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Social Media's Come of Age

Social Media's Come of Age

Evan Shear thinks financial advisors lacking a social media presence are fools. Shear, a Raymond James advisor and founding partner of Heathrow, Fla.-based Crossley Shear Wealth Management, uses Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to connect to his clients—and believes those who don’t are putting their ego before their bottom line.

“The hubris is saying, 'I don’t need to have [social media] because my clients like me,” Shear said to a packed room at SIFMA’s Social Media Seminar in mid-October in New York. “Your clients are someone else’s prospects.”

Eleven years after LinkedIn launched, eight years after Twitter went live, and 10 years after Facebook signed up its first friends, social media is no longer cutting edge or the tool of some advisors who want to court tech-savvy clients. People who use social media do more than just set up a storefront. They dig deep, analyze connections and figure out how to work their followers effectively.

Even long-standing firms including Bank of America Merrill Lynch, LPL and Ameriprise have turned on the switch for their advisor teams as well.

Take Jamie Cox, managing partner of the Richmond, VA-based Harris Financial Group, a part of LPL Financial, who targets telephone workers for his practice by creating Facebook ads and joining LinkedIn groups to connect to his niche audience. Over a recent three month period, he spoke with 50 people—signing 35 of them to be his clients, each with an average lump sum pension to invest of $350,000.

"Those are good clients for me," he said during the SIFMA event. “You can’t say you don’t have time to use social media. You don’t have time not to do it. I can do it with a little bit of money and a lot of skill.”

Skill is paramount. There are those who want to “set it and forget it,” as Dan Swift, LinkedIn’s director of financial services told the room. But better is working connections—picking up a phone and making a coffee meeting with someone in your social network.

Timothy Adams, branch manager of The Princeton Group, part of Wells Fargo Advisors Financial Network, says he's connected to 1,800 people on LinkedIn, but knows those numbers mean little if he doesn’t make use of them effectively. That’s why he emails 50 contacts a day, asking for in-person meetings; 25 percent agree. One yielded a quick coffee with an attorney an hour away whom is connecting him to a new small business owner in his home town, a potentially lucrative client.

Brands too note how they use social media to build up their own brand to potential clients. Ameriprise Financial’s Jon Pauley told the SIFMA audience that 90 percent of consumers won’t make a purchase without an online search—and only 14 percent of consumers actually trust advertising. Instead, they want to hear a less scripted voice from the brands they’re considering—and they’re on social media looking for that kind of message.

“We have to be where consumers expect us to be, and that’s important for the brand,” he said. “It’s about being local and personal.”

Which is why Cox warns about the crutch of using pre-approved content. Perhaps that was a solid way to get an advisor’s feet wet in the early days. But with so many people on social media today, woe is you if you tweet the same 140 character post as six other people. It's the fastest way, say social media users, to look like a social media poser.

“The last thing you want to be is the person posting the same thing as everyone else,” Cox said. “You have to have some uniqueness. Because if you don’t, you’re going to have people turned off.”

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