How To Brand Yourself With Social Media

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For many advisors, even thinking about using social media is putting the cart before the horse.

As social networking tools like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn have become ever more mainstream, financial advisors in increasing numbers are seeking my help in designing effective social media strategies. Some successful and progressive advisors believe they need a social media presence to remain competitive. Others are concerned that without such a presence they could miss the next generation of investors. For others, it may just be about being perceived as current and, let’s face it, cool!

However, utilizing social media - especially given its inherent onerous compliance requirements and arguable value as a marketing vehicle for financial advisors – is all for naught if you haven’t laid the proper foundation for your practice. If your aim is to attract new clients, the use of social media should be at best a secondary step in a well-defined business development strategy.

Building Your Brand

A critical component of a business development strategy revolves around communication with clients and prospects. What you will say, to whom and how all need to be carefully considered, and it starts with crafting your intrinsic brand.

Your brand communicates something about you that differentiates you and your practice from others in the marketplace. It acts as a promise about the qualities and characteristics that make you unique. It is what attracts new clients and assures loyalty from existing clients. And it has to be authentic.

In developing your brand, it’s helpful to ask, and answer, the following five key questions:

1) What is unique about your background or expertise that sets you apart from your competition?

2) If you had to write a mission statement about yourself and what you are offering, what would it be?

3) Why is what you are offering essential?

4) What type of client are you ideally targeting?

5) Name 3 specific ways that clients have benefited from your expertise or what you are offering.

When you are able to answer these questions with confidence and assurance, you have the makings of your personal brand. After you have established your brand, you will be able to promote yourself in a targeted way – with an audience of prospective clients with whom your brand will resonate - across any communications media, be it a conversation, a letter, a web page or eventually a Tweet—staying on message and saving time and money.

Finding Your Niche

A brand becomes more valuable when it is marketed to the right prospects, so defining your niche is the next critical step.

My client, Jim, a financial advisor with 12 years of experience, is a prime example of thoughtful branding and niche market development. After thoroughly deliberating the five branding questions above, Jim concluded—and was able to quantify and qualify—that where he really added value was helping clients with family businesses in transition planning.

Jim built a robust brand from this straight-forward positioning. As a financial advisor specializing in ownership transfers for family businesses and an expert in the myriad issues that arise in that context, Jim adeptly aligned himself with certain organizations that attract family business owners seeking insight and advice, such as the regional small business and entrepreneurship association. He participated in their programs to build credibility and name recognition. These associations fit squarely within his niche and his participation led directly to increased brand value.

Leveraging Your Brand Online

Being searchable in a quality way is essential to leveraging your brand and doesn’t require you to jump into the world of social networking just yet.

Jim’s brand clearly resonated across traditional means of communication – articles, newsletters, interviews, etc. - but he knew he needed a web presence as well. There is obvious value in being searchable on the web and having your name pop up in the “top results” as long as the context and the initiator of the search is appropriate. Such “targeted” search results support your brand and enhance your credibility and legitimacy. After all, for Internet users seeking information, social networking hasn’t come close to replacing the all-powerful search engine.

Jim’s approach garnered him targeted and topical hits. He submitted timely, relevant articles to his previously identified organizations as well as to related publications with online presences. One of these associations published his piece in their monthly online newsletter and, as a result, when clients or prospects Google Jim’s name today, his article appears courtesy of the association. Anyone Googling the topic more broadly will likely also come across Jim’s article, giving him instant credibility and the opportunity that the individual will contact Jim for assistance. Given that publishers are always in search of more content, Jim’s article could easily lead to opportunities for interviews, additional articles or web videos. Jim also linked the articles he has authored on his own website, further augmenting his search results.

Indirect Networking Online

Even if writing an article is the last thing you want to do--and I have clients like that too--there are any number of ways to focus your search results. My client, Cara, branded herself as “the go-to financial advisor for philanthropically inclined investors.” Her communications strategy includes an active roster of volunteer activities that not only appeal to her personal interests, but also position her strategically to network with prospects.

Many of the efforts Cara participates in or sponsors are covered by local media, and the philanthropic organizations with which she is associated all have online presences. She intentionally makes it a point to appear in photos and articles on her groups’ websites, and to be listed as a donor in their online annual reports. Consequently, when clients or prospects Google Cara, they find numerous entries affiliated with the broad range of charities she supports. This supports her branding claim and demonstrates authenticity to her target market far more efficiently than hoping to catch the eye of one qualified prospect among 145 million Twitter users ever would.

Shortfalls of Social Media

Social networks are useful if someone is actively looking for your contact information, but they are presently limited by restrictions involving supervision and storage, and continuing questions about their value as a marketing tool for financial advisors. In contrast, an article with your byline—published by an online trade publication or association -that is consistent with your branding and provides information that is pertinent to your audience - both positions you as an expert, and carries the implied endorsement of the publishing organization. The latter is a much more focused prospecting tool than posting an opinion to the unknown world with a tweet, even if your firm were to allow it.

Social Media someday, but first things first

For the reasons noted in this article, and once the technological and compliance issues surrounding social media have been resolved, adding a Twitter, Facebook or other social networking feed that directs followers to your more substantive content may have benefits—especially if you plan to communicate regularly with existing clients and prospects this way. But, in the mean time, use your time and energy to focus on substance and context. A thoughtful Internet presence even without one iota of social media is likely to be more valuable to your audience than any number of 140-character sound bites ever could.

The Internet provides unlimited access to information to anyone with a connection. With a few keystrokes, investors globally - with any type of specialized need - can identify the answers and advisors that can best serve them. Sharp, targeted branding and an effective online strategy can quickly and easily open doors to your niche audience, and in turn enhance your reputation, transform your practice and improve your bottom line.

Kathleen O’Toole, Principal of The Wicklow Group, has helped financial advisors successfully differentiate themselves and attract and develop high net worth investors for nearly twenty years. She previously served as head of High Net Worth Marketing at UBS Financial Services and Private Client Marketing for Lehman Brothers and Neuberger Berman. kot@wicklowgroup.com

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