How many opportunities do mutual fund and exchange-traded fund (ETF) marketers have to meet financial advisors? Years ago, marketers and advisors mixed at top producer events or due diligence meetings, both today largely gone by the wayside. Traveling with the wholesaler, to the extent that it continues, may be the closest you get to a few advisors.
Online, of course, there have never been more opportunities to see advisors in action. That's the value proposition of our sister site AdvisorTweets.com, where we're aggregating financial advisors' tweets 24/7. But nothing beats listening to advisors talk in complete, connected sentences minus hashtags and shortened URLs.
This week Stephanie Sammons of WiredAdvisor.com moderated a Webcast that featured three of the most wired advisors we're aware of. They provided a close-up look at independent advisors who have mastered blogging, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, MailChimp, Google Analytics, etc. in just the last two years—and point to business successes they've enjoyed as a result.
Forget that the pace of adoption is slower in this industry than in other industries. As elsewhere, the “user” community in the investment business is using social media to find its own voice. If you still think of advisors as the “audience” for your marketing messages, these three panelists will help you reset:
- Cathy Curtis, certified financial planner (CFP) and owner of San Francisco-based Curtis Financial, which focuses on women and money. From her @CurtisFinancial Twitter stream, we know that she’ll be moderating an Outliers and Outperformers: Women in Fund Management program at the end of the month featuring executives Ariel Investments Mellody Hobson and money managers from The Pax International Fund, Doubline and Robert W. Baird & Co.
- Jeff Rose, a Carbondale, IL-based CFP. Rose may be the most prolific of the panel and he’s writing with a purpose: search engine rankings. We’ve mentioned Rose before, when his Good Financial Cents blog was ranking on the first page of Google’s results for “Roth IRA.”
- Curtis A. Smith, CFP and founder of Houston-based Interactive Capital Management. Even after 30 years in the business, Smith said he was not as well known locally as he wanted to be. Social media has changed that in the space of about one year. On Twitter, which is how we know him, he’s considered an uber-networker.
I suspect that at least a few of you are fighting the urge to say, "Well, OK but there are always going to be techie advisors, that's not the norm." How can you be so sure?
With this blog and with our business, our goal is to help you see ahead so you can plan. From the bottom up and from the top down, wirehouses and broker-dealers are working toward enabling advisors to participate online. On our AdvisorTweets blog this week, we objected to an Investment News Webinar that minimized the interest that's out there. Don't base your planning on that.
Survey after survey reports that marketing is a top concern of advisors, and yet few advisors have the appetite for old-school approaches. As word of these social media successes spreads, curiosity will be piqued of more than just technology-inclined advisors.
Toward the end of the Investment News hour, there was an exchange between reporter Davis D. Janowski and from Julie Gebert, Compliance Assistant Vice President of Cambridge Investment Research, Inc., a broker-dealer with a pilot underway. Janowski said, “I can’t count the number of young and young-ish advisors who’ve come to me and said, “Whatever I can do so I don’t have to ever do another breakfast seminar, sign me up!”
“This is so cost-effective that it makes it really hard for a rep/advisor to not want to take a look at it,” agreed Gebert.
We recommend that you listen to the WiredAdvisor Webcast in its entirety. Listen for the enthusiasm of the advisors as they toss out one concrete idea after another. We follow all three advisors closely on Twitter and see how their influence is spreading. Also, as you’ll hear, they’ve learned in short order how to be proficient marketers. Our notes follow.
An overview of advisors and blogging
Moderator Sammons, whose business offers turnkey blogging platforms for advisors, made these points:
- Fewer than 7% of advisors are blogging, according to American Century Investments’ social media survey.
- These are the early stages of adoption. Other professionals—lawyers, for example—are blogging more. “If you’re not using a blog, you’re missing an opportunity to connect with your niche market…Three years from now, I think there are going to be more advisors blogging. The time to act is now.”
- Blogs are the most commonly used tool in making financial decisions, according to a research study reported by Spectrem Group. (We'll also link to an AdvisorTweets blog post because it contains more data than you’ll find on the Spectrem site. Not sure how that happened, really.)
- For FINRA Compliance purposes, blog posts need to be pre-approved and need to be archived.
- A blog is the hub of the social media presence, it integrates with the Web site and all social networking activity. A blog serves as a magnet to pull in visitors from the social networks and capture a percentage of those visitors as leads. See Sammons' diagram below.
- “A blog is timeless, a permanent asset that grows over time."
Advisors’ approach to content generation
“Everyone who’s a financial advisor who’s successful knows how to have a conversation,” Sammons said. Even so, blogging adds a new demand on advisors' already scheduled days.
Curtis and Rose create unique content, while Smith subscribes to four or five ghost-written services. He takes what’s provided and adds his own spin.
“My philosophy is that our time is better spent on our business and spending time with clients. If you’re not taking care of your clients and you’re spending all of your time blogging, you’re not going to have a business,” Smith said.
Sammons’ reaction: “I tend to be more in the unique content camp but you also have to be careful about spreading yourself too thin…But there’s a direct relationship between the amount of content you’re posting and the amount of Web traffic and opportunities that come from that. You want to get on a schedule where you can post at least once a week.”
Curtis provided several ideas that help meet the blogger’s need to continually publish: Interviews, guest blog posts, book reviews, comments on other published articles.
“If you’re not a good writer but you have a lot of good thoughts, write your post and hire a copy editor to freshen it up for you. Yes, it costs money but it saves time and your work looks a lot better.” She also mentioned that she took Susan Weiner’s Investment Writing class where she learned mind-mapping and other ways to generate blog ideas.
Advisors’ time commitment to blogging: Early on, Rose said he spent 20 hours a week, it’s now down to five to 10 hours. Curtis: Eight hours/week Smith: Two to three hours/week.
Navigating Compliance issues
Of the panelists, only Rose works for a FINRA-regulated broker-dealer (LPL). Rose writes his post and then sends to LPL Compliance, which turns it around three to four days later. Sammons said “LPL really gets the social media thing and have been quite friendly to work with.”
Curtis and Smith are RIAs who write about general personal finance topics, don’t give recommendations and don’t write about investments. They try to keep their topics "timeless."
Advisors’ content syndication
“When you write your blog post, you don’t just let it sit on your blog. You post it to LinkedIn, you post it to Facebook, to Twitter, you post it to groups on LinkedIn that are relevant and you generate more interest that way,” Curtis said.
Smith and Curtis use Google Analytics extensively to understand where traffic comes from and to track the popularity of individual posts. Curtis said most of her traffic comes from Twitter.
“A blog’s important,” Smith said, “but you’re going to want an email newsletter, too. How do I get to my centers of influence, my CPAS, my attorney, my insurance contacts? I’ll put five of my posts at the bottom of the newsletter. That’s a super way to keep in front. I found that most of the lawyers don’t go to blogs but they’ll read newsletters.”
Because he segments his mailing list in MailChimp and tracks open rates, he knows that one client forwarded his recent quarterly report to 80 people. “It expands the reach you can’t get with the blog.”
The return on the investment being made
Rose said his first success occurred when he used his blog as “an online business card” to get on the local television news once a month to talk about a blog-related topic. And, a local newspaper site will include a shout-out to his site once a week.
“That’s all well and good but it doesn’t pay the bills,” Rose said. “In April 2009 I got an email from the form on my blog. The first client I got and they’re bringing in just over $2 million. That’s when the light bulb went off that all these efforts are paying off. Since then I’ve brought in about $1.5 million.
“Last week,” Rose continued, “a guy who was referred to me came into my office. He knew me. He’d seen me on the news, went to my blog, printed off four articles and had them ready in front of me. Just to witness that was one of the coolest things and it all originated from the blog.”
Curtis: “I don’t know if the attention I’m attracting is coming directly from the blog. It’s the whole piece of blogging, newsletter, social media, ranking high on Google for my local area. But over the last year I’ve had more media contact…and more calls from potential new clients than I’ve ever had.”
Smith: “More people come to me now and more of the phone calls are because people found me through the Google search. Three years ago I wasn’t doing any marketing, totally relied on NAPFA [the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors], the FPA [Financial Planning Association], all those things that were easier to do. Now I can’t find them [as traffic sources] on my Google Analytics.
"It’s all based on people looking me up and finding me because I’ve got the Google rank. They come to the front page of my Web site and see my social media activity. They can find me and find my voice and see what I’m all about,” said Smith.
Blogging as a preferred prospecting tool
“Is blogging your primary way of prospecting?” was a question from a member of the audience.
“Absolutely,” Smith said. “This social media is absolutely the only way to go. Even though I’m the oldest one in the group, you still have to deal with younger clients and if you’re not into this electronic media you’re going to die as a firm in the future, I think.
“I’m in the process of dealing with my clients’ kids now, I’m into the second generation. The only way I can deal with a lot of them is Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter,” Smith said. “I get messages on all three of those and I have to look at them constantly because that’s where the young ones go. It’s not as much email anymore. It’s a different way of attracting a future audience and I think you’ve got to be aware of that.”
“Plus,” Curtis asked the other panelists, “when was the last time either one of you cold-called or door-knocked?”