16% and 12%, respectively) than social media or display. The Cogent work does not report on these, which are less common tactics at asset managers across the board although practiced by the leading firms tracked. Metrics on these would also be great to see.
  • At what point does B2C, B2B and advisor marketing, too, address the effectiveness of advertising especially relative to the spend?

Why Asset Managers Should Root For Twitter

Last week’s announcement that Twitter CEO Dick Costolo would be stepping down has triggered another round of commentary finding fault with Twitter and raising doubts about its viability.

Followers!

The charts below suggest one reason for mutual fund, exchange-traded fund (ETF) firms and other investment entities to root for Twitter’s health and prosperity.

This sampling represents the growth in followers of Twitter accounts belonging to firms of various sizes, focus and age over the last six months, as tracked by TwitterCounter.com.

I looked at the change in followers for every corporate account included on the Rock The Boat Marketing Investment Managers Twitter list—that's more than 100 entities. Just six firms have fewer followers mid-June 2015 than they had in mid-December 2014. The follower totals of a few firms, particularly those that tweet infrequently, have plateaued.

The majority of asset managers using Twitter show a rather dramatic net gain in followers. Granted, the absolute numbers may fall short of those following Twitter accounts of other brands in other industries. But, as I reviewed each account, it was the slope of the lines that I found stunning. Your email opt-in lists are not growing like this, are they?

@PIMCO

@PIMCO

pioneer investments' @pioneerinvest

pioneer investments' @pioneerinvest

@Vanguard_FA

@Vanguard_FA

@globalxfunds

@globalxfunds

They Like You Just The Way You Are

I can’t argue that Twitter has been the forum for rich conversation and interaction for investment companies. No, and maybe never.

But it’s been a platform where investment professionals, including product providers and product distributors, financial advisors and traders/investors have been able to come together—even if it’s just via a content delivery transaction—friction-free. No media necessarily needed to be created, requiring time and money, no space needed to be purchased, no user is interrupted. 

What you see is what you get in mutual fund and ETF provider tweets. Anyone who voluntarily clicks on Follow is subscribing to a stream of largely no-nonsense tweets about the economy, the markets and what the firm specifically has to offer. There's no smoke or mirrors used in the average garden-variety asset manager tweet.

Further, what's posted to Twitter sometimes is communicated on a more timely basis than is available anywhere else, including the firm’s own Website or from the firm’s own Sales teams. Bill Gross’ early use of the PIMCO account educated followers on this. (But, note that followers continue to flock to that account today post-Gross, as they do to the @JanusCapital account which Gross currently contributes to.)   

The mostly across-the-board growth in asset manager Twitter account followers—people who are saying Yes to this kind of content delivered this way—is such a positive sign, even allowing for fake or purchased followers in some of these numbers. 

Beyond that, I know individual firms that would tell you that participation on Twitter has had a beneficial effect on how they approach communicating. Twitter is a real-time channel, and effectiveness on Twitter requires a sharpening of interests and instincts. Work is elevated when communicators feel that they’re in the mix and relevant. Feedback in the form of clicks, retweets and favorites (and the absence thereof) is helping, too.

Watch #MICUS Next Week

a slide from the 2013 hashtag presentation

As it has for the last several years, the #MICUS Twitter hashtag supporting next week’s Morningstar Investment Conference will provide a handy illustration of how Twitter works for asset managers.

Savvy firms will use the hashtag as a means of connecting with a targeted audience of media, attendee financial advisors/investors, exhibitors and others watching the hashtag stream. (Two years ago, Morningstar’s Leslie Marshall created a presentation that quantified the reach of the 2013 hashtag.)

Onsite and offsite followers of the hashtag will want to make sure that they’re not missing anything at the large conference. And this presents an opportunity to share the focused attention, which is a piece of the Twitter value proposition unavailable to asset managers using any other platform.

As will be demonstrated, Twitter can bring engaged followers together. Artful construction of tweets that are relevant to hashtag-watchers can lead to further exploration of an account and even gain followers for it. At the same time, we’ll probably also see some blatantly promotional or context-deaf tweets that will be quickly scrolled past and forgotten—no new followers for those accounts that don’t respect the stream.

Change is ahead for Twitter, as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow and the Chicago Blackhawks will be Stanley Cup contenders again next year (Have you heard they won this week? I thought I'd better update my concerned comment on last week's post).

Let's all hope that whatever is done to bolster's Twitter's profitability (and stock price, evidently) aids in maintaining the following and enhancing the connection that asset managers have been able to build so far.

3 Areas Of Intrigue: Another Fund Data Site, Social Financial Literacy, Pace of Social Finance

Chicago’s weather has been unsettled (is it or is it not going to rain?), the Chicago Blackhawks have yet to truly assert their superiority in the Stanley Cup Final, and more business meetings/calls have been cancelled in the last few days than have happened. Things are not quite coming together this week.

And so it’s no surprise that I couldn’t close on one of three ideas that caught my attentionwhat follows is a bit on all three.

New Insights On Fund Distribution

On Tuesday, BrightScope launched Fund Pages, promising to deliver individual investors and financial professionals “deep [data] insights which were previously expensive or hard to find.”

As a quick refresher, BrightScope is “a financial information and technology company that brings transparency to opaque markets.” The firm got its start providing retirement plan ratings and analytics and extended the business a few years ago by building a directory of financial advisors. It’s not much of a leap from its previous work to see it diversify now into mutual fund and exchange-traded fund (ETF) data display that includes a fund scorecard and trended analysis.

According to the Website, the firm obtains its data from both publicly available and private sources, including regulatory filings from the Securities and Exchange Commission and Lipper. A rather prominent note on the fund pages encourages asset managers to make contact about "streamlining" your fund data feed directly onto the platform.

It seems like an uphill climb for BrightScope to take on other fund data sites, Morningstar among the most prominent, but I wish them well. Update: I didn't take it upon myself to compare the product data offerings but some RIABiz coverage published after this post addresses that. 

Here’s what’s new from my perspective.

The offer to connect investors with advisors

Fund companies largely rely on advisors to introduce their funds to investors. But BrightScope thinks it could work the other way around. Investor awareness of a fund could prompt a call to an advisor.

For example, this screenshot shows the three advisors displayed on the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund (Admiral shares) profile

Clicking on one of the advisors goes to an advisor profile page where there's a contact form. The page also includes a list of the funds the advisors uses.

That’s different and so interesting. It closes a loop in a way that hasn't been done before.

Comparisons of fund company Websites to other product manufacturers’ sites have never quite held up because there’s been something missing: Where and how to buy the product. Every other manufacturer offers product availability information for its retail visitors.

Sure, some old-school firms still conclude all content with the suggestion that investors talk to their financial advisor. But this feature goes much further: Like a fund? Here’s who sells it. 

Unlike most of the data on the pages, Advisors Using This Fund information will not be extracted from BrightScope’s database, it will be self-reported by advisors registered in the system and the names displayed in what looks like alphabetical order.

My guess? Adoption will be spotty unless BrightScope finds a way to share success stories (leads) with advisors.

The display of wholesaler information

According to the blog post, registered advisor users will automatically see the wholesaler for the fund they are viewing, and they can email the wholesaler directly through the fund pages.

There’s even more information on that in this MFWire post including a surprising quote from Ryan Alfred, BrightScope co-founder, president and chief operating officer, that “we want to make it easier for advisors to connect with wholesalers.”
Surely, that’s something on which asset managers and BrightScope agree—but who knew that it needed to be made easier?!

BrightScope plans to build public-facing wholesaler pages based on whatever can be found in SEC and FINRA data.

Your firm is probably capable of distributing product data to every new data distribution partner that emerges. But this BrightScope feature raises a question about the readiness of your wholesaler contact data and your ability to take advantage of visibility opportunities on BrightScope and other third-party sites in the future. 

If you haven’t already (and my impression is that many firms have not), I’d get your wholesaler information into a database. Clean it up, make sure the go-forward maintenance responsibility is assigned and prep it for distribution to augment whatever files others can pull from the regulators' data feeds. 

Another intriguing vision worth learning more about: “FAs [financial advisors] will see data and be able to tie in articles they [wholesalers] write on, say, a specific fund or firm, to be seen by investors.” To date to my knowledge, wholesalers are writing few if any articles and likely none to be seen by investors, but we shall see where that goes.

Ad-targeting capabilities

Ad targeting is mentioned in the MFWire post but not in the BrightScope post. Already a site with some advertising on it, BrightScope plans to leverage its advantage of running a platform of registered users by offering the capability to target specific users as well as viewers of specific pages.

Insights Into Social Financial Literacy

Early in the week, I saw a few mentions of an infographic presenting the highlights of a Transamerica study of social financial literacy.

The infographic embedded on the LinkedIn Marketing Solutions blog presented only the results of LinkedIn users’ (oh, LinkedIn, there you go again, being all LinkedIn-y). Later, I found a Transamerica SlideShare deck dated June 5 presenting the overall results, although not the same kind of data highlighted in the LinkedIn deck.

The first screenshot below is from the overall deck. What I found most interesting: Of all the social networks, Reddit and Twitter users are most likely to pay to meet with a financial advisor. 

This second image below is a combination of two datapoints from the LinkedIn deck. As you can see, eight out of 10 LinkedIn users say they won't pay to meet with an advisor, although four out of 10 say they have met with an advisor. Two-thirds of LinkedIn users say it's unlikely they will pay to meet with an advisor. Oh my.

I made an effort to find someone at Transamerica who can provide a narrative on the results but no luck so far. June 19 update: Evidently, I've jumped the gun on this. Transamerica has reached out and said they're about two weeks away from giving this work the formal reveal it deserves. Watch this space—assuming there's more to share, I'll write another post.

Kudos to all of you who prepare infographics to present survey results. Just be sure to include the basics about the survey on the infographic so it can stand on its own. Without knowing the total number of responses, the methodology etc., it’s hard to know what to make of these somewhat alarming findings. The overall deck is embedded below. 

Can Social Finance Work?

Executing in financial services can be tricky, nobody needs to tell you that. But you might be interested in following a discussion that’s happening this week about whether social finance can work.

If it can, of course, your job is headed for change. (Last month, 77% of surveyed financial services marketing executives told the 2015 Makovsky Wall Street Reputation Study that they are concerned about losing customers to alternative providers.)

I had mixed reactions to Tuesday’s TechCrunch blog post, “Why Has ‘Social’ Failed In Fintech?” I thought it had value as a round-up, if pessimistic, and the comments showed an encouraging level of interest in the topic.

But a few points in the post didn’t sound right. Example: The statement that “a recent analysis of Facebook Ads by Salesforce.com shows finance ads to have one of the lowest click-through rates at 0.2 percent.” The work is from 2013, and while CTRs on finance ads were not the best, they also were not the worst performers.

Ultimately, I decided against sending a tweet about the post but it continued to weigh on my mind.

Then Howard Lindzon, StockTwits founder and the real deal in fintech, published a response that disagreed with the TechCrunch blogger’s premise. Social has not failed in Fintech, Lindzon wrote in “What Is Taking Social Finance So Long?” It is underway.

However, Lindzon wrote, “The author fails to point out that social finance has been guarded by antiquated rules of FINRA and the SEC, and no other industry that has tried to become more social has faced more regulatory and incumbent pushback.”

This cheered me and I thought it would you, too. Take hearteven the would-be disruptors find your environment challenging. And, also like you, they’re not giving up.

A Closer Look At LinkedIn's Bid To Help Your Sales Pros With Social Selling

Over the last few years, social network participation has yielded all kinds of data that’s been used for predicting and measuring effectiveness—and that includes on-the-job effectiveness.

Early on, we saw job postings requiring candidates to have a minimum number of Twitter followers. Some employers advertised for people with a minimum Klout score. Those requirements, meant to serve as a proxy for a job applicant’s social stature, have largely gone by the wayside. The measures themselves were proven to have little bearing on an employee’s capability, and some question the science behind influence scores. 

I bring this up now as LinkedIn stages a full-court press with its Social Selling Index (SSI) and Sales Navigator product that promises to improve sales professionals’ effectiveness. If you’re a mutual fund or exchange-traded fund (ETF) company, it’s likely someone has reached out to your Sales management. Advisory firms, even more so, are being courted.

My sense is that there’s an enthusiasm about the SSI, in conjunction with asset managers’ keen interest in building out their overall presence on LinkedIn. After seven years of thinking about social for this business, I hesitate to say anything that could conceivably take away from the benefits that accrue from a systematic embrace of social interactions. I'm all for the listening, learning and connecting that LinkedIn enables, and provides extensive educational support for.

That doesn't mean that I don't have a few questions.

LinkedIn’s approach is different from basing hiring decisions on Twitter followers or Klout scores; its tool is designed to change behavior. But it’s similar in that it makes a correlation (LinkedIn activity drives sales effectiveness) that requires a leap, particularly when it comes to wholesalers calling on financial advisors.  

A New Sales Performance Measure

LinkedIn describes SSI as “a first-of-its kind measure of your company’s adoption of social selling practices on LinkedIn.” The SSI formula was computed based on survey research conducted a few years ago and on behavioral analytics. The screenshot below from a 2014 presentation elaborates on how the formula was developed.

Social Selling Index Formula

According to LinkedIn, adoption of social selling practices has four dimensions: the creating of a personal brand, finding the right people, engaging with insights, and building strong relationships. Each of these can be measured on a 1-25 point scale for a possible high score of 100.

I should say that each can be measured by LinkedIn based on social selling activity that takes place on LinkedIn.

You and I and everyone who has a LinkedIn profile has an SSI computed by LinkedIn, according to our performance on the dimensions, also known as the four pillars of social selling. I heard this at a Webinar I sat in on this week.

However, it’s not so easy to learn what your SSI is. Evidently, attendees to the Sales Connect conference last year were delighted to be welcomed with posters showing their scores, and I’ve seen a few LinkedIn Webinars that reported the SSI distribution of the Webinar attendees.

Otherwise, I think you need to talk to a sales rep. Also, the LinkedIn page where you can submit a request to get your SSI has an asterisked note that the SSI is for companies with over 100 employees and 10 sales reps, which should not be a hurdle for most of you.

This 2:30 video is a succinct explanation of SSI, starting with some data that shares what LinkedIn has learned from tracking its SSI over the last few years. Those with a high SSI score were promoted 17 months faster. SSI leaders have more opportunities per quarter and are more likely than SSI laggards to hit quotas.

It's Genius!

From April 2012 to July 2014, according to LinkedIn, the average SSI performance increased 87%—which LinkedIn attributes to increased participation in its four pillars. There was an average 26% increase in SSI by Sales Navigator customers within three months of their activation, according to the 2014 presentation.

But as you can see from the all-industry and financial services charts below, SSIs today are quite low. Investment management sales professionals, even while near the top of the list, score 22.8 on a 100-point scale.

Industry SSIs
Financial Services SSIs

Marketers, before we go any further, let’s give it up for LinkedIn.

By developing the SSI benchmarking program, LinkedIn has documented a need that its Sales Navigator product can satisfy. They have found a way to drive adoption of a performance measure on which improvement is possible only by heightened use of their platform and their measurement tool.

Calling attention to these low scores suggests the opportunity ahead for those who commit to social selling (activities) and for LinkedIn, too. It's genius!

Success Stories

Just about a year in, there are some Sales Navigator success stories already being told.

The story most related to this business on LinkedIn’s case study page is about Guardian Life Insurance Company of America. A total of 250 agents took part in a pilot, growing their connections by 56%, performing 89,000 LinkedIn profile searches and selling insurance with a face value of $21 million. The PDF doesn’t comment on the agents’ SSIs and any movement there. Other firms including Bain, General Electric and PayPal also report success.

This is new and there are lots of questions not just about outcomes but implementation, which itself can be time-consuming and expensive for regulated investment firms. The Webinar I attended this week was co-hosted by Socialware and LinkedIn Sales Solutions, walking through some of the concerns (and available solutions). Here's the link to the replay, which I recommend you watch.

My great fascination with this program centers on the following:

  • Better rev up the engine. A heightened focus on sharing insights and building relationships within LinkedIn is going to mean much more activity aimed at the finite group of advisors, consultants and others who play a role in choosing and using investment products. 

Activity does not always translate to relevance, let alone effectiveness. Expect added pressure from your Sales partners to produce content and messaging that will help them achieve a healthy SSI.

  • A LinkedIn skew. As I understand it, the value of Sales Navigator is not just in the prospecting support, it’s in the management dashboard that enables trend analysis and coaching for social selling behaviors. Does this mark the beginning of a blend of in-house and outsourced sales performance evaluation?

It will be interesting to see how firms factor in the SSI with other performance measures as tracked by their CRMs. Will the availability of such a measure from LinkedIn and not from Twitter or Facebook (for advisory firms) result in a LinkedIn overweighting?

That would be a shame in my opinion. Twitter offers ample opportunity for friction-free interaction with advisors that could lead to off-line follow-up. I'd hate to see Twitter overlooked as wholesalers are increasingly empowered to establish their own social presence.   

  • Company-level data. LinkedIn is the financial advisors’ preferred network for the connections they can make, and asset managers gravitate to it for the visibility in front of both advisors and business professionals.

Enhancements made over the last few years by LinkedIn have supported opportunities to raise individual and brand awareness. Finding and connecting with individuals happens via powerful search filters that take advantage of how the collected data is architected.

What we don’t hear about anymore is the data that LinkedIn is collecting on companies. Do you recall the company profiles that were once published as a roll-up of all the individual profile activity? Below is a screenshot of the detail of a Google profile from the March 20, 2008, post introducing it. Promotions and changes, most popular employees, career paths, median age, median tenure—it was all there and it was awesome.

I remember once talking to a client tasked with keeping track of the number of CFAs on her firm's investment teams. “Ask LinkedIn, they keep better records on your employees than you do,” I joked. That's still true, more so, but they've stopped publishing it.

Today LinkedIn knows the SSIs of every wholesaler who has a profile on LinkedIn, as low as they might be.

It’s inevitable (and a welcome evolution, I agree) that social selling will become emphasized at investment firms. Firms’ use of Sales Navigator, theoretically driving up SSIs, will assure that LinkedIn will have a reliable map of who the best social sellers/LinkedIn power users are.

Now that's business intelligence, the result of imposing a standard performance measure. I wonder how businesses will get at it.

  • Publish the scores, LinkedIn! LinkedIn knows our social selling proficiency because it practices what it preaches—it pays attention to what members do on its platform. Given that our own account activity is the basis for the score, I wish LinkedIn would abandon its command and control approach to the data. There shouldn’t be any hoops for an individual member to have to jump through to see his or her score. 

I stand on principle on this, by the way. I harbor no illusions about my own no doubt anemic social selling score. But if LinkedIn were ranking asset management marketing consultants (and maybe they are), I'd be that much more worked up about this.

By now, companies making money on user-submitted data is common practice. Google Analytics (although free to most) set a precedent for entrusting your business’ Website data to a third party in exchange for the utility of the tool. Your data is always available to you, as is the benchmarking capability.

LinkedIn’s data is the result of its members contributing to it. I think the scores should be viewable in each account’s settings for all membership levels.

And what are your thoughts?