Los Angeles:  “I hear what you’re saying about getting more personal with my affluent clients, so I’m going to stop using social media, “ explained Doug, an enthused advisor following my keynote presentation, then continued his stream of consciousness, “Compliance doesn’t let you really use it anyway, so I’m curious to know your thoughts.”

Never wanting to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm, I reinforced Doug’s thinking about getting more personal with his affluent clients and reminded him that this is the pathway into their spheres of influence.  I then set out to explore his reasoning regarding social media.  I’ll spare you my questions, but Doug’s profile is as follows; mid 40s, twenty year veteran, a casual social media user, with LinkedIn his only social media account.  In redirecting him away from compliance issues, I asked if he was connected to any power players in his community.  After a moment’s thought, he determined that he was connected to a high powered attorney in town who he’d known for years.  However, he’d not taken the first step to capitalize on this connection.

Social media today is much like where the Internet was 15 years ago. The early adopters of the Internet helped define both the rules and proper uses.  They also led the field in being able to use the Internet as a tool for their personal gain.  Early adopters of social media are blazing a similar path, and unlike Doug, these advisors recognize the value as a tool, not an end-all solution for marketing.

We at the Oechsli Institute just concluded a comprehensive social media research project with an objective of getting a better understanding of how financial advisors interact with social media.  In particular, we were interested in the “early adopters” of social media.  We wanted to:

·      Determine the percentage of financial advisors who are actively using social media.

·      Identify how early adopters are using social media.

·      Determine the impact, if any, the use of social media had on early adopter’s business.

·      Assist advisors in gaining a better understanding of how to use social media in their business.

While this issue of Practice Management isn’t going to serve as a social media training manual, I wanted to share some of our findings in a manner that that casual users like Doug might find helpful.   

The data we uncovered allowed us to define early adopters through six criteria. These advisors had to meet all of the following criteria to be considered an early adopter

·      They use some form of social media daily

·      They have uncovered new business opportunities using social media

·      They have been introduced or referred to a prospect through social media

·      They have acquired new business as a result of social media

·      They research prospects through social media

·      And, they gather information on clients through social media

Despite the fact that there are a number of other factors that differentiate early adopters from casual users, we determined to use the above criteria as our gauge.  We wanted to be highly selective in segmenting early adopters and keep a direct connection to professional application.   

In discussing this with Doug I suggested that he model the usage of early adopters.  Initially he was taken back, until I outlined a modified version using a 4-step game plan which I’ve outlined below.  The following should help casual users begin to incorporate social media into their business.

1.    Open professional accounts with LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter (they are currently considered as “the big three”).

2.    Have someone in your practice get comfortable with each of these sites on a professional level.  This requires some form of daily usage. 

3.    Connect with clients, prospects, and centers of influence on social media.

4.    Uncover new connections through current connections, and arrange face-to-face introductions.

Granted, for an advisor to incorporate these 4-steps into his or her practice requires a commitment.  It should take no more than 15 minutes a day to integrate these steps into your practice and begin to benefit from this tool.

Advisors have a lack of understanding of professional protocol for social media.  Yet, the early adopters have figured it out -- they’ve developed their own professional protocol.  With only a small percentage of advisors (8 percent) at the early adopter level, there is a definite need for training.  

Doug’s not alone with his predicament; social media compliance guidelines seem to be interfering with professional use of the tools for many advisors.  Yet meanwhile, our early adopters operate quite well within these same compliance guidelines.  For early adopters, the risk-reward ratio is not part of the discussion.  There is minimal risk due to staying within compliance guidelines, reaping healthy rewards, and growing potential.

Social media is a tool.  Use it properly and it can help you with your business.  Remember, early adopters are already seeing benefits.

Matt Oechsli is the author of The Art of Selling to the Affluent.  His firm, The Oechsli Institute, does ongoing speaking and training for nearly every major firm in the US.  @mattoechsli www.oechsli.com