Behind The Scenes Of BlackRock's New Advisor Insight Center

It’s been a while since a mutual fund or exchange-traded fund (ETF) company hosted something new and different.

The trend of the last several years has been to package up content contributions and ship them over piecemeal to digital get-togethers on other sites with more—and more consistent—traffic from financial advisors. Asset managers pay to sponsor Webinars on trade publications’ sites, host LinkedIn discussion groups and use Twitter to share pithy insights and content links.

Taken together, these tactics can be an effective if disjointed means of regularly calling attention to thought leadership. The hope is that at least a few advisors will follow the content trail back to the mutual fund and ETF provider sites, where there will be a continued opportunity to educate about products and capabilities.

Launched five weeks ago, the BlackRock Insight Center appears to be bucking the trend, and a conversation with Rob Nestor, Managing Director and Head of iShares Product Strategy, is a reminder of the benefits of bringing people together on a site you control. BlackRock has built a thought leadership hub where they can control the registrations, keep the focus (it’s all BlackRock/iShares all the time) and gain insights to what’s resonating.

As you can see in the screenshot above, the imagery used on the site suggests that a virtual event is in progress, and note that the first content area is called Featured Sessions. In fact, the insight center is the evolution of a one-day virtual conference BlackRock sponsored for the last two years.

While BlackRock’s advisor site (Advisor Center) contains product information and tools, the center’s focus is on thought leadership, Nestor said.

“Our views on retirement, regulation, the move to fee-based advisory are frequently sought. While advisors told us that they appreciate the virtual conferences and Webinars we offer, they said they want to consume our content on their own time…This is a platform we can use to communicate interactively and personally, at scale,” Nestor explained.

BlackRock’s interest in "getting out there with a clear view about how to use active and passive investing in portfolios" was also a primary driver.

To date, 2,000 advisors have registered, according to Nestor. Of those, 80% have returned for at least one session. Advisors are spending an average of 30 minutes on the site, with 60% of the traffic occurring during the business day (10 a.m. EST and 3 p.m. EST).

While there were no formal projections of usage in the center’s first month, suffice it to say that BlackRock is pleased.

According to Nestor, advisors are remaining engaged with 15-minute and longer videos. Most popular has been the nearly 20-minute video, “The Price of Advice: Where The Industry Is Headed,” watched by one-third of the center’s visitors.

The center supports repeat visits by offering a Briefcase function for the saving of content and a My Personal Map to keep track of visited locations.

Building An Advisor Community

What’s most unique to me is the center’s suggestion of—and enabling of—community. There’s no other firm-sponsored and firm-hosted site that I’m aware of that 1)enables a search of members 2)enables contact saving and message-sending and 3)enables networking in real-time.  

“We wanted to create a community that’s not reliant upon BlackRock being at the center,” said Nestor, which sounded like a bit of an oxymoron on an all-BlackRock site. He went on to explain that BlackRock can’t see which advisors are talking to who or what’s being said. Only aggregate user data is being collected and analyzed.

Although the center has already seen some networking, Nestor soft-pedaled what he called the “modest” networking opportunities. To date, most of the registered advisors have chosen not to make their profiles public (and therefore accessible to others). Nestor said some advisors just want to protect their privacy. I wonder whether some firms' Compliance policies also might be inhibiting participation.

The growth of the community aspect of the site bears watching. What firm wouldn’t like its own forum where it could engage advisors with its own offerings and have exclusive access to what they have to say, for a competitive, including product, advantage? This has been the dream of sponsors of advisor-only sites since back in the day.

Also, if it catches on, this could raise advisors' expectations when they log in to other firms' sites.

Breakneck Launch

Planning for the Insight Center began in late April and the site launched in August.

Just four months for a site like this? That’s breakneck speed at any asset management firm—even at the industry’s largest, I would guess.

Content development is one thing to have to coordinate. In fact, videos with some of the firm’s heaviest hitters were created just for the center.

Technology-wise, what made the launch possible is that the center is hosted on the same platform the firm used for its virtual conferences.

There are both advantages and disadvantages to outsourcing the development of an ongoing Web asset to a provider using its own proprietary platform.

A key advantage, according to Nestor, was the superior quality of the video and the underlying technology.

But it’s not an integrated experience. The URL clearly goes to a non-BlackRock domain: Content searches are limited to what’s on the Insight Center, not what’s available from all of Some of the terminology (referring to registered community members as “visitors,” for example) is more suited to events. The attendee guide goes to a 2012 generic document about virtual environments.

Accessing from Apple devices prompts the download of an app from a publisher called Virtual Environments (BlackRock isn’t mentioned anywhere on the download page), and the Android app itself is devoid of all of the BlackRock branding.

Some of this would be a showstopper at other firms, and certainly BlackRock is no slouch in the branding department.

Yet, sometimes in the tension between “do you want it fast or do you want it perfect?”, fast wins with digital communicating—and it ought to. The fine points that marketers sweat out just don’t matter to most users, certainly not at launch. BlackRock wanted a way this year to showcase what it has to say, and it prioritized fast.

Given that most of the visitors are arriving during the workday, three-quarters are visiting via desktop (the best user experience), with 18% via their smartphones and 9% via a tablet, according to data BlackRock provided.

“It was a debate internally,” Nestor confirmed. “Could we/should we build it just as fast? But we felt [the platform] was best of breed.” And, he added, BlackRock IT is “looking at replicating the center internally.”

Support for live events is one of the platform’s advantages. It’s possible that BlackRock will use the new center to deliver its 2015 outlook live later this year, for example.

“Live events will be more the exception than the rule,” Nestor said. “They can be a little risky, everything has to go right at the same time.”

Promotion of the Insight Center has been via mostly digital means. I first heard of it from the BlackRock Twitter account but it's been mentioned in the firm's email, Facebook and LinkedIn activities. Limited targeted advertising is planned.

The Gladys Kravitz Guide To Snooping On Your Neighbors

Gladys Kravitz, the Bewitched character who felt it was her duty to keep tabs on her neighbors—I’m hoping you’re familiar with this 1960s sitcom via Nick At Nite or maybe the half-hearted movie—was simply ahead of her time. Today, she might be Director of Competitive Intelligence and Strategic Benchmarking Insights for an asset management firm.

Something was going on over there, Gladys was right, and she was relying on only her keen powers of observation.

If you are equally as passionate about your neighbors/competitors online, today you have many more tools at your disposal. I’ve written previously about SharedCount, SimilarWeb, App Annie and SpyFu, among others. Here’s a quick look at four more that you can use to snoop with.

How Do They Do That?

If you’re wondering how a competitor is working its own brand magic, just use to check under the lid.

Information on the enabling technologies running a Website can be valuable to technology solutions salespeople (BuildWith’s target audience) and the pricing packages reflect the value and power available, including SalesForce and LinkedIn integrations.

My needs (e.g., which firms are using WordPress as their blogging platforms?) are simple, and yours may be too. For us, the Chrome extension provides more than enough intelligence on the content management, Web analytics and marketing automation solutions powering mutual fund and exchange-traded (ETF) fund sites.

For example, here’s an excerpt of the American Funds technology profile, showing the analytics and tracking technologies employed.

Banner Bonanza

Are you in need of inspiration for an upcoming digital campaign? Well, you could make a nuisance of yourself on the trade media sites, reloading and reloading hoping to catch different creative. Or you could head on over to, where you can search by advertiser and find multiple ad units. Clicking on one of the ads will reveal some information about where it last ran.

Media planners would do much more with this site, and brand analytics are what Moat sells. Here again, I'm appreciating what Moat gives away.  

The screenshot below shows the detail provided on one of 765 Vanguard ads Moat has logged.

Watch This

YouTube success requires standing out from the crowd, because the crowd is adding 100 hours of video each minute of every day.

If you’re not familiar with optimizing for YouTube or if you’re unhappy with your results, VidIQ Vision is a terrific tool that enables you to learn from how others do it. Just add this Chrome extension to your browser and you’ll see detailed publishing information about every video you review on YouTube.

While you could limit your research to just mutual fund and ETF firms, why not learn from what the top brands on YouTube are doing? The screenshot below shows the optimization supporting a GoPro video published a week ago, which now has almost 2 million views. Note that strong social support and a large follower base helped drive views, too.

What’s Working?

As I blogged about last week, content marketers need to focus on what’s working and produce more of that while producing less of what isn’t working. Simple.

Your analytics on your content are central to that analysis, of course. But—since your competitors are also writing for the same audiences—there’s something to be learned from the content that’s taking off on others’ sites.

Use Buzzsumo for this.

Let’s look at the BlackRock blog, which is not just the most prolific but probably the most socially shared. Check out the Total Shares column at the far right. Quality, frequency and social appeal can be a powerful combination.

You could spend hours on this site. Note the advanced filtering and exporting capability. It produces results for Web pages as well as for blog posts. Buzzsumo sells solutions for influencer analysis but you can see a lot with a trial account.

Now let’s go out there and make Gladys proud.

Marketing At The Morningstar Conference: Finserv Goes Funserv

Instead of publishing a blog post related to asset management marketing last Thursday, I headed over to the Morningstar Investment Conference in Chicago (my hometown) to see what I could see in action. I didn’t expect to meet up with many marketers onsite, and didn’t, but I certainly saw a lot of your work.

What follows are a few random, ragged observations. The overall event itself was packed with information and opportunity. Congratulations to Morningstar's Leslie Marshall, Director – Events, Magazine and Social Media, and the entire conference team, and my thanks for having me as a guest.

MainStay: In It To Win It

MainStay Investments was at the conference to win it. The firm has had a great couple of years, and it’s a reasonable assumption that advisors would have more than a little interest in the MainStay booth. Why not test some cool tech to drive engagement?

In this video, Frank Ranu, Senior Associate, Social Media Digital and Creative Services, explains an innovative Morningstar-focused campaign that involves a box of Cracker Jack, a smartphone app (Taggar) and a woman who walks out from around the box of Cracker Jack to greet Morningstar attendees and encourage them to enter a contest.

This was a campaign with more than a few pieces, and Frank’s analytics suggest it was positively received.

A Slice Of Life

Over at the William Blair booth, my friend, former colleague and, I should say, current client John Jackson, Intermediary Marketing Manager, was leading with content—two-minute-ish video clips that are at the core of the firm’s Watch and learn alternatives campaign.

A single image doesn’t quite capture the effect of dynamic portfolio manager Brian Singer mid-delivery so I took a few rapid shots on my Android phone and let the Google+ Auto Awesome feature do the rest.

The result shows a slice of life in a fund company booth—Marketing does its job while the Sales guy does his.


Natty Marketer

After having been named the #1 fund family for 2013 performance in the annual Barron’s/Lipper Fund Family Ranking, Natixis took a victory lap by serving as principal sponsor of the conference. Natixis was everywhere, sponsoring the mobile app, the complimentary charging station, the beverage cups and the chewing gum.

We might have talked about all of that but when John Refford, Natixis Vice President, Strategic Marketing Technology, and I met up for the first time, I was drawn to his Pebble. The Pebble is a watch he helped fund on its first day on Kickstarter in 2012. John received it about a year later.

If wearable tech truly takes off in 2014, John has a headstart in familiarizing himself and thinking about its value for this space. Way to stay sharp, John.

Our Very Own Meme!

In opening the conference, Morningstar’s Kunal Kapoor, Head of Information Products and Client Solutions, promised an upbeat get-together. And, with the exception of some comments from selected portfolio managers, the conference delivered. At one point, Refford even invoked the term “funserv” in the #MICUS tweet stream.

Ironically (given the recent $50 billion outflows from PIMCO Total Return Fund), from the general session dais it was PIMCO’s Bill Gross who introduced levity. As Carlos Santana-esque music played, Gross took the stage wearing sunglasses and he even paused to check his cool factor out on the big screens.

It prompted some entertaining tweets, and finserv social media hit a new high when Michael Kitces posted this meme-worthy image. Animated gifs and selfies (see more below) followed. 

Asset Managers And Social Media?

When meeting up with like-minded people in the Social Media Lounge in the middle of the Exhibit Hall, the conversation naturally turned to the state of social media in the asset management industry. These are my latest thoughts, colored by what I saw at the conference.

Kudos To Morningstar For Leading The Way

I sincerely believe that Morningstar itself, led by Leslie Marshall, is to be credited with helping accelerate the awareness of and adoption of social media in the investment industry.

The origin of Morningstar’s business was in the compilation, standardization and distribution of fund data and analysis—basically making it easier for investors to understand and follow funds. Then Morningstar was easily the first investment industry publisher to seize on using social platforms to advance the exchange of insights using the new content formats.

Onsite during the event, it’s not just Leslie who works the #MICUS hashtag. It’s also the business leaders whose full-on participation gives the social channel added editorial cachet. This assures that the stream isn’t overrun by tweets promoting booth numbers and giveaways, and that’s important.

The level of engagement this year rounded out the content planners’ on-stage personas while also demonstrating their interest in how the audience is reacting to the content, accessible via the Twitter backchannel.  

Scott Burns, director of manager research and apparent master of ceremonies, had sent more than 30 tweets—some his own thoughts but many retweets of others’—in the first hour of the event. Then he sent this tweet, which made me smile. It's pretty obvious he's taken on tweeting as part of his job, too.

Just Half Of Presenting Asset Managers Have A Twitter Account…

By now, most of the largest asset management firms do something in social, even if it’s just a LinkedIn company page or YouTube channel with a video or two. But across-the-board adoption, best practices and accompanying gains in relevance and engagement? No, we’re not close yet.

Most of the presenters at the conference work for asset managers, and yet asset managers had little to say about their participation or their commentary on Twitter.

By my count, only half of the 27 presenters from asset management firms—and these firms were those selected by Morningstar analysts as being the most program-worthy in 2014, remember—hail from firms with Twitter accounts.

…And Most Of Those That Did Used Them For #MICUS Promotions

A few of the firms that have Twitter accounts used them and the #MICUS hashtag, but not always to the best effect.

If you’ve ever watched the tweet stream closely during an event, particularly during a general session event where most are focused on this one piece of content, it’s a bit jarring to see a promotional message (i.e., a notice about the swag available at a booth). Too many of those off-topic tweets were from firms that have much more to say but didn't.

Why were asset managers’ contributions to the conversation so marginalized?

For starters, let's consider why asset managers with Twitter accounts were mostly silent about what their presenters were sharing in Chicago.

Compliance issues would be my first guess. It does take some doing, including some of it in real-time, to use Twitter to share event content in addition to marketing updates. The possibility of being on the receiving end of tweets responding to the content has to be anticipated and planned for, too (even if the decision is to not respond). 

Below is a tweet that J.P. Morgan Funds had queued up and ready to go in support of its presenter. Note how the use of an image enables more to be said than can fit in 140 characters. There are ways to participate, as this example shows.

A second factor might be the siloed manner in which event participation is divvied up as opposed to coordinated. Marketing’s role is usually limited to the booth, any related social (in the physical world) events, maybe pre-event emails. The content to be presented is the province of the Investments professionals, who may be oblivious to Marketing's interest in it.

A third consideration may have to do with “ownership," internal governance of the account and how narrow and/or deep the owners feel is appropriate to go with tweets emanating from a single, mostly B-to-B conference.  

At the same time, there are also opportunities for non-presenters to take part in content conversations. By tracking the #MICUS hashtag, firms both in the Exhibit Hall and outside it could have weighed in with their own content contributions.

This business may be too genteel to expect any bond managers to have had Twitter fun with Bill Gross' sunglasses-wearing but maybe there was an exhibitor that could have offered him branded croakies, if that's still a thing. The dreamer in me wishes that Gross, no stranger to Twitter, would have commented on some of the post-keynote tweets. But none of that happened this year.

Morningstar delivered a vibrant, highly tracked backchannel. We'll have to wait for next year (that's just something we do in Chicago) to see whether more asset managers will find a way to capitalize on the natural opportunities that accrue from taking part in relevant conversations.

I’m not saying anything that most marketers don’t understand and agree with. It’s just another measure of where we are, and the extent to which the benefits of being social have yet to be inculcated within the industry.

Meet Some Of The Tribe

Finally, much of the energy at any conference has to do with people coming together, to learn and exchange ideas but also to see one another, for the first time or again.

So, let me go personal here and say how much fun it was to meet up with people who are active in finserv topics online. Since I’ve mentioned everyone in this photo on the blog at one point or another, I thought you might want to see an update to their avatars. More? Blane's animated gif is here.

Shown in the snapshot with me are:


RIAs, Content Scoring, YouTube Views: It’s A Random Reading Round-up

I never met a free ebook that I didn’t download. I’m inclined to take online surveys and accept flyers from people on the street, too. Hey, we’re all in marketing, we have to support one another.

Here’s my latest report on a random collection of ebooks, reports, a presentation deck and a whitepaper that I’ve read in the last few months, and recommend to you.

Rounding Up The RIAs

“The RIA Channel: A Roadmap for Driving Growth” is a 14-page whitepaper from Broadridge. It’s a data-packed overview of how mutual fund and exchange-traded fund (ETF) marketing has needed to dramatically change as RIAs have become an increasing focus.

“While the four main wirehouses offer central points of contact and provide a degree of product and process uniformity for their approximately 57,000 advisers, a number of RIAs just shy of that number are spread among 14,000 RIA firms,” is how the paper succinctly summarizes the challenge (while simultaneously making the argument for digital).

The paper includes insights on RIA segments and some suggestions for targeting the best prospects and product positioning. My favorite graphic maps where RIAs are in the country, shown below. Sourced by Access Data, a Broadridge company, it’s a nice content marketing turn, too.

A Broad Dive Into All Things Digital

Before you reflexively go to print Experian’s The 2014 Digital Marketer, you should know that it’s 138 pages long. Then again, it's a resource you may find yourself referring to all year. 

Published in March, this is Experian’s sixth annual report of benchmarks and trends. Financial services is mentioned as one of the leaders in Internet advertising, second only to retail, and there’s this table showing the percentage of people who transact stocks/bonds/mutual funds on mobile, tablets and desktops (more on tablets than on the PC?!).

But read this more as a lay of the land of all things email, mobile, social and search/display. Also, this year’s report devotes several pages to cross-channel marketing, as important to this space as it is to business-to-consumer businesses. 

Some Of These Are Not Like The Others

First there was lead scoring—online it involves interpreting a Website visitors' digital body language and behavior and understanding where they are in their information-gathering process. Because it’s marketers who are accountable for creating the online content offered at various points in the purchase funnel, it naturally follows that there should be some scoring of content, too.

This Kapost deck (the link opens a PDF)—and the video below—is slightly more commercial than the others in this round-up. Kapost sells content marketing software. Even so, it’s a good primer if you haven’t yet started distinguishing between the performance of your individual content assets. It’s a quick, heavily illustrated 40 pages. For the video, you’ll need to know that MQL stands for marketing qualified lead.

YouTube Views Before Subscribers

To no one’s surprise, OpenSlate’s Top 500 Brands on YouTube industry report does not include an investment company.

The most successful non-entertainment brands average 1.4 million average monthly video views and have an average of 82,000 subscribers. Investment firms don’t come close. In fact, the Business and Finance Industry, lumped together in a way that echoes YouTube’s maddening categorization, represents only about 20 of the top 500. And, they’re companies like SpaceX, Boeing, Geico, GE and Lockheed Martin. 

Here’s the graph from the report that’s worth your consideration: The relationship between views and subscribers. On average across all YouTube channels, every 200 views results in a new subscriber, OpenSlate reports. Brands generally need almost four times that—750 views—to convert a single subscriber. And, as you can see in the OpenSlate graph below, “business and finance” channels need close to 1,000. 

“There are many factors working against brands in this regard, including an inconsistent content and publishing strategy and the likely impression by a viewer that whatever drew them to the brand’s content in the first place will not be repeated. A high percentage of TrueView driven (paid) views by brands also has a large impact,” according to the report.

The Raw Power Of Tech-Driven Marketing

I don’t even know where to start to summarize this must-read perspective on how Marketing has changed. In the 40-page New Brand of Marketing ebook, Scott Brinker of takes a leisurely approach as he recounts seven “meta-trends” that have led to nothing short of "cataclysmic" disruption in how marketers work:

  • From traditional to digital
  • From media silos to converged media
  • From outbound to inbound
  • From communications to experiences
  • From art and copy to code and data
  • From rigid plans to agile iterations
  • From agencies to in-house marketing

You’ll see much of the research and many of the datapoints that digital marketers like to quote and cite (e.g., on average 57% of the buyer’s journey happens online before prospects even talk to a salesperson), but Brinker provides the context and direction for them.

The narrative builds as a call to action for marketing to step up and “harness the raw power” of what's disrupted it. Brinker—whose work I’ve mentioned before—believes that marketing needs to assume responsibility for technology strategy and marketing. Specifically, he advocates for the role of a chief marketing technologist.

“If you’re responsible for the outcomes—how customers will perceive your brand in the digital world that is run by software—then you cannot afford to take a laissez-faire approach to the technological mechanisms by which those outcomes are achieved,” he writes.

Even if you’re familiar with Brinker’s chief marketing technologist argument, read this book for the extended reasoning supporting it. It’s all there.

Read anything good lately? Your recommendations are welcome below. 

5 Early Wins For Mutual Fund, ETF Companies Using Social Media

I couldn’t get enough of the coverage this week of the 25th birthday of the World Wide Web, celebrated yesterday.

Originally, this post was going to be about what the Web has done for mutual fund and exchange-traded fund (ETF) communicating, with a few reminiscences.

For example, I smiled when I read this line from the inventor of the Web, Tim Berners-Lee, on a Google post Tuesday.

Thanks to the Web, Berners-Lee wrote, “You can link to any piece of information. You don’t need to ask for permission.”

Right, I’d forgotten! In the late 1990s, wirehouse account people actually asked for permission to link (their Intranets) to mutual fund company Websites. Ah, the innocence of those early days.

Instead for today, I’ve gravitated toward something fresher and, at this point, evolving more dramatically: The effect that participation in social media is having on how fund companies communicate with their many stakeholders. Let’s date the start of this to four years ago, right about when FINRA released its Regulatory Notice 10-06 in January 2010. I can think of five early wins.

1. Communicating at a higher level than product

As an example, access to Twitter came at just the right time for asset managers willing to provide a steady stream of information about municipal bond markets.

Starting in 2010 with Northern Trust’s @Fixedology account (since renamed @NTInvest) and followed by municipal-focused @RochesterFunds, @MainStayMunis and other broader asset manager accounts, 140 characters have proved sufficient space for pithy updates about markets, issue sizes, demand, etc. all clustered around the #muni hashtag or derivations.

In the last four years, what's going on with municipal bonds has been a topic that many others, and most notably the media, vitally cared about. Twitter provided asset managers an easy entrée into a conversation they could contribute to.

The notion that muni communicators could use a different communication channel to call attention to in-house insights or even just facts was new. Until 2008 or so, it was the equity funds, their stories and their management teams that typically dominated the marketing and public relations resources. And, regardless of the asset class or the timeliness of the comment, there would have been a limit imposed on the number of communications PR would have been willing to initiate—as in, "We can't reach out to a reporter on the same topic too often."

But, a Twitter account can. I’m convinced that steady, consistent communicating served the tweeting firms in good stead when, late in 2010, Meredith Whitney predicted a municipal bond "day of reckoning."

A crisis was avoided but the accounts tweet on, as shown in this random collection of information-packed Rochester Funds tweets. Note that many #muni tweets simply impart information, don't even require the reader to click a link.

Net revenue collections for FY ’14, July – Feb, in Puerto Rico are 10.2% higher than last year. Higher revenues = positive for bondholders.

— Rochester Funds (@RochesterFunds) March 5, 2014

Meeting today with some Puerto Rico creditors in NYC. We were not invited, nor will we attend. PR wasn’t invited either.

— Rochester Funds (@RochesterFunds) January 16, 2014

We agree with @Muni_Mkt_Advisor's Robert Donahue: "Puerto Rico's leaders are showing considerable courage” h/t @TheBondBuyer

— Rochester Funds (@RochesterFunds) December 26, 2013

Look for more of this social media-enabled content leadership, as the industry educates on alternative investing in particular.

2. Better customer intelligence

Some firms have a much better understanding of the financial advisors who use their mutual funds or ETFs than they did five years ago.

Because of the benefits to them of participating on social networks, advisors have been creating profiles and sharing information—all of which savvy asset managers recognize as valuable customer intelligence. (See this 2009 post for an early perspective on the opportunity.)

When third-party data providers (like Meridian-IQ to name a current-day example) first made advisors’ AUM and production data available, that was the first step in asset managers growing their customer databases with more than just the uneven data input by the wholesaling staff. APIs available from LinkedIn and other social platforms today and CRM integrations available provide real-time, qualitative information that salespeople know how to use to advance offline conversations.

At the 1:14 mark of the following Nimble video, you'll see an example of how social account information is being added to CRMs.  

Nimble Grid View and Smart Summary of Contacts from Nimble Marketing on Vimeo.

It is the rare investment company that is mining this data today. However, many firms are doing something, even if in a low-tech way, or by just adding social CRM to their roadmaps. This will provide a competitive advantage. 

3. Better visibility for initiatives

It can be a thrill to work for a firm with millions of shareholders or investors. However, communicating with them in print usually takes too much time and is cost-prohibitive, two challenges somewhat addressed by the advent of Websites and email. But there, too, there are reasons to take a measured approach. A firm can’t communicate “too often” for fear of fatiguing its lists, and no single initiative can consume too much of the enterprise's communication resources.

Enter Facebook, an extremely accommodating environment to discuss corporate responsibility and community initiatives and to foster engagement. Check out the John Hancock Boston Marathon posts for one timely example. 

Or, consider the single-focus opportunity that a blog affords, as Putnam demonstrates with its five blogs on five niche topics: perspectives, wealth management, advisor technology tips, retirement and absolute return.  

Putnam is also giving a master class on how to use social media to extend the value and life of research findings.

Do you remember the social media research Putnam released last October? Previously, a firm might have conducted research, prepared a whitepaper, launched a microsite, issued a press release and then its news would fade from the news cycle in about a week. Because the research was right on-point for its Advisor Tech Tips blog, Putnam continues to post additional survey-based insights, which in turn prompts sharing and new attention for the research.

4. More natural exchanges

When you talk to people only periodically, there’s a tendency to be more formal and need to say more. Four times a year-reporting means that there's always going to be a lot to have to catch people up on. Updating via social media, though, can be more conversational, even natural.

For its plain-spokenness and word economy, this @Vanguard_Group tweet (which was as a Rock The Boat Marketing 2012 content highlight) continues to be one of my all-time favorite asset manager communications.

Our Advisors app for iPad product comparison tool was too slow. We fixed it. Try it now.

— Vanguard | Advisors (@Vanguard_FA) November 17, 2012

We all know how this would have been approached in every other medium—a lot of background information, a mumbo-jumbo quote and a description of the app’s new capabilities. It’s hard to imagine a Web page with just these three sentences on it. The best fund companies on Twitter are keeping it real. (Also, see 2013: Time To Show Some Personality (And All That Implies).)

Theoretically, there’s no better way to project naturalness than to sit in front of a video camera and talk. Except that over the years, investment professionals and the perfectionist marketers who work with them have developed a lot of good habits that could use some relaxing to truly succeed on YouTube.

Here again, the Vanguard channel is blazing a trail toward less stilted presentations. Check out their first Google Hangout from December. There are a few rough spots but the fresh, uncanned approach has a contemporary appeal.

Vanguard, one of the first whose blogs allowed comments, is also one of the first money managers to allow Discussion on YouTube. It's inevitable: Through its interactions on Facebook, Twitter and in comments elsewhere, this business will get the knack of responding to investors and others in public.

5. Developing a fuller sense of the ecosystem

In pre-social media days, the enlightened asset managers acknowledged that their business was influenced by people not defined by AUM and sales. Hence, the gatekeeper-type field in a CRM.

But paying attention to social media conversations and interactions surfaces others—industry leaders, investment bloggers and service providers and vendors, also with no production data next to their names. These are influencers that those of us in marketing would have had no awareness of 10 years ago.


Let’s take the example of Cate Long on Twitter, writer of Reuters’ Muniland blog and very influential on the #munis subject with journalists among her top followers. She regularly tweets asset manager (and others') #munis tweets. Of course, she’s in PR’s Contact list, but marketers watching the #munis hashtag know about her, too.

This awareness should be institutionalized—if Long were to sign up for an email newsletter or call in on the 800-number, she should be recognized as someone other than a "non-advisor" in the enterprise CRM.

See where this is going? It’s silo-busting and calls for added collaboration across functions.

A systematic understanding of social networks, as some early adopting firms are starting to develop today, can lead to a fuller sense of the thinking influencing the users of investment products, and result in proactive communicating and marketing.

In what other ways do you see the business being changed by social media? Please add your thoughts below.