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Social Media and Your Practice

John Iekel

Why should you care about social media? Providing content relevant to clients, making expert commentary available and adding value to your business, for starters.

In the Dec. 14 NTSA webcast “Social-izing Your Practice,” Lisa Vachalek, Social Media Manager at American Century Investments, ShoeFitts CEO and founder Sheri Fitts, and Jeffrey Tomaneng, a financial adviser at Lincoln Investments, discussed the latest research on how the financial industry is successfully navigating compliance issues regarding social media and offered their insights on why social media is important and how one can put it to work to build and further a practice.

So why exactly should an advisor and retirement plan service provider care about social media? Fitts offered several reasons, gleaned from American Century Investments’ 2016 Seventh Annual Financial Professionals Social Media Adoption Study. Among them:

  • 46% of the financial professionals studied said that they acquired business using social media in 2016, and nearly one-quarter said they acquired more than $1 million in business by using it; and
  • 23% said they value social media highly as a tool for success.

And how are they using it? The top use in 2016, according to American Century, was to read expert commentary; the next most frequently used was sharing content relevant to clients, followed by researching people.

Fitts added that social media can enhance non-online functions as well. For instance, she notes that conducting research through social media before making cold calls boosts the value of those calls.

She cited other beneficial effects of using social media:

  • It increases the number of connections and helps maintain them.
  • It can drive an increase in website traffic.
  • It offers a means of differentiation from competitors.
  • Some professionals have found that when an article is posted on LinkedIn, website use increases for the company the article came from.

Having a sizable number of connections can be a good thing, Fitts says. “No one wants to go into a restaurant if there’s only two people in there,” she said, asking what then it says if one only has a small number of connections.

Fitts did qualify her discussion of the merits of social media with some notes of caution. For instance, she pointed out that FINRA prohibits advisers from posting others’ recommendations on their LinkedIn sites. She made some suggestions as well:

  • Static versus interactive — remember that profiles on social media should be monitored and updated.
  • Supervise and archive information posted on social media.
  • Be careful about providing investment advice through social media. “It doesn’t make sense to offer investment advice online of any kind,” said Fitts.
  • Make sure it is clear who is archiving the company or practice’s social media platform.
  • Have clear guidelines about what the company/practice will allow to be said in connection with it on a personal LinkedIn site, and HR departments should be involved in that process.

Best Practices

Fitts offered some ideas on best practices in using social media. These included:

  • Follow the firm’s social media policy.
  • A firm may allow limited or expanded access to certain platforms.
  • Firms that allow access to social media should have a policy in place.
  • Since endorsements and testimonials are prohibited by FINRA, and it could be wise to disable them from appearing on a profile.
  • Approved titles and email addresses should be used.
  • Appropriate affiliation disclosures should be included.
  • Include disclosure in Twitter header image in order to fit character count.
  • Outside business activities that are listed on a profile must be disclosed to the broker dealer.
  • Provide training to employees on social media procedures.
  • Retain all social media activity through an archiving/compliance vendor.

More information on this webcast is available here; more information concerning other NTSA webcasts is available here.

John Iekel is Editor of the 403(b) Advisor and Senior Writer for the American Retirement Association.