Putnam Investments has taken the lead in changing the way that asset managers use the LinkedIn platform.
At a time when most other American businesses and their employees have seized upon the unique connection and networking opportunities afforded by LinkedIn’s massive database, mutual fund and exchange-traded fund (ETF) firms have been holding back.
In the extreme, firms have prohibited even their most senior employees from identifying their place of work, as shown in a screenshot taken this week of a slice of an asset management executive's LinkedIn profile. This is not an exception—I count at least five firms that maintain a no-specifics policy related to securities licensed staff. In addition to requiring their employees to go incognito, many firms block workplace access to LinkedIn.com itself.
It’s common, however, for firms to allow limited participation—employees are permitted to create profiles that include specifics on the name of the company they work for and they're allowed to connect with others. And, many firms use LinkedIn Company Pages as another means of distributing content and posting job openings.
The significant missing piece has been the authority to interact within the LinkedIn environment, a capability that sales professionals instinctively want to leverage. This is what Putnam believes that they're making asset management social media history with. (I think they're first, too, but if you know different, please use the Comments space below to advise.)
Pre-approved Or Wholesaler-Authored
Having conducted a successful 10-week pilot in the beginning of the year, Putnam recently empowered its 100-plus Sales team (including wholesalers, internals, national account and key marketing leaders) to post updates to LinkedIn. Individuals can choose to post pre-approved content from a library or write their own and submit it to a custom portal for Compliance approval. Responses to reactions made to the updates also flow through the same system.
Here’s a screenshot of an excerpt of the profile page belonging to Jerry Boucher, a Putnam internal wholesaler whose recent update was liked by six people.
OK, if you’re a digital marketer working at an asset management firm, your head is exploding right about now, right? You know that this is the most powerful use of LinkedIn. No doubt you’ve been advocating for this at your own firm.
A Channel To Themselves
Below are some details on how Putnam got there first, generously provided by Putnam Social Media Director Jayme Lacour and Marc Quintavalle, social media and brand marketing strategist. But here’s what I believe is the primary advantage that Putnam wholesalers have today over every other firm.
Like most social platforms, LinkedIn is best used one-on-one. LinkedIn’s marketing group has been aggressive especially lately in packaging awareness opportunities for companies and thought leaders. (It looks as if BlackRock Chairman and CEO Larry Fink had a successful debut with his first Influencer post on Tuesday, for example.)
But what do individual users—and especially financial advisors for whom LinkedIn is the #1 platform—most value? Information about their networks. Network updates are rich with customer and business acquisition opportunities for advisors.
Advisors can see the network updates on the home pages of their LinkedIn profiles but the fact that updates are available via RSS feeds means that they can be monitored—and are—via a multitude of desktop, iPad and smartphone tools. By contrast, company updates are not part of the same stream, are no longer made available as RSS feeds and can be read only from within LinkedIn.
In other words, Putnam’s Sales updates are a natural part of the update stream that financial advisors most care about. Putnam today is the lone asset manager using a channel capable of commanding more advisor attention than the email blast, the wholesaler visit or the timely tweet.
By the way, from my perspective, the industry could do worse than follow a trail being blazed by Putnam. It's not likely to abuse its access, coaching its wholesalers to post no more than a few times a week. The updates are written in an authentic, non-corporate voice. They're relevant and appropriate for the platform.
As Lacour says, "We understand the kind of content that works on a social level. It can be very difficult to go from very broad themes to the very specific, in terms of what will work as a LinkedIn update. You have to think about what kinds of interesting bits can be pulled out."
The IT And Compliance Resource Toll
Lacour says the initiative came together quickly, while noting that the foundation has been built over the last few years. Putnam social media, which is delivered via Putnam’s broker-dealer organization, includes the outstanding AdvisorTech Tips blog that features demonstration videos by wholesalers, and four other blogs on which Putnam has cut its content production chops. At the same time, wholesalers have been building up their LinkedIn networks and via on-site visits encouraging advisors to do the same.
“They’ve been talking the talk for a long time, and now they can walk the walk,” says Lacour.
Lacour says the largest challenge was the technology required to support a dispersed sales team while meeting both the business’ content and Compliance archiving, recordkeeping and supervisory requirements. Putnam declines to identify the firm it partnered with to build the technology solution.
Make no mistake: An undertaking like this has the potential to represent a significant additional burden on Compliance and IT resources, which traditionally provide sporadic versus continuous support to individual wholesalers. To date, Lacour estimates, less than 10% of the Sales team is creating their own updates to Compliance to review. Turnaround has not been an issue.
"Our Compliance team is 24/7, just like the rest of us," he says.
The more common scenario is that a wholesaler will have an idea or some color or context they want to provide in an update. They might tell Lacour, ‘Hey, this piece of content that you’re ignoring is important to us in the field,’ and we’ll make an adjustment” to the content in the pre-approved library.
Endgame: Lead Capture
The immediate desired effect of 100 Putnam employees posting updates to their networks is amplification. The content provided by a Putnam wholesaler produces an average of 3,500 impressions, 10 clicks on content and one interaction—a like or a comment. Such exposure benefits the individual wholesaler.
In the six weeks since the program has been up and running, the enterprise has benefited from a doubling in Putnam site traffic referred by LinkedIn. “I did not expect that to happen for a long time,” Lacour says.
But, the endgame is lead capture and not exposure, as Lacour confirms. When a LinkedIn member likes, comments or shares a piece of content provided by a wholesaler, the middleware provider captures the act using the LinkedIn API. If the reactor is qualified, the name is added to a CRM lead source funnel for the wholesaler.
The person who clicks on a link to Putnam Website content is tracked, as well. This can be especially useful in the case of an advisor who comes from an identifiable LinkedIn account, accesses the cookied Putnam Website and runs a fund comparison using Putnam’s registration-required FundVisualizer tool. Ding ding ding. All suggest bona fide engagement worthy of a follow-up.
What's next on Putnam's roadmap? Twitter empowerment for the Sales team.
When I learned that Putnam delivered on an initiative that other firms are also known to be working on, I reached out to Blane Warrene, whose social media archiving business was acquired by RegEd last September. Now RegEd senior vice president of customer communications, Blane is my go-to source on archiving-related issues, and I had some questions regarding the technology hurdles as well as advisors’ use of LinkedIn. He responded with so much data and insight on advisor use of social media platforms that I’ll be devoting a separate blog post to it next week. Think of it as a Part 2 to this post.