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Wednesday
Apr182012

Really? LinkedIn Groups Are Asset Managers’ Most Important Social Media Offering? 

American Century Investments yesterday released an update to last year’s widely quoted survey on advisor adoption and use of social media.

Overall, the 2012 survey reflects progress that’s along the lines of what we all have been seeing:

  • Nine out of 10 advisors now have a social media profile or account—73% Facebook (vs. 71% in 2011), 62% LinkedIn (vs. 55% in 2011) and 27% Twitter (vs. 19% in 2011).
  • More advisors are active—56% (vs. 51% in 2011) say they’re either moderate or extensive social media users.
  • Access via a mobile device, which is the headline of the American Century announcement, has more than doubled.
  • And, something that will please Google, 19% of advisors created Google+ accounts in the nine months that social network has been live.

But there is one finding that’s quite surprising. When asked “Which is the most important social media offering an asset manager can provide to you as a financial professional?”, advisors prioritized LinkedIn Groups, Advisor Communities and Facebook Pages higher than a blog or Twitter feed. If I were asked to rank these, I have to say that this is almost the reverse order that I might assign in terms of their specific usefulness to advisors.

LinkedInGroupsAssetManagersImage
And, this doesn’t quite jibe with what 60% of social media-using advisors say they want from asset managers, which is commentary and market insights. LinkedIn Groups and communities are supposed to be more about interaction than about commentary and market insights. There are other ways for asset managers to push, and for advisors to receive commentary and insights than via asset manager LinkedIn groups.

A Strong Showing For “Don’t Know”

In a telephone conversation yesterday afternoon, Jennifer Sussman, Director of Digital Engagement for American Century, took it in stride when I told her I was skeptical about the LinkedIn group top ranking.

For their part, she said, American Century was surprised that Facebook pages came in second as an answer to the question.

"We have never looked at Facebook as an advisor medium," Sussman said. "When you’re on Facebook, you’re there for personal entertainment. As much as we love what we do, I don’t think personal entertainment is the class that we live in," she said, laughing.

Yep, I question that, too. Seventeen percent of those surveyed said Facebook pages are the most important offering an asset manager can provide. Elsewhere, the study says that 2% of the advisors surveyed use Facebook for business use only and 18% use Facebook for business and personal. That would mean that of the total 20% of advisors who use Facebook for business, all but 3% believe prioritize Facebook pages from asset managers above all else.

Maybe the advisors just recognized LinkedIn and Facebook as the social sites they used the most, Sussman offered.

Or, perhaps it’s most telling, she said, that 18% of advisors said they “didn’t know” the most important thing asset managers could do for them in social media.

I agree with that. What advisors know for certain is what they’re up to, and the rest of the American Century research lays out what advisors are doing and thinking about their own level of social media participation. But, as the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs famously said, “Customers cannot tell you what they need.”

From What We Can See

Many asset managers have already considered the effort required to commit to building a LinkedIn group and decided against it. I wouldn’t let the 22% of 300 advisors surveyed change your minds about that.

Among the largest firms, I count five existing LinkedIn investment management discussion groups belonging to Black Rock, Fidelity, iShares, MFS and Putnam. And, after I published this post, I was reminded of a sixth—Balanced Advisor Sponsored by Janus Labs. (Many other asset managers have LinkedIn groups but for alumni.) From what we can all see from the group statistics available on each LinkedIn group page, I have my doubts that the return on starting a new group today would justify the work involved.

Asset manager LinkedIn Group membership is on the rise, likely in line with LinkedIn membership and growing awareness of LinkedIn among advisors. But engagement in terms of relevant discussions or comments is at a low level in the asset managers' closed groups (Putnam and MFS). In the best cases, many of the discussions are started by the asset manager admin of the group. In groups that are open communities (Fidelity, BlackRock, iShares), self-promotional spam appears to be overwhelming the group’s intent.

PutnamLinkedInGroup
It’s dangerous business to dismiss survey findings just because they’re surprising. So, what could explain advisors’ high LinkedIn Group ranking? A few possibilities, I suppose:

  • That there are some asset managers running popular groups that don’t bear their names and therefore can’t be found via LinkedIn Search.
  • That there are some closed asset manager LinkedIn groups that are hidden from the directory search and otherwise not visible to the rest of us but providing high value to the advisors who belong to them. …And that this research found those advisors active in the closed groups.
  • That advisors are taking in the asset manager content posted to the LinkedIn groups and clicking through to asset managers’ sites, producing site traffic/benefit the rest of us can’t see. However, for whatever reason (Compliance? Shyness?), group members are not entering into conversations in the groups. If this possibility is true, these must be different advisors than join some of the truly active advisor-focused LinkedIn groups.

Just A Head Fake?

I lean toward the possibility that this answer is nothing more than a head fake, which is what you're going to get every once in a while in a quickly evolving space.

As solid as it may be in providing a snapshot of social media usage, one survey isn’t going to serve as a substitute for the work you and your firm need to do to fully consider the social activities your clients will respond to. I may have belabored the point here because the 2011 American Century survey had such traction last year and I'd hate to think that the answers to this question would be institutionalized without a certain amount of critical thinking. Thriving in ambiguity requires self-sufficiency.

What are your thoughts on this and other insights from the latest research? Do you know of an asset manager who's managing an effective advisor-focused LinkedIn Group strategy? Please—let us know below.

Reader Comments (9)

Pat,

Your take on this topic makes sense to me. I think Sussman may be correct when she explains LI's lead by saying it's the site most used by advisors--especially those with wary compliance departments.

April 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSusan Weiner, CFA

Susan, you make a good point. LinkedIn may have an advantage in that advisor Compliance guidance may allow passive participation in groups. And so we see the asset manager LinkedIn groups growing in size.

From the perspective of the asset manager starting a group, though, the objective is not just to grow passive membership but to expect to deliver value to the members. The inability of members to engage or their lack of interest in engaging places significant burden on the asset manager sponsor as a community manager to keep things going. Today it's sort of a case where they know the advisors are out there because they can hear them breathing but...

As social media participation and engagement builds, I leave room for the possibility that LinkedIn group sponsorship will be the best thing that asset managers do in social media for advisors. I just don’t see how that was true in 2011-2012.

As always, thanks for commenting.

April 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPat Allen

Great post Pat. I think the "I don't know" selection is telling. In fact, I would venture to say if the word "website" was used in the survey instead of "blog", you might have seen a significant uptick in responses there.

As a small case study, we've invested ($$) in building a LinkedIn Group (2500+ members) AND a Facebook Business Page (1000+ fans) purely targeting financial advisors and wealth managers. Although our numbers aren't substantial, it's still been a significant testing ground for us. While these are important channels to consider in building a digital presence, syndicating your thought leadership, and engaging advisors, in both cases you tend to get only have a small percentage of members who actively engage in these channels on a consistent basis (if at all). LinkedIn does allow you to send private messages to group members once a week, which can be quite beneficial (and something we haven't leveraged enough).

Hands down the LinkedIn Group is more active than the Facebook Business Page.

Ultimately though we've found that the comprehensive strategy of being "everywhere" (email, social, mobile) with your website/blog as the central hub driving distribution is really the answer. Today, financial advisors are in charge of what, when, how, and where they choose to consume content and engage with us, and these consumption methods are extremely fragmented.

Would love your thoughts!

Stephanie

April 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie Sammons

Steph, I’m so glad you found this and posted because I know you’re a LinkedIn fangirl for what it’s done for you and your business in terms of connections and visibility. And, of course, you work with advisors.

I think you hit the nail on the head—the fragmented “audience” makes it very challenging for all of us to understand where to concentrate our efforts. And, then opportunities shift as some sites go cold and others warm up. Quora, Pinterest, Google+ just to name a few.

LinkedIn’s private message capability is an advantage. However, I wonder how many LinkedIn group members send all of their group messages to a separate folder in their email, which may diminish the impact.

Regarding the American Century survey results, I assume you saw the impressive growth reported in the percentage of advisors who maintain a professional blog—from 9% in 2010 to 17% in 2012. WiredAdvisor.com was no doubt behind some of that!

April 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPat Allen

Great point on the messaging capability. It would absolutely depend on the end-user's settings.

I did see the blog stat which is great!

Bottom line is not to build your house on sand. As networks will come and go, your permanent digital presence has to be built on a strong foundation!

Steph

April 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie Sammons

Pat,

Great relevant post as always. You have great insight. It is funny that you posted information on Putnams study. I just posted a summary of Penton Media's survey this morning. http://recommendedadvisor.com/social-compliance/making-social-media-for-business-accountable-actionable-and-effective/

From the advisors that i have been consulting with, as the survey (and comments) confirm. Linkedin, leads the way for sales professionals in regulated industries. Linkedin is a very powerful tool for advisors, much more than the online resume Linkedin was know for in its infancy.

When financial institutions enable advisors, you will find them migrating to all of the networks that their prospects are on. Each network has set up a slightly different infrastructure, causing people to share information differently. Advisors need this information to put together the complete profile of their prospects and clients. This information, if organized and responded to correctly is very powerful for building lifetime relationships. That's just LISTENING... only one small part of social media.

The first thing that I tell and advisor to do, is to bring their offline world, online. They are amazed with the information they uncover about their clients! Powerful stuff!

P.S. I am going to add a link to your post at the end of my post.

April 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRich LoPresti

I meant American Century!

April 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRich LoPresti

Rich, thanks for taking an interest and pausing to comment.

Bring the advisor’s offline world online, you say? In that case, fund company wholesalers and not their home offices should be running (closed) LinkedIn groups. If an asset manager could ever swing the supervision and expense of empowering wholesalers to lead (closed, mostly likely) social network discussions, etc., things could get very interesting and even valuable for both sides. (I think I’m safe in assuming that none are going on today but if anyone knows differently, please inform.)

Thanks for the link from RecommendedAdvisor.com.

April 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPat Allen

[...] an asset manager could provide to them. Pat Allen, Principal of Rock the Boat Marketing expressed skepticism about the results from that data point. In the past two years, LinkedIn has made big changes to [...]

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