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Thursday
Oct302014

Say Yes To Google Analytics Benchmarking*

Mutual fund and exchange-traded fund (ETF) companies work together on all kinds of issues (see the operations agendas of the Investment Company Institute or NICSA, for example).

But except for the occasional conferences and other get-togethers, asset management marketers don’t have continuous access to one another, least of all their data. Well, here’s your chance. 

What would you give to know how your Website performs against its peers?

Google Analytics has resurrected its benchmarking capability (discontinued in 2011), and since September has been rolling it out to accounts. The most excellent news is that two of the 1,600 verticals are Exchange-traded Funds and Mutual Funds.

To find, just start at Channels, Business & Industrial, then drill down to Finance, Investing and then Funds.

Other sites, notably SimilarWeb (see post), provide free competitive data. Since this service is straight from the source itself, ostensibly it should be even more reliable. A comparison of traffic sources, location and devices across six metrics that include sessions, percentage of new sessions, new sessions, pages/session, average session duration and bounce rate is being made available.

In order to access benchmarking data, you need to opt in. Participating is as simple as checking a box in the Admin settings of your account. This effectively grants permission to Google to remove identifiable information about your site, combine anonymized data with similar sites and report benchmarks.

If you work on a mutual fund or ETF site with 0 to 100 daily sessions, you’re in luck! The data is right there and waiting, thanks to the fact that 20 Web properties are contributing to the benchmark.

However, traffic on the vast majority of fund company sites exceeds 100 sessions. Unfortunately, there’s no peer data for you because an insufficient number of firms are contributing. 

I suppose you could benchmark your site against all Finance sites, but that might just confuse things.

(Note to the financial advisors who pop in here from time to time, you’ll be able to benchmark your Financial Planning Management sites up to 5,000 daily sessions.)

Why The *

Data in exchange for data is a common benchmarking model but in your particular case, conditions may apply. My advice: Don’t make a unilateral decision to turn benchmarking on.

Early on, I had a few go-rounds with managers of IT departments who were opposed to relying on a free service for business analytics.

Still today, despite the high number of companies that rely on Google Analytics (70% of the top 10,000 Quantcast Websites and most of the competitors you care about, according to BuiltWith), some enterprise IT people continue to have their suspicions. Web analytics is data that can provide a particular view into a business. How can we be sure that it's secure or that it will always be there for us? For that matter, what could or might Google do with it?

I am not the one to try to explain these objections or whether participating in benchmarking if you’re already a Google Analytics user elevates the risk. To be sure, just check in with your own IT management. There may be no pushback, probably won't be.

It’s going to take more than a little old blog post to get some data flowing into the benchmarks but maybe if you tell an asset management marketing friend and that friend tells a friend…we’ll get there.  

Thursday
Oct232014

Asset Managers Dominate #FixedIncome Tweeting Post-Gross

After this post, I’m going on a PIMCO/Bill Gross/Twitter diet, I promise. But, I was looking at some data this week that was too rich not to share.

First, the September 26 announcement that Bill Gross was leaving PIMCO to go to Janus spiked interest in “Bill Gross” as a search term but not so much fixed income. This is according to the Google Trends U.S. data shown below (click on the image to see the data more clearly on the site).

Interest in Janus was far above average search interest while still lower than "Bill Gross."

On Twitter, where Gross' early use of the @PIMCO account influenced how other asset managers began to use Twitter to deliver timely, relevant micro-insights (see post), the news gave a healthy bump to the use of the #fixedincome hashtag.

In the period between September 29 and October 22, 189 users sent 310 tweets with the hashtag, according to Keyhole.co.

The RiteTag graph below of tweets and retweets shows a rush to #fixedincome, relative to its average volume, that has since petered out. 


Competing With Content

Here's what I was interested in. We saw some opportunistic fixed income advertising from fund companies in the days immediately following the news. And, of course, the email factories were working overtime. Did asset managers figure among those jockeying for what would be a burst of fixed income attention on Twitter?

Why yes, they did. The screenshot below from Keyhole.co shows the 32 accounts that used the #fixedincome hashtag most frequently. Twelve belong to asset managers, with @FidelityAdvisor, @NuveenInv, @WFAssetMgmt and @PutnamToday four of the top five accounts. Other firms participated at a lower level. 

In all @FidelityAdvisor sent 37 #fixedincome tweets, most in support of Fidelity Advisor Total Bond Fund. 

@BlackRock takes the honors as the account producing the top #fixedincome tweet (shown below), drawing 18 retweets and 38 favorites. @FTI_US, Putnam and @HartfordFunds were #2, #3 and #4 ahead of @SquawkBox. Sweet.

Everybody Gains

What did the news do to @PIMCO’s enviable follower count? It's happy news all-around.

After a dip—there’s likely some correlation between fund flows and Twitter followers—@PIMCO is back on the rise again, according to TwitterCounter.com.

Meanwhile, @JanusCapital experienced a growth spurt in followers, although still trails @PIMCO by about 174,000.

You Got This

There are very few lightning-in-a-bottle moments for mutual fund and exchange-traded fund (ETF) companies using social media. There’s been no equivalent of seizing the opportunity of a dark stadium to promote dunking an Oreo cookie and watching the Twitter account grow by thousands overnight, for example.

But communications windows open and close on Twitter, and there can be opportunities for alert and agile investment brands. 

On this single hashtag over the last four weeks, more than a dozen fund companies showed up and dominated in a way that rarely happens elsewhere online. (Unfortunately, paying for placement is the only way for many firms to get on page 1 of search rankings of key terms. Other brands got to most of the premium terms first and they’re not budging. See post.) 

For some perspective, fund companies use other hashtags and many to a greater extent. Event hashtags get lots of pick-up, as Morningstar's Leslie Marshall has documented. And, it’s not as if @BlackRock hasn’t been retweeted 18 times before—its maximum is 155 RTs. 

Still, this was a collective demonstration of the communications possibilities for asset managers:

1)using somebody else’s platform

2)and a lightweight, quick turnaround medium

3)to access an "audience" that others helped build and maintain

4)without being constrained by a frequency cap (i.e., Fidelity could have never sent 37 emails in the same time period)

5)to be relevant on a topic

6)that targeted others (financial advisors, media and other influencers) had hyper-interest in and were seeking commentary on.

For those of you in the mix, I hope something good came out of your participation. As for those of you still on the fence about Twitter, does this episode make you any more interested in chiming in?

Wednesday
Oct152014

Archive Our Emails? LinkedIn-Using Mutual Fund/ETF Employees Push Back  

Mutual fund and exchange-traded fund (ETF) firm adoption of social media has hit a bit of a bump in the road. Maybe it was bound to happen.

Overall, employees seem to have been tickled about their firms wading into social media—it wouldn’t have been believed possible when many employees signed on.

But because Marketing has tended to the nitty-gritty of how the corporate social accounts need to be managed, few employees have had intimate knowledge of the long reach of FINRA when it comes to communicating on other domains.

It’s only now that firms are beginning to empower wholesalers and other employees to actively participate (more than the establishment of a profile) on LinkedIn, the rest of the firm is being introduced to the cold hard fact that business communications on social networks fall within the purview of Compliance.

Based on multiple conversations I’ve had with marketers over the last several weeks, some employees object to Compliance requiring them to use their business email addresses as their primary email address on LinkedIn. And, some smart at the idea that all those communications will be archived by the firm.


Perhaps it’s an overstatement to appropriate the Gartner hype cycle chart here. Employee expectations have never been inflated, and I doubt there’s deep disillusionment now. But learning the implications of participation is reportedly giving employees pause and even stopping a few in their tracks. Those who insist on total control are opting out of LinkedIn altogether.

The whole "activation" phase leading to enlightenment and productivity is not going as smoothly as hoped. 

This discussion finds firms assuming some black-and-white positions (for registered employees) and navigating a gray area for non-registered employees.

I’ve reached out to three leading social media archiving vendors to get a better feel for how firms across the board are balancing FINRA requirements, Compliance and IT issues, and employee concerns. 

Since the beginning, the archivers have embraced the need to educate the market (see this 2011 report) and their contributions here are yet another example. None of their comments can take the place of legal advice, of course. Below you’ll also see comments from Blane Warrene, a friend and someone familiar with best practices from his work as co-founder of Arkovi, since acquired by RegEd.

Hope these help.

2 Approaches To 'A Lively Conversation’

From Joanna Belbey, Social Media and Compliance Specialist, ActianceFinancial services is an industry that has regulatory requirements that require firms to capture, archive and make e-discoverable all “business” electronic communications. These requirements are called “recordkeeping” or “books and records.” 

Joanna Belbey, ActianceThe regulators make it quite clear that “content is determinative.” Therefore, it doesn’t matter if it’s a corporate email from a firm-issued device, an instant message on a personal device, an update on a collaboration tool or a post on a social media site, if it’s a business record, it’s subject to recordkeeping requirements.

Firms are challenged to create policies that define the types of business records that will be captured and to use technology to support the policy.

Fifteen to 20 years ago, all firms had to worry about was email. Now the communications landscape is much more complex. To make it even more complex, employees may “channel hop,” i.e., have a conversation that starts on the phone, and then moves to email, instant messaging or even social media. In the end, the communications stream may need to be reconstructed so that regulators or litigators may understand the conversation in context.

Recordkeeping polices are always a lively conversation at regulated firms among Legal, Compliance and Risk Departments. The goal is to retain just enough to satisfy regulators, while limiting liability. After all, the more information you retain, the greater the risk that regulators or litigators will find something, and the more expensive it is for archiving and retrieval.

Based on the culture of compliance at a firm, here are two approaches that we’ve seen for InMail within LinkedIn:

1) Some firms elect not to retain InMail. For these firms, personal emails are posted as the primary email address, and non-business-related communications are sent through LinkedIn.

Employees post a message on their profiles such as "I cannot respond to any communications or questions about the financial services industry via LinkedIn. Please use my company email address for all business-related inquiries."

The use of InMail is allowed only to make connections and InMail is not to be used as a broadcast or “blast” medium. Any InMail received that is business-related is forwarded to the company email account and replied to via corporate email only.

This approach relies on clear social media polices, training and judgment on the part of employees. To mitigate the risk of non-compliance with recordkeeping requirements, firms need to put processes in place to spot check adherence to polices. 

2) Most firms elect to retain all InMail. For these firms, company email addresses are typically posted as the primary email address on LinkedIn and all communications (both personal and professional) are sent through LinkedIn. All communications are monitored and retained, regardless of whether the communications are personal or professional. 

The advantage of this approach is that processes are clear cut, can be automated with technology and resemble existing policies around email. The downside is that employees may object to their personal communications being archived and although it meets regulatory requirements, it may increase the risk of liability for the firm.

At the end of the day, every firm is different and will need to create recordkeeping polices and processes based on their culture of compliance and risk tolerance.

Planning To Use The Account? Archive It

From Victor Gaxiola, Customer Advocacy Manager, Hearsay Social, after conferring with the firm’s Head of Legal/Compliance: If the expectation is that LinkedIn will in any way be used for business, then it is appropriate for the business email address to be listed as the primary contact.

However, if the employee plans only to have a static profile, and will not be updating or sharing content that is business-related, then they can use their personal email address. In this case, a firm may ask the employee not to associate with the firm to avoid the risk of sharing a business-related post that would make them liable.

Victor Gaxiola, Hearsay SocialEmployees who push back on the use of a work email address as a primary email address—especially if the activity is being monitored or archived—stems more from a concern that they could be looking for work or applying for jobs, and they don't want any of that activity to be captured.

Use of the work email or personal email does not make any difference in the liability of the firm as much as the content the employees are sharing does.

Regardless of whether they use a personal or a work email address as their primary address, if the registered employee is using LinkedIn for business and is sharing content related to the industry, then the firm has a responsibility to monitor, archive and retain records of the activity. 

It's similar to the use of a private vs. company-sponsored device where the content is determinative—not the medium. This is covered in FINRA Regulatory Notice 11-39 (link opens a PDF).

Client-Facing Is The Test

From Bruce Milne, executive vice president, Socialware: In our experience, employers see a significant risk in regulated employees using LinkedIn for business purposes but using an alternate email address for conducting 1:1 communications. A few not-insignificant fines and censures have been levied against firms that allowed financial advisor-to-client communications to happen through alternate email channels.

FINRA has interpreted any use of LinkedIn for registered employees as "business use," so archiving, post-review and all the other compliance rules apply. 

For non-registered employees, however, the rules become less clear. The distinction that we have typically seen is that employees who are client-facing, who have communications with clients through LinkedIn, must use a firm address and track all communications.

Bruce Milne, SocialwareNon-registered employees who use LinkedIn strictly for personal use may use a personal email, and will not likely be archived (firms don't not want the additional risk of archiving personal information from peoples' social networks unnecessarily).

The technical process of archiving is neither difficult nor particularly expensive, but archiving personal conversations may create reputational, legal or other risks. In this instance, the standard is to require them to not use the name of their employer. 

We have received a few requests now for firms to extend the same access controls and compliance features that we provide to registered employees to all corporate employees on their work desktops, but only for the duration of their workday. If they use social media at work, the firms would like to limit what activities they can do (and monitor for data leakage, etc.)

But in their off-hours, the employees—using their own social network profiles on their own personal devices—are on their own recognizance. 

Best Practice: Acquire Voluntary Attestation

Blane Warrene, co-founder of Arkovi Social Media Archiving, now financial technology speaker and advisor and editor at large of The DigitalFAThere are a couple of challenges here. 

  • There is mixed precedent set in U.S. courts regarding who owns the LinkedIn profile in general, as well as contacts acquired during employment with a firm. 
  • If an existing LinkedIn account was in place, it is a challenge to try and force the employee to make the business email address primary unless the person is explicitly registered and subject to FINRA supervision and attests voluntarily to use their LinkedIn account for business purposes to the benefit of their employer. You have to also watch how the National Labor Relations Board approaches this as much as any industry regulatory body.
  • Blane WarreneIt does open up the need to archive InMail, and that is also a challenge as folks have wide networks beyond the office and often communicate via InMail. This can bump up against myriad state and federal laws, statutes and guidelines.

A best practice would be: 

  • Focus on assuring that profiles are set up optimally and compliantly.
  • Have a clear policy, legally vetted, on who owns what data on LinkedIn when accounts are being used for business purposes and then acquire voluntary attestation to that policy for all participants.
  • Be certain to offer up great tips, techniques and genuine relevant brand content that participants can share to seek engagement from their networks.
Thursday
Oct092014

What’s It Like To Work At….?

Bill Gross can’t be the only asset management firm employee who’s wondered whether the grass is greener somewhere else. Fortunately for job-seekers inside and outside the investment industry, “careers” videos are becoming prevalent both on LinkedIn Career pages (a paid service) and domains.

(By the way, do you remember when LinkedIn used to publish key statistics about employers, based on roll-ups of individual profiles? At right is a screenshot example of the beta feature in 2009. As its database has grown, this would be even more reliable now. But I digress.)

Of all the storytelling that’s being attempted by digital marketers nowadays, the careers videos are among the best work. It helps to be working with people and emotions.

Which is not to say that these are easy to produce. There are too many stakeholders and too many balancing issues (which locations, which businesses represented, how much diversity is enough) to expect to get these done in short order. Once created, however, they seem to have a fairly long shelf life.

Do you work for a smaller firm? Don’t take a pass just because you don’t do a lot of hiring. These videos are as much about conveying the culture of a firm (important to clients and prospects, too) as they are about appealing to job-seekers. And, as we’ve seen with lots of other online videos, low budget and informal videos can be powerful and effective. Maybe you already have some video that can be repurposed.

Sunshine, lollipops and rainbows everywhere? Even if the videos do present an idealized view of a workplace, I’m a sucker for these.

Forward: No To The Status Quo

“We like people who are going to step back and question how things are done,” says Forward CEO Alan Reid. Enough said, although this 2:45 video elaborates.  

Fidelity: The Longest Personal Relationship

Fidelity is a bigger employer than most, which explains why it has a Jobs subdomain and a media library of no fewer than eight videos. My favorite features long-term, blissfully happy employees at a 2013 Employee Service Recognition ceremony. I love everything about this, including the snazzy jazzy music.

Putnam: Smiling And Dialing

Smile and dial, that’s the motto of the “people” people who are on the phones at Putnam

They Are Franklin Templeton

Did somebody say “integrity”? Yes, they did, over and over again in this Franklin Templeton video.

AQR: Stimulating Work

On its site, AQR features videos highlighting three employees. This "Why AQR?" video shows a vice president on the global alternative multi-strategy team discussing the stimulating environment, including working side by side with her Wharton undergrad accounting teacher. The videos aren't able to be embedded, just click on the image to go to the video-serving page.

Morningstar’s The Coolest Thing

The assumption of this Morningstar video is that job-seekers are hoping to find a “cool” employer—so Morningstar delivers, along with bagels apparently. 

Baird: Teaching Underwriting

Robert W. Baird makes quite a few culture and employee benefits points in this 2011 profile focused on a single investment banking associate. It’s one of 12 video stories in the Careers section of the Baird site

Monday
Sep292014

PIMCO, Janus Left Twitter Out Of The Mix When They Broke Their News

Well, that was disappointing.

PIMCO, the first U.S. asset management firm to take to Twitter (originally using @PIMCO_tweets as an account name) and still the asset manager Twitter account with the most followers, left Twitter out of the communications mix when it broke news on Friday.

On Friday, the firm issued a press release to drop the bomb that co-founder and chief investment officer Bill Gross would be leaving the firm and heading to Janus. Given Gross’ dominance at PIMCO and management responsibility for the $220 billion PIMCO Total Return Fund, this was material information for parent and public company Allianz. Of course, a press release was called for.

Similarly, Janus’ hiring of Gross warranted a press release from that firm and prominent janus.com home page treatment.

But neither PIMCO nor Janus sent a tweet about the Gross news. Yesterday and today, PIMCO posted tweets about the availability of a new article on the fund that Gross managed. The @JanusCapital account posted an unrelated tweet on Friday and nothing since.

One can only imagine the crisis planning that drove the communications and coordination surrounding the announcement. There’s the framing of the key messages for multiple audiences/stakeholders, the prepping of the spokespeople, the overall battening down of the hatches for the coming storm.

The “How do we reach them?” question immediately follows “What do they need to know?” in communication planning.

With the salient points already articulated for the press release and other talking points that were no doubt prepared, why weren’t there tweets—“Bill Gross leaving PIMCO” with the link to press release on its site and “Bill Gross joining Janus” with a link—from PIMCO and Janus, respectively?

I don’t get it. Does this reflect executive management lack of appreciation for Twitter and communicators’ failure to sufficiently advocate? Is there so much of a gulf between public relations and marketing? Has it been a while since the plan was updated and Twitter was somehow overlooked? 

This InvestmentNews coverage of advisors’ reaction by Friday morning illustrates what we should all know by now—the decision by PIMCO and Janus not to communicate on Twitter didn't stop the Twitter commentary. Also, see the full search results of tweets mentioning @PIMCO and mentioning @JanusCapital from Friday to Saturday. 

I use this blog to focus on successful strategies and tactics of mutual fund and exchange-traded fund (ETF) firms. But I decided not to hold back today because if PIMCO—of all firms—doesn’t acknowledge the value of Twitter and its Twitter followers, I worry for other asset management marketers working to establish Twitter as a viable communications channel.

This episode provides an occasion to consider what’s in your plan regarding Twitter and communications with breaking news value.

Gross + Twitter 

There was nothing ever remotely social about PIMCO’s Twitter account. It followed exactly one, PIMCO-related account, never re-tweeted and never replied. @PIMCO gained an average of 76 followers a day based almost entirely on the fact that Bill Gross was known to write his own tweets. Back in the day, the account avatar featured not the PIMCO logo but a combined photo of Gross and Mohamed El-Erian, CEO and co-CIO. El-Erian, while gone from PIMCO, continues to be an active Twitter user.

Of course, the so-called Bond King could have scored an appearance in the investment media anytime he wanted. But Gross was early to capitalize on using Twitter to directly share micro-insights, some of which made news themselves. And, displaying more investment executive personality than any other asset management exec on Twitter, Gross often used Twitter to mix things up (see the Carl Icahn kerfuffle).

PIMCO gave Gross what appeared to be full rein of the Twitter account and he turned it into a must-follow. The notion that such an influential, successful money manager would consistently post pithy takes on the markets was irresistible for those looking for an information advantage. Gross’ use of Twitter raised the possibilities and expectations of other investment company Twitter accounts, I believe. And yet those 179,000 followers learned of Gross’ departure from somewhere other than Twitter. Sigh.

By the same token, by choosing not to share its enthusiasm with its 4,000 followers, Janus missed an opportunity to bask in what was mostly goodwill from Twitter this past weekend.

The Risk Of Marginalizing The Channel

Over the last few years, consumers, including investors and financial advisors, have learned to turn to Twitter when news of any kind breaks. Eighteen months ago, the SEC confirmed that public companies can use Twitter and other social media outlets to announce key information in compliance with Regulation FD. 

But is breaking financial news different for some reason? I asked this question in an AdvisorTweets blog post in May 2010, when the flash crash caught everyone by surprise, StockTwits was blowing up and yet the Twitter streams of most Establishment financial services providers including the NYSE continued on their merry, canned announcement ways without commenting on the one event that was drawing the country, even the world’s, attention. Granted, that was early in financial brands’ use of Twitter and the event itself took some sorting out.

There have been several minor events since, repeatedly prompting me to wonder why financial Twitter accounts avoid addressing the real news. To use Twitter to broadcast company news, corporate gift-giving, the availability of product communications but to avoid mention of the real news affecting your firm is to marginalize your followers and the channel. A Twitter account that serves as a go-to source of important information, even the historical record of your firm, has more value than a virtual bulletin board.

While many will have their eyes peeled on the assets in PIMCO funds and where they go, let’s some of us watch the @PIMCO Twitter follower count. Even more interesting: Whether the arrival of Gross will lead to Janus using Twitter in a more expansive way and the growth in followers that will result. 

Update: ZeroHedge this afternoon reported that all Bill Gross tweets have been deleted from the PIMCO account.