The shift toward the social Web gets a lot of attention, don’t you think? But there’s a big difference between just reading about the social Web and experiencing the benefits of socializing.
In this post we’re going to look at a specific advantage that you may be unaware of. We realize the limitations of what asset manager employees can do online. Most of you are prohibited from creating accounts on social networks and from accessing social sites from corporate computers. This stands in the way of marketers’ understanding by experiencing the power and value of the connections that are being made online today.
I thought of you Wednesday while sitting in on a ByAllAccounts social media marketing 101 Webinar presented by Steph Sammons, founder of WiredAdvisor.com. We value Steph’s perspective as a former Merrill Lynch and UBS advisor who is now offering a "turn-key blogging and social media marketing system" for advisors. She knows both the subject and the audience, and the Webinar was a good introduction. (Update: A replay of the Webinar is available now.)
Steph encouraged advisors to “claim their online real estate” by creating a Google Profile. Google Profiles have been around since 2007, enabling individuals to enter basic information and consolidate their online assets (e.g., links to Web sites, social networks, etc.). Below we show an example of certified financial planner (CFP) Brian Plain's profile. A search for others produces more than 1,000 results, with additional results displayed using derivatives of "financial advisor" and firm names.
Almost exactly a year ago, Google stepped up the importance of the profiles by showing Google profile results at the bottom of searches for U.S. names. Even Google has to continuously work to be relevant. The change was made to improve people search results. By having a Google profile, Brian Plain is more assured his clients and prospects will be able to find him.
In October 2009, Google took a step further and introduced a concept called social search. You can view the complete explanation in the video announcing the "experiment" below and in the January 2010 update when Google switched its status from experiment to beta.
The short version is that Google builds a “social circle” of friends and contacts based on the social networks an individual links to in his Google profile. When a Google profile user is logged in, he gets search engine results plus results that are believed to be even more relevant because they’re from his social circle, personal and business.
I showed this to a client last fall and they were unimpressed—“I know that’s what you’re seeing but you have to be logged in, and you’re a geek. How many people are really going to go to the trouble to log in?” was the friendly pushback.
I don’t mind the geek comment, not at all. But I want to discourage you from extrapolating your experience online, as shackled as it is, to what your customers are experiencing as they become increasingly social. (And I encourage you to work to appeal the blocking of sites that keep you from keeping current. Grrr, another topic for another time.)
Creating a Google Profile is one of the key strategies financial advisors are turning to as they seek to establish an online presence that supports their marketing objectives. Their interest is in being found by clients and prospects, and having a profile will help.
And that’s why social search matters now.
There's an opportunity here to win a Google search results advantage. First, your firm has to be an asset manager that is available to be connected with and then an advisor must connect with you.
The above image shows my personalized results for a generic search “fixed income." Many sites are represented in the results. We've color-coded sections to show the results that Web sites earned (including an impressive #2 organic ranking by Dimensional Fund Advisors) and the parts of the page that companies bought via advertising and the release of news.
Note who ranks at the bottom of page 1 of the results—TD Ameritrade and Calvert Investments, two companies that I follow on Twitter. On its own, their content isn't ranking but from Google's perspective, my decision to follow them had the tacit effect of vetting them as my preferred content providers.
In fact, in my experience, my social circle’s content tends to be more relevant than what I (or financial advisors) see at the top of my results page. As a result, I (like financial advisors, increasingly) am now trained to look at the bottom of my page first.
But who's going to be there? Only social firms. Google's social search provides social firms the benefit of better, targeted visibility, and those with no social networks to connect with are out of the consideration set.
The search engine ranking advantage shouldn’t drive your social media strategy development. But it’s a competitive opportunity that you should know awaits.