Personal Or Turnkey? This Must-Watch Video Presents 2 Very Different Approaches To Social Media

If your job as a mutual fund or exchange-traded fund (ETF) marketer involves understanding how financial advisors are using social media to build their online profiles and raise awareness of their business, you really need to watch the 40-minute video embedded below.

This video of a Webcast organized by LinkedIn and streamed live on July 22 provides a point-in-time look at the differences between how an independent advisor and a top-down headquarters-managed wirehouse thinks of participation in social networks as a means of competing for investor attention. These differences may inform the content and resources you create to support their efforts.

Many asset managers have sharpened their focus on independent advisors and you’ll learn a lot from comments made by Cathy Curtis, the quintessentially social financial planner I wrote about last July and continue to follow via her Twitter account.

A Way For An Independent Advisor To Compete

But the retail investment management business has relied largely upon distribution from advisors within wirehouses and brokerages, and you’re likely to be just as interested in what Morgan Stanley Smith Barney’s director of social media, Lauren Boyman, has to say. Morgan Stanley made news in May with the announcement that it would be “the first major wealth management firm” “to use key social networking sites to market themselves and share the firm’s intellectual content, while complying with regulatory requirements.”

The first half of this video goes as expected. Curtis discusses the business success she’s had using a blend of 80% business and 20% personal content on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Independent advisors are their own brands, Curtis says. Starting in 2008, she recognized that social media “was a way that I could compete with the bigger firms. The bigger firms have so many advertising and marketing dollars to spend on so many platforms. Social media is inexpensive as far as dollars go… So, I was thrilled to find a platform that I could use that Charles Schwab and Fidelity and Vanguard and Morgan Stanley weren’t using. It was my way to get in there and get myself known in the world.”

Likewise, Boyman provides the reasoning and work that led Morgan Stanley to prepare their 17,800 advisors to join LinkedIn and Twitter.

Curating Internal Thought Leadership

The conversation gets especially interesting right around the 19:00 mark. It’s after Curtis describes the tools she uses and time she invests in finding relevant content to share with her followers.

Boyman uses Curtis’ explanation as an opportunity to get a word in for the Morgan Stanley model. “You’re having to do all of that work of curating what’s out there and I think the benefit of working with a big firm is that we do that for our advisors. So we are curating not just external content but more so what I think provides our advisors with a competitive advantage is that we’re curating our own internal thought leadership.”

Global investment committee content (and Boyman added that a Morgan Stanley Global Investment Committee Twitter account would be forthcoming), wealth management and retirement research content all will be content sourced for pre-approved tweets.

There has been some blowback about Morgan Stanley’s plan to equip its advisors with pre-approved tweets, Boyman acknowledges “I think it’s a bit of a misperception. Partially our FAs will be at an advantage because they’re going to have this constant unique content to send out and it makes the program for them turnkey. Every day they don’t have to think about, ‘What am I going to send out on social media today, is it going to be relevant?’ It makes it easy for them.”

Social Media Is About Connecting

Curtis’ reaction, representative of many advisors I’ve seen commenting online, is telling.

“I think the term preapproved content alone is just scary," Curtis says with a giggle. "…Preapproved content doesn’t sound unique to me or personal. I hope that my edge is going to be that I chose my own content and that it can be personal…Social media is about being personal and truly connecting.”

Most of you work for firms of some size and no doubt understand the enormity and complexity of the organizational task that Morgan Stanley is taking on. Having worked for large firms (including Morgan Stanley, in fact), I can empathize, too.

Can You/Should You Streamline?

But the more I hear about this plan, the more I worry that it suffers from a flaw that I see in some other large-scale plans I’ve been asked to evaluate: Heavy on streamlining the pain for the participants as one-half of the conversation but light on the value to be offered to the other half of the conversation.

I disagree when Boyman says, “It’s not about generating online interaction, it’s supposed to lead to a phone call or a lunch or an in-person meeting.” That may be a happy consequence, yes, but it’s not linear.

And—which I fear may be the next expectation of some—it’s not formulaic. To use just a hypothetical example, five tweets every day for one month will not necessarily yield two new clients. But it is possible that such volume would produce a random question or thought from followers expecting a response. Then what?

Effective social media curation and participation is squishy. Curtis has an excellent sense of what works for her and why because she’s been the one doing her own trial and error. I don’t know if you can shortcut that.

This is why social media participation is difficult to scale. In order to benefit in unpredictable, serendipitous ways, there needs to be deep, personal engagement. An independent advisor may be so confident of social media's potential that she or he will invest the time. But if you're responsible for prepping an army of advisors or a sales force of wholesalers with varying levels of conviction that "social media works," you too may be feeling the pressure to minimize the work involved and streamline the process. Just be careful with that.