How Investment Advisors Should Be Using Social Media

In this new era of social media, financial professionals are struggling to understand how they should be leveraging all of the new tools at their disposal.  Some know that they should be involved but don’t understand how to get started, some have started but are on completely the wrong path, others aren’t quite sure if they should be involved.  All of them are asking, what exactly will I get out of this?

The truth is, there is no one size fits all strategy for the use of social media by financial professionals.  Each needs to set realistic goals, formulate a plan, and execute, just as you would with any trading strategy or business venture.  The difficult part here, especially for those who don’t understand the upside of participating in social media, is setting goals.  You can’t set goals without an understanding of what possible benefits are out there.

Towards the end of 2010, I began to receive a lot of phone calls and e-mails from these people who just wanted to pick my brain a bit.  Each of them had come to the conclusion that they wanted to explore the use of social media, some had formulated plans, some weren’t sure how to get started.  There is a wave of these people coming, the question is, will they build their brands correctly and share valuable information, or will they provide little value and look like outdated advertisers, or worse, spammers.

I’ve seen successful social media campaigns by every type of financial professional, and I’ve seen a lot more failures.  I’ve built my own personal brand and my investment management firm’s brand from scratch, and have reaped the benefits, both tangible and intangible.  Instead of throwing everyone into one bucket, which should not be done, below you will find what I believe are the best practices and the rewards for the use of social media by registered investment advisors and those looking to one day manage assets for others.

Goals

We’re all here to make money, let’s just admit that to ourselves right now.  There are two ways to make more money in the investment management business, growing assets, and great performance.  The latter can often lead to the former, but the reality is that your firm’s bottom line will often coincide with your ability to raise and retain assets from clients.  And because of that, the first goal of using social media is to bring assets in the door, it is another very important advertising channel for your business.

And just as you would measure the effectiveness of any direct marketing campaign, you should measure this as well.  The difficulty is, that the return on your investment of time and resources will be very uneven and take considerable patience.  This is not an overnight type of thing, in my experience, and from what I have observed, it takes a concerted effort of longer than a year, at least, to begin seeing this type of benefit.  It takes a long time for a potential client to become familiar with your firm through social media.  Remember these people most likely are not checking you out due to word of mouth from one of your existing clients.  These are brand new leads, and you are on the same playing field as everyone else the first time they come in contact with a piece of your content.

When people contact you through social media with requests for more information regarding the services you offer, always make sure to ask them how they found you and what forms of content led them to contact you.

Raising assets should not be your only goal though.  Social media will provide you with so many amazing tools to enhance your understanding of whatever market you operate in, connections to your financial peers, and general enjoyment.  As with any other popular technology or social trend, there is a reason this social revolution is taking place, because it adds value.

Make it a goal to learn something from your social sphere every day.  Make it a goal to find someone new and interesting that provides you with good information every week, and follow them.  Make it a goal to make a new friend whom you can have at least a casual professional relationship with each month (you will make many more than that).

Sharing your thoughts through social media can also be beneficial in an of itself.  I have found, in my own trading, that my sharing is a form of journaling, it allows me to get ideas from my head onto paper.  And beyond that, honestly, it’s good to stretch your ego out once in a while.  Yea, a lot of people use social media as a way to feed their ego, and there’s nothing wrong with that, we all have egos, we all want to be popular, and that is a healthy thing as long as you do it respectfully.

So to recap on goals, bring clients in the door, find great content which makes you smarter and entertains you, make new professional connections, and make new friends.

Strategy

So how do you bring money in the door through social media?  It’s all about building brand.  Think about it like this.  Apple builds its brand by placing commercials on television, on billboards, by having retail stores, by sponsoring things and people, it’s a holistic effort to build their brand and image with potential customers, to make your friend tell you just how awesome his Apple product is.  Your business is no different, and social media is a huge advertising channel for you.

Building brand isn’t easy, you’ve got to put yourself out there, be open and transparent, be a real person, be likable.  It’s also about standing for something.  There are plenty of asset managers out there, what differentiates you from them?  People don’t give asset managers their money because they see a chart of your returns, god no.  We all wish that was the case, but it’s not.  People hand over their hard earned money to asset managers because of trust and belief.  Trust is won in a few ways, by being big, by being well known throughout the financial community, by having a current client recommend your firm to a prospective client, and by directly interacting with a potential client.  The great thing about social media is, it allows you to connect personally with potential clients.  You probably don’t have the first two things on that list, and the third will take care of itself if you treat your current clients well.

Your set of beliefs is a much more difficult thing to get across.  Many companies across different industries fail because they attempt to sell products and not beliefs.  Again, what differentiates you from everyone else.  Remember you can’t be everything to everyone, so stop being vague and start being very specific about who you are and how you trade.  People will either love you or hate you, but at least some of them will love you, and those people are your good leads.  Everything you do in the social sphere, and marketing in general, should go towards building a brand that espouses a belief in something.

The key to social marketing is to be the go to guy in a specific niche.  If your firm specializes in deep value equity investments, you want to build your brand around sharing the best information you can in that specific niche.  You can’t and should not strive to be everything to everyone.  Focus on being one or two things to one or two specific sets of people.  The beauty about social media is that you don’t have to dumb or water down your content to make it consumable to the masses.  Those who find value in your information will follow you, those who don’t can completely ignore you, and that’s fine.  They key is to build a very dedicated group of followers who will evangelize for you.

That brings us to a very important fundamental attribute of social media.  You want your voice to be amplified by your following.  One man screaming at the top of his lungs in the middle of a huge room full of noise isn’t going to get his message across.  But if that man speaks brilliantly to the 10 people in his general vicinity, and those people find his message worth repeating to the 10 people in their general vicinity, well you get the point.  The success of your social media presence will ultimately depend on how many people you can get to amplify your message, and how important those people are.

Social media is social after all, and you need to be social.  That means engaging others, not just waiting for them to engage you.  This takes work, you need to give real effort to becoming part of specific communities, it isn’t just about putting out your own content, it’s about exploring the content other’s are sharing.  People respect when you amplify their message, and if they find yours valuable, they will often return the favor.

Make friends with the biggest influencers.  The fastest way to get your name out to a group of people is to have the MC tell them all that you’re in the room.  Find the MC in your niche and engage them.  They won’t mind, they are here most likely for the same reasons you are, and there’s a reason they command respect, because they’ve done this social media thing the right way.  Learn from them as well, you should not be attempting to reinvent the wheel here, there are right ways to get your message across and wrong ways, those who have huge influence are obviously doing something right.

Figure out who the biggest influencers in any community are listening to, and make friends with them as well.  This is just like a conference or dinner party, no one is going to know you’re in the room if you don’t introduce yourself.  People have a limited attention spans and they curate who they follow very carefully, use other people’s lists as a starting point.

In order to truly understand why you are going to engage in social media, you’ve got to wrap your head around sharing information for free.  Let me say this very clearly, you are not losing anything by sharing your thoughts, positions, and transactions with the public.  You don’t run a 10 billion dollar hedge fund, Goldman Sachs isn’t going to squeeze you out of your short positions because you shared them with the world.  If by some chance you do feel this way, get over yourself, you’re just not important enough for people to game you.

Your job in any social media setting, is to share as good of information as possible, to provide as much value to those listening as possible, to look as smart as possible, and to be as transparent as possible.  Those who find value in what you share will be your great leads.  Private investors and institutions with money to invest are watching, many will profit from great information you share for free, but a few will walk through your door and hand money to you.  You’ve got to be willing to give away enough great information to make this worth while, and it will be.

Tools

There are a million different social media tools out there to disseminate your content and engage in community.  You don’t have all day though and you need to gain the most value from the resources put towards this effort.

Twitter/StockTwits – The real time messaging platform of Twitter is an amazing way to share ideas and other content.  It allows you to reach an enormous amount of people at once, in real time.  It also allows others to follow your content without making a huge commitment to you.  They can follow you, test you out, and if you aren’t for them, they unfollow you.  This isn’t like Facebook or LinkedIn where you are making a static connection, people don’t take it personally when you unfollow them.  There is a limit to the number of sources any one persona can truly follow, it’s about 350.  And as more and more people sharing great content come onto the platform, you will be fighting with others for the limited attention of potential leads.  So you better be sharing great niche information, or what’s the point.

StockTwits takes the Twitter platform one step further by engaging you in a community of people interested in talking finance.  The StockTwits platform also gives you extra tools to create and consume financial content that you will not find on Twitter.  The actual Twitter platform is still very valuable as it allows you to follow Twitter accounts which are not on StockTwits or posting on StockTwits, political content, general news content, entertainment, technology, humor, other friends who are not interested in finance.  I recommend downloading the StockTwits Desktop which will allow you to have both your Twitter and StockTwits streams on the same page.

The microblogging platform of Twitter is often confused for a tool that lets celebrities tell you what they ate for breakfast.  The truth is that this platform is a radically new way of finding and consuming content, and it is quickly reshaping how information is distributed in real time.  Make the effort to explore Twitter and StockTwits to leverage the ability to consume content, you won’t be able to image not having this tool.  I would be completely lost without it.

Creating content and your voice on StockTwits can be a little overwhelming at first.  You can find a best practices guide to help you get started here.

Blogs – While StockTwits is great for short, actionable, real time messaging and socializing, you need a blog to hash out your ideas in a longer format.  People may be able to see you are a great trader or investor in your short form messages, but they will never quite understand why unless you give them a peak behind the curtain by explaining in further depth on a blog.  The blog should be used as a place where you can describe your strategies in detail, and for the more fundamentally oriented traders out there, give deep analysis on what is taking place within a company which interests you.  The blog is also important because it gives you your own web site, your own presence on the web away from any other platform, it gives you independence from having to belong to anything else.  Although it is important to belong to other sites, you want your own place, your own URL.  So go and buy a URL for 10$, use your name or the name of your firm with the word blog on the end.  Install the blogging platform WordPress, and get blogging.

Finding your voice on a blog is not easy either, there are a million different ways you can share content there.  Remember, don’t be everything to everyone, focus very narrowly on what you specialize in.

If you want to an excellent primer in how to blog, I’ve attached the following links to help get you started.  This series of blog posts on blogging was written by Josh Brown, also known as @ReformedBroker, someone who has, probably above all others, leveraged social media in the finance space to create a huge brand, and grow his investment management business.

Financial Blogging Secrets (Aesthetics)

Financial Blogging Secrets (Content)

Financial Blogging Secrets (Style)

Financial Blogging Secrets (Linking)

Financial Blogging Secrets (Everything Else)

Company Web Site – For god sake you need a good company web site.  No one is going to take you seriously without one.  Keep it simple, you don’t need crazy animations and colors.  Again, the web site should convey your beliefs, your philosophy, and talk about your strategy.  Your web site is your main sales page for your investment management business, so respect it.  You want to measure leads from this page just as anyone selling something in a brick and mortar store or online store would, divide number of inquiries about your firm by the number of unique visitors to your site each month and you’ll get an idea at your web site’s conversion rate.

Try different things on your site to increase the conversion rate, get people asking for more information.  When looking for ideas as to what you want your web site to look like, find another on the web that you like and copy aspects of it.  Again, don’t reinvent the wheel, save time and learn from others who have done it right.  I told the developer who built my firm’s site to use this site as a template.

VYou – This is a neat tool that allows you to take questions from people and answer in video format.  I think it adds a very personal touch to your web site or blog’s about page, and it provides a library of answers to basic questions about you, your strategy, and your firm which people can browse.

LinkedIn – It’s important to have a professional page on LinkedIn.  Personally, I don’t find much value in participating in whatever is going on there, but it’s important to be there.  Fill out your information and make connections with the people you meet in your professional life.

Facebook – Don’t friend people from your professional life, or those you meet through social media on Facebook unless you actually know them, have met them, or at least have a good online connection with them.  Just my view, Facebook is a place for your personal life, not your professional life.

Compliance

As I talk with more and more financial professionals about engaging in social media, there is one major trend developing.  Almost all of them know they want to be involved, and most are scared shitless of running afoul of some SEC compliance regulation.  And they should be, I have no doubt that the SEC will at some point make a big example of some well meaning asset manager who didn’t archive his tweets correctly.  Instead of going after the fraudsters and penny stock pumpers, the investment managers who custody assets and steal them from their clients, the SEC will choose to screw someone who means well but just forgot to pay attention to the rules.  What’s new, this is the way our terrible regulatory system works.

So you’ve got to be aware of all the rules, even the stupid ones.  Many of them argue vague, so make sure to read them thoroughly.  You can find them here.

Putting It All Together

Social media isn’t just something you do, you have to ingrain it in your process.  Every good trader and investor has a process which they repeat over and over again, day in and day out.  Make your engagement in social media part of that process.  Source ideas and content from it, make friends and professional contacts, build leads for your business, stretch your ego, build your brand.  Once you get comfortable with these tools, and find your voice, it will feel similar to driving a stick shift car.  You know you’re doing something extra, but it becomes natural, part of the exercise, and you will see the value you can gain from it.

Surfview Capital provides consulting services focused on helping you to build your brand through social media and navigate a complex regulatory environment.

Full Disclosure: Nothing on this site should ever be considered to be advice, research or an invitation to buy or sell any securities, please see the Disclaimer page for a full disclaimer.


blog comments powered by Disqus